November 16, 2016

Much Ado About Senses: Sensory Processing Disorder

I have a questions for you ~ how many senses do you have? Did you answer five?  I know this seems like a trick question, because this is one of those things you learn in elementary school and everyone knows the answer to.

So it you guessed five, well, you are correct.  All of our lives we learn about the sense of touch, smell, sight, smell and taste.  The 5 classic senses.  But what if I told you there are two other senses?

Missing from the classic five senses are two additional senses that you have probably never heard of: movement (vestibular) and body awareness (proprioceptive).

5 Classic Senses

2 Additional Senses

I know what you are thinking, because I thought the same thing when I first learned about these two “new” senses. How on earth have I never heard of them before?  Why was I taught about five senses?  Or maybe you’re thinking “what is this hocus pocus, hippity dippity, touchy feely mumbo jumbo? I know what the five senses are, thank you very much.”

Well, let’s think about when you were growing up.  Did you have a friend who was extra touchy-feely? Who just constantly needed to move? Who was always fidgeting? Well, they might have been processing sensory input, normal things that happen everyday, a little difimg_4798ferently than say, the normal person.

We all process information differently.  Some of us pick up information quickly, and some are much slower.  Some can easily guess what you are going to say, while others need some time to draw conclusions or make up their mind.  One of the best parts of being human is our diversity, how different each person is.  Maybe instead of focusing on differences we should embrace them (like kids with allergies!).  Maybe instead of using differences as a point of comparison or exclusion, making us feel bad because our kid doesn’t do x or does do y, we should celebrate that we created a unique being!

Now let’s look at your child

Have you ever noticed that your child does something a little, different? Do they for instance, shy away from loud noises? Not seem to like to be touched, get dirty, play with play dough, sand or mud? Or are they rolling around in sand in the sand pit, not seeming to be able to get enough?

Do they spin and spin and keep craving more? Do they seem to shy away from certain foods?  Or maybe they seem to get tired walking up stairs, or riding a tricycle, or maybe, they have never wanted to ride a tricycle.

These are all signs of sensory processing disorder, or your child having an issue on how to receive, interpret and organize information.

Sensory Processing Does NOT Equal Autism

img_5110While many kids with autism have sensory processing disorders (to be honest most of them do), NOT ALL KIDS with sensory processing disorders have autism.  In fact, MOST kids with sensory processing issues do not have autism.

I am saying this because, the FIRST thing most parents think about when learning about sensory processing issues is the big scary a-word: autism.  It’s a scary, scary road to travel down, and many parents refuse to even explore why their child is reacting to things differently because they so fear being labeled or finding an answer they are not prepared to accept.

As a mom of a very intelligent, sweet, loving and well-adjusted five year old who barely spoke until he was 5, and has two sensory processing disorders, trouble in this area is NOT equated with autism.  Rather, parents who are often able to get early interventions for their children are able to help their kids mostly or completely outgrow a processing challenge at an earlier age, leading to less related issues, behavior problems, issues making friends, falling behind, etc.

Please, do not let the fear of this diagnosis scare you into not addressing it.

So Why Have I Never Heard Of It?

We are still learning so many things about humans and their development.  100 years ago we still practiced bloodletting, 30 years ago ecstasy was given to psych patients.  Sensory processing issues have always existed, and are probably exacerbated by modern society with our loud noises, bright lights, fast movement, etc.  It’s not made-up or hoky poky, and honestly, it is a VERY small part of your child.

Dealing with it requires a call to your regional center if your child is under 3, which available at no cost through each state (though many have tightened the ability to receive care, my son as not able to qualify).  For a child over three, call their local elementary school and find out the process to request an IEP.

For my son, I just had to request one in writing.  It was simple and easy.  I also met with our pediatrician who referred him to an occupational therapist for a diagnosis.  You may also be referred to a behavioral therapist, which does NOT mean behavior is an issue.  This just means their overall behavior needs to be analyzed to find out what it causing them to do certain things.

The Good News

img_5342The good news is that early intervention leads to very successful outcomes.  If I did not tell you that my son needs extra proprioceptive and vestibular input, you would never know by looking at him.  He was noise sensitive, and from an early age, often said the phrase, “what’s that big big noise?”

Louder noises, crowds, noises missed with heavy lights / strobes really bothered him as a child.  He didn’t know how to process this, so he would shut down and want to leave.  He didn’t like Disneyland until we brought him with noise cancelling headphones.  With those on, he was happy as a clam.  He just wasn’t able to filter out the noises while at the park, and it overwhelmed him, and he wanted to leave / cry / retreat.

Think about when you have had a long day, and walk into a store with loud music pulsing.  It can just be TOO much for you, so you leave.  You are an adult, and you know how to take care of your needs and remove yourself when something is too much.  Maybe 6 out of 7 days, that noise is fine.  But this one day, it is just too much, so you leave.  Kids don’t have the ability to control their environments or self-regulate / self-soothe.

Now my son can say, can I please have my headphones, as he is 5.  This very very rarely happens now, as we addressed the matter with him, and he was able to outgrow this challenge by learning how to organize, process and deal with loud noises.

Next post, I will go more into detail about my experiences with my son.  Just please know, this diagnosis is not a curse.  It is just a part of your child, and one of the things that makes them so unique and special.

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