October seems to be a big month for many things, from breast cancer awareness to caramel flavoring month. It also is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness month and for me, it is personal as I help spread the word.
I’ll never forget when I had my first instinct that my son may have Sensory Processing Disorder. He was 14 months old and we were at a family party. My cousin was using the blender and my son put his hands over his ears. We all chuckled at it. Then I began putting some pieces together, including that he hated to walk on the sand and he was only saying two words. At our 15-month check-up, the speech delay was a red flag for my doctor who ordered an evaluation. My heart sank. My son was off the chart in his gross motor skills, but that didn’t matter. It actually became a big clue in his diagnosis.
My son can literally climb the curtains in our living room and my kitchen cabinets with his bare feet. Some would shrug it off as, “he’s all boy,” but sensory kids are those who need something more.
Sensory Processing Disorder is really confusing to explain, but here is how I do it: Brains have roadway systems that allow cars to get to point A to B without getting lost. Some roadway systems are not yet complete so cars will come to a screeching halt or will go Dukes of Hazzard and jump onto another road. Sometimes it causes traffic jams. This is when we see children (and adults) who cannot process what is going on in their environment. For example, while many of us can tune out the sound of a blender, my son couldn’t. Therefore the only way for him to “tune it out” was to cover his ears.
Now that I have kids with SPD, I can spot others with it. These kids are the ones who are constantly touching other kids (or their parents) to the point of annoyance or hugging on others, not understanding personal space. In order for them to understand their space, they have to “feel it out” literally. Some kids hate tags on their clothes and seams on their socks. This is my daughter. It drives her (and me) batty. So we cut the tags and turn the socks inside out. Many have a hard time sitting still and focusing in school. Some will chew their clothes, pens, pencils or hair to get oral feedback.
Some kids are fearful in big crowds and they are the ones crying and clinging to mom and dad. Or they go wild with excitement and you literally have to drag them out by their feet. These kids are labeled as hyperactive or mislabeled as ADHD, but those two can go hand-in-hand. These “sensory-seeking” kids are doing just that, seeking something that feels good. These kids make excellent athletes and need activities like gymnastics, dancing, football and wrestling to expend their energy. Don’t be surprised if they are skydiving or doing high-risk activities when they are older. Professionals call them “risk-takers,” which can serve them well later in life (or not).
We all have sensory issues. For instance, I personally dislike mushrooms because I don’t like the way they feel in my mouth. Others really dislike having their skin touched. We all have something that makes us tick, though most have the capacity to turn that on and off
Kids with SPD are often looked upon as having behavior issues. They can be viewed as clingy, whiny and needy. It is up to us, as parents, to better understand what makes them hide and seek, or blow up. It is up to us parents to help get their cars get back onto the right road. This is a team effort by therapists, teachers and parents. It takes time, consistency, and a whole lot of patience.
It has been a challenge for me as a parent. Having two spirited children is a lot of fun, but also it also exhausts me by the end of the day. Next week I’ll share my challenges and struggles as a parent and what I have found to be helpful for me, including books and resources.
If you are curious to know if your child is a sensory kid, you can go over this checklist.