Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has difficulty processing the different senses. This can make an individual overly sensitive to their environment. Common sounds or stimulus can become overwhelming, stressful, and even painful. This condition can also make a person clumsy, uncoordinated, or hard to engage in conversation or play.
The severity of sensory processing disorder varies. While some people have a higher threshold for what they can tolerate, others are bothered by a slight touch to the skin. Luckily, however, there are treatment options available for this condition, though it varies based on many factors, including the person’s age, skill level, and individual needs.
Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder
The exact cause of sensory processing disorder isn’t fully understood. As per WebMD, some research has suggested it may have a genetic component. So, if you or another family struggles with this disorder, your child may be at heightened risk. There may also be a cognitive explanation, as some studies found kids with sensory processing problems have abnormal brain activity when stimulated by light and sound.
One of the challenges of this condition is diagnosing it. Sensory processing disorder is not a recognized medical diagnosis, and many experts believe The condition goes hand-in-hand with other health issues, such as autism. It’s possible to diagnose this disorder in children but can be difficult unless you have a doctor familiar with the condition.
Signs Of Sensory Issues In Kids
The signs of sensory processing disorder vary and are largely dependent on which of the senses is affected. For some people, only one of their senses (like hearing, taste, or touch) is affected by the disorder, whereas in more extreme cases, multiple or all of the senses can be impacted.
People with sensory processing disorders are often grouped into two categories. Hypo-sensitivity describes people who are less sensitive than normal to stimulus. They may appear hyperactive as they’re going above and beyond to engage with their environment to stimulate their senses.
In young kids (including toddlers), the signs of hypo-sensitivity can include:
- Touches everything
- High pain threshold
- Gives long hugs, kisses
- Rocking or swaying when standing
- Bumping into things (ie walls, people)
- Seeks out physical touch more than normal
- Puts things in their mouth more frequently than normal
On the flip side, hypersensitivity describes people who are easily stimulated and overwhelmed. In young children, like toddlers, signs of hypersensitivity can include:
- Picky when eating
- Low pain threshold
- Behavioral problems
- Trouble adapting responses
- Resists physical touch (like hugs)
- Sensitive to soft or slight touches
- Covers eyes or ears in response to stimulus
- Has trouble controlling their emotions, response
Since the signs of sensory processing disorder can vary greatly, it can make it tough to diagnose. But the first signs often appear in toddlerhood as your child is becoming more curious about their environment.
So, be on the lookout for abnormal behavior, and don’t be afraid to mention it to your child’s doctor. Some of the first signs in young kids are behavioral, such as mood swings and temper tantrums.
Treating Sensory Issues In Kids
There’s no one-size approach to treating sensory issues in children. It depends on a range of factors, including your child’s age, skill levels, and individual needs. The following treatment options are most commonly used in people with sensory issues and may be of benefit to your own child.
This is a form of therapy thats improvement through the performance of daily encourage activities. It’s aimed at improving the person’s skill levels on an everyday basis.
The types of activities the occupational therapist focuses on are directly tied to your child’s age. For young kids, like toddlers, you can expect the therapist to come to your house to work in a familiar environment. Older kids may benefit from having an occupational therapist in the classroom.
There are a variety of benefits of occupational therapy for people of all ages, including kids. It can help improve strength, endurance, and independence, and can stimulate cognitive performance.
It can also provide support to parents by showing activities you can practice with your child one-on-one.
This is a type of therapy that uses physical methods (like massage and exercise) to see improvement.
To help with sensory issues, the therapist is likely to develop a sensory diet for your child. This refers to group activities that are meant to capture your child’s attention and encourage adaptive responses.
The activities will vary depending on which of your child’s senses is being targeted. Your child will need to practice these activities every day.
Physical therapy is common in adults, but it can also have benefits for young children, too. Some positives of physical therapy include improving mobility and balance, and recovery from injury or trauma, and it’s a non-invasive form of therapy.
Sensory Integration Therapy
This form of therapy was developed in the ’70s to help individuals with sensory processing issues. The goal is to increase the person’s tolerance of sensory-heavy environments through exposure and reinforcing positive behaviors.
The sessions are play-oriented and involve activities that target the child’s senses. This can include using equipment like trampolines and slides. It can also include other therapy tactics, like brushing, deep pressure, and weighted vests, which are known to be calming and reduce anxiety.
At 2 years old, your child is likely just starting to put sentences together. But as they grow, their verbal communication may need additional support. Some kids with sensory processing disorder have reduced vocabulary or auditory dysfunction, but speech-language therapy can help improve their skills.
The sessions focus on improving the child’s verbal skills, articulation, and oral-motor control. The tactics used in speech-language therapy will vary depending on your child’s needs and skill levels.
Finally, the habits and routines parents introduce into their child’s daily life can have a big impact on improving their sensory processing and skills.
Be sure to listen to professional advice about what you should be doing on a daily basis and be open to the different ways you can support your child’s sensory processing disorderno matter how small.
Some everyday ways to improve your toddler’s sensory processing disorder can include:
- Choosing toys that stimulate the senses
- Practicing activities and skills introduced by the therapist
- Doing sensory play – activities that encourage your child to explore and use their senses
- Recognizing when your child is overstimulated and needs a break
For more information on how to help a child with sensory problems, we encourage you to speak with your doctor.
Sources: My OT Spot, Medical News Today, Healthy Children, ASD Clinic, WebMD, Healthline,