How to Identify Sensory Processing Disorders

Kid with Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory processing disorders are an abnormality in the way a child responds to stimuli around them.  There are five senses, including touch, sound, smell, sight, and taste. When a child responds in an abnormal way to one of these stimuli, either under-sensitive or over-sensitive, they could have a sensory processing disorder.

Sensory integration was first discovered by Anna Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, in 1972.  She defined it as the way the brain organizes information from its surrounding environment. When the information is disorganized, the result is a sensory processing disorder.

How is Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosed?

Sensory processing disorder is typically diagnosed in toddlers or children around preschool age.  Adults may also be diagnosed with SPD; however, the adult must have had the symptoms as a child. They were just not diagnosed until adulthood.  Sensory processing disorder is also more frequently diagnosed in boys than in girls.

Your child may experience several symptoms that could be consistent with a sensory processing disorder.  SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses. However, multiple senses do not have to be involved to make the diagnosis.  There are two types of sensory processing disorders: over-sensitive and under-sensitive, which are explained below.

What are the Typical Symptoms of a Child with SPD?

Your child may initially experience temper tantrums or behavior issues surrounding the sensory areas that are uncomfortable for them. To better understand each symptom, you need to understand the different variations of SPD.

In those who suffer from oversensitivity, the child is usually over-reactive to touch, sound, smell, the texture of foods, or sensitive to bright lights.

There are other specific symptoms your child may experience as well, such as:

  • Sensitivity to the feel of clothing
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Dislike for certain foods due to the texture
  • Clumsy or falling often
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Sensitivity to sudden movements
  • Exhibiting behavior problems frequently
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Sensitive to odors (perfumes, smells of foods)

On the other hand, if your child suffers from under-sensitivity, they will tend to be less aware of their surroundings and less sensitive to the stimuli that surround them.

Examples of symptoms for those suffering from under-sensitivity would be:

  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Inability to realize personal space of others
  • Not realizing when their face is dirty
  • Frequent chewing of objects (in some cases clothing or hands)
  • Your child does not sleep well
  • Has difficulty paying attention and is frequently distracted

There are several tests that your doctor may run if they suspect sensory processing disorder.  A couple of these tests include the Sensory Processing Praxis Test and the Sensory Processing Measure checklist.  Both are behavioral checklists that are done with the caregiver for diagnosis.

If SPD is considered, your doctor may refer you to an Occupational Therapist who will help make the diagnosis and set up therapy to help your child. 

What is the cause of Sensory Processing Disorder?

There has not been a definite cause linked to sensory processing disorder.  The disorder may be hereditary; however, this has not been proven. There is a question of whether or not sensory processing disorder is linked to Autism or ADHD. This is because many of the symptoms associated with SPD are also commonly found in patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders. However, SPD has been found in many children without other medical conditions.

How do You Treat Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is often treated through therapy. There is no medication to treat SPD, and it is not something that is outgrown.  Most children develop coping mechanisms for dealing with stimuli. 

Your child will be referred to an occupational therapist to help them develop coping mechanisms to the over-sensitive or under-sensitive behavior. The occupational therapist will help your child develop a tolerance to stimuli using sensory integration techniques.  

During their therapy, your child will be exposed to a certain amount of stimuli in a controlled environment. That way, they learn how to handle the stimuli in small doses.  Eventually, when they are faced with the stimuli outside of therapy, it is less overwhelming to them.

Also, the occupational therapist will give you a list of ideas to help your child at home and at school.  Often, they will create something called a sensory diet.  A sensory diet is not related to food; rather, it is a series of activities tailored specifically to a child to help them with the sensory input they need.  This may include activities like the following:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Climbing up and down stairs
  • Using a ball to roll 
  • Working with play-doh
  • Using a fidget spinner
  • Allowing a child to sit further away from distractions
  • Playing with sand/sensory sand

Several sensory toys and tools are also helpful for children with a sensory processing disorder, such as:

  • Earphones to help avoid distraction
  • Textured balls
  • Sensory sand
  • Fold and go mini trampolines
  • Sensory tagless clothing
  • Soft texture building blocks

Sensory Gyms for Children With SPD

There are different ways to identify if a child or adult has sensory processing disorder, as well as coping mechanisms to help them respond to the stimuli effectively.  If you are concerned that you or your child may have sensory processing disorder, check with your doctor for further evaluation.

If your child does suffer from SPD, one effective way to help them cope with the world around them is through the use of sensory gyms. These gyms are often included in schools and hospitals because it helps to foster an inclusive environment for all children. At-home sensory gyms are also an excellent option for those looking for a more private way to work on your child’s sensory diet needs. 

Curious about adding a sensory gym to your business or even your own home? Then contact us today for more information!

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What Our Clients Are Saying

  • Leaps and Bounds Physical Therapy

    After five years in practice, I decided that I needed to upgrade the look of my office to allow for optimal patient care. Upon researching some possibilities, I came across the Fun Factory Sensory Gym. I immediately called the company to purchase my own gym unit. We scheduled an install date and in three short days, my gym and my vision were complete. My patients and their parents walk in and are amazed at the beautiful and fun set up. I truly feel that my patients are getting the most effective and efficient care because I have the best equipment to address their individual needs. With the Fun Factory Gym equipment, I am able to help these children improve by Leaps and Bounds!

    Jill Kissel
    Clinic Owner
  • The Kaufman Children’s Center

    The Kaufman Children’s Center was proud to announce an exciting upgrade made here at the KCC. Over a long weekend in late January 2013, we completed a huge remodel to our sensory gym.

     The Kaufman Children's Center
  • Our Fun Factory Sensory Gym has been life changing for our family! The entire experience of having the FFSG team in our home was so enjoyable. The crew’s heart and soul is behind the work they’re doing. From the first phone call, FFSG was committed to helping our family and our 3 small children with their various special needs. We have already experienced the calming effects of the net swing and the multiple ways the entire gym provides sensory input and regulation for our intense sensory seekers. What a great tool for our family and more than worth the investment!

    Heather Helms

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