Sensory Processing Disorder, referred to as SPD and formerly known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction, has many different facets. SPD can affect children as well as adults, but the exact cause is unknown. There is evidence in preliminary research that shows SPD could be genetic, however, birth complications and environmental factors have also been shown to play a part in causing the condition. Frustrating, isn’t it??
To understand SPD, I have found the following comparison made by A. Jean Ayers to be helpful.
She compares it to a traffic jam, which prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving information correctly, which results in a person with SPD having difficulty with a multitude of things, such as clumsiness, behaviors, anxiety, depression, academic failure, and other issues, especially if not treated correctly. (1)
However, I am not a doctor, nor an OT, but simply a mother with two children who have SPD.
Logan and his twin (#6) are 4 years old, and both have SPD. Logan is a non-seeker, meaning that many of his activities must be initiated by someone else. When he was still quite young, about 6 months old, we noticed that he was “happy” just sitting in one place, and would never make any effort to move or play elsewhere. We could literally sit him on the couch, and find him still sitting in the same spot, seemingly happy, an hour or more later. Of course, we never just left him on a couch for an hour and walked away, but he never complained and never made it known that he was bored or dissatisfied in any way. He did not walk or talk until he was nearly two years old. Now that he is 4, and there has been an extreme amount of progress through therapy, we still have to initiate many activities for him and direct him regularly.
On the other hand, #6 is what people might refer to as “all boy”. He is a seeker. He craves sensory stimulation through running, jumping, bouncing, and rolling around. Then, throw in all the fun of being a picky eater and having an extreme sensitivity to loud noises such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, sirens, fireworks, or balloons popping. He does not like to have dirty hands or face, ever. He bites, hits, and bangs his head into things. He does not like clothes. He hates socks. Changing his diaper was always a fight. He has frequent and long meltdowns because he can not regulate himself. He has a bit of a speech issue which makes him difficult to understand at times. He does not like extreme cold such as Popsicle, snow, or the feel of wind. He does not like heat past room temperature, and will scream if his bath is more than tepid. (1)
Though they both have very different needs relative to their SPD, many of the things we do to help the “twinnies” (as we call them) are the same; but with variations specific to each boy.
Brushing intolerable for Logan. We have discovered that his back is the least sensitive part of his body (where his skin is concerned), and he dearly loves having it scratched. So, when he is having a meltdown, it is common to find us scratching his back and speaking in a calm, soothing voice as he mellows.
We initiate play, by saying things like, “Gentlemen, start your engines! Now, on your mark, get set, go! Run to the front door!!”, or ask him to draw a red circle, find a green block, string beads on yarn, jump on the mini trampoline, help stir the cake batter, or put keys on a ring.
Conversely, #6 HATES brushing or back scratching of any kind. Deep pressure and joint compression are things he loves that can help him to regulate when he is over stimulated. He will roll on a large exercise ball, belly to ball, rolling from head to feet. He will tell us to “do rubs!”, and we will use the flat of both hands to do long strokes from shoulders to feet, while pressing firmly. He has learned that this helps him sleep. He enjoys doing yoga with me, and other activities that keep him busy physically make him the happiest. My boys have opposite ends of SPD, and it keeps life interesting beyond measure. I have learned to watch for triggers or “signals, and sometimes I even succeed!
I have to admit that the most frustrating part of SPD is the fact that many schools and medical providers do not recognize SPD as a true disorder. Though SPD is not yet included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), work is being done in the hope that SPD will be included as a “Novel Diagnosis In Need of Further Research”. (1)
[pullquote]However, I am not a doctor, nor an OT, but simply a mother with two children who have SPD.[/pullquote]
Until that time (and most likely even after it comes) I’ll be that crazy tired mother with one boy banging into things, and another boy stringing beads or “helping me” make dinner. I’ll be the one that cries every time the vibrating chair pad has to be replaced because it stopped working when we really needed it. I’ll be the one insisting that we have to go right out and buy another recliner that spins, because that’s the one thing Logan will do on his own; run around in circles while half laying on the foot rest of the recliner, until he gets so dizzy he falls over.
And yes, I will also be the mother that actually encourages her little boys to play in mud, or bubbles, or flour and rice, because texture is important. And when they are all worn out, I’ll be that mother fighting to stay awake to read yet another article on SPD written by an OT, or a parent, or a PhD.
- Reference (1) DSM update from Lucy Jane Miller, 6.18.12