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What is Sensory Processing Disorder and How Can O.T. Help?


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is an under-diagnosed disorder that prevents the brain from properly translating sensory input into normal, meaningful experiences. You are no doubt familiar with your senses – smell, taste, sight, hearing, and touch. For a child with SPD, sensory input can seem excessive or insufficient when others perceive it to be moderate. The result is that “a person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.”

The symptoms of SPD vary widely and can be confusing for parents to figure out. Many times, children with SPD will dislike some very normal things for no apparent reason. Children may not tolerate scratchy or binding clothing (like blue jeans), may react very strongly to sudden loud noises, may scream in certain lighting conditions, or may refuse to eat certain types of foods (like those with crunchy textures). An older child may seem clumsy, have floppy arms and legs, or seem too aggressive or, conversely, too sleepy.

Getting help begins with the proper diagnosis. Once SPD has been diagnosed, working with an occupational therapist who is experienced in sensory integration therapy is the best course of action. The therapist will first work to understand the child’s sensory profile and then create fun sensory activities that will be challenging. The therapist will lead the child to success, not avoidance. With repetition, the child often learns how to properly respond to a particular sensory experience without over- or under- reacting. When a child can self-regulate, he has a much better chance to succeed in typical childhood activities like playing with friends, working in school, and eating a varied diet.

Receiving occupational therapy in the natural environment is ideal for treatment of SPD. Instead of working in a clinic, the therapist can work together with the child and his caregivers and parents to help with structuring the child’s environment. Therapists can instruct parents on an appropriate “sensory diet” specifically tailored to their child’s needs. For more information about sensory diets and sensory activities, see the Sensory Smarts website. Please note, sensory integration therapy is not a do-it-yourself project and professional assistance from an occupational therapist is strongly recommended.

A parent who understands his child’s sensory profile is so valuable. When SPD is a strong factor in a child’s life, a knowledgeable parent can help that child navigate his environment. Often, just knowing that a child’s aversion to something (for example, crunchy foods) is a real part of a disorder and not bad behavior, is a relief. Instead of getting frustrated with the child, the parent can make helpful changes (such as cooking food a different way).

If your child has been diagnosed with SPD or any sensory issues, let us help you get started with an individualized treatment plan with an experienced Occupational Therapist. Call us at All About Therapy for Kids at 919-448-6018. We serve Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Durham and surrounding areas in North Carolina.

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