The “Sensational” Toddler: Recognizing and Treating Sensory Processing Disorder

Imagine two unique babies.

Benjy has been on the move since day one. Constantly active, often restless, easily surprised and a restless sleeper, he certainly keeps his parents on their toes. Speaking of toes, he jumped crawling and tiptoed at nine months! Mom and dad are exhausted, but that’s the way it is with a baby, they think.

Valérie’s parents appreciate her peaceful nature. She goes to anyone’s house, naps often, sleeps through the night and is content to be moved from the car to the grocery cart to the stroller and home, strapped in her baby seat. Her parents notice that she’s not interested in looking at the snow or grabbing a rattle, but she seems fascinated by the laptop screen saver next to her on the kitchen counter.

Two very different toddlers, one underlying disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the ineffective processing of messages from a person’s body or environment received by the senses.

Children with PDS may be hypersensitive to certain sensations, such as sudden touch or movement. However, some may be under-reactive, not noticing the door has slammed or the hammock is swinging.

Some toddlers with PDS may be craving cravings, looking for loud noises, flickering lights, and vigorous movement.

Others may misunderstand the differences between sensations: are they going up or down, moving forward or backward? Is the water hot or cold?

Many people with PDS are unusually clumsy, bump into furniture, trip, and struggle to catch a beach ball or alternate feet when climbing stairs.

Rather than cope completely, children with severe PDS grow in it as they develop, adhering to regular routines and familiar environments that help them feel safe and comfortable.

SPD is not a learning disability, but it can lead to academic and social problems, as a child may be inclined to avoid ordinary childhood experiences that are distressing, such as messy art and science projects, circle games with other children, new foods and other sensory stimuli.

Here are some of the common signs of sensory processing disorder in children. If your child exhibits one or two of these behaviors, don’t worry! Therapists usually only diagnose SPD when an individual’s symptoms are severe enough to negatively impact daily life.

Sensory overreactivity

• Resists being touched or held

• Is afflicted by baths, hairbrushes, and messy hands or face

• Cannot tolerate the textures of most clothing or linens

• Is a picky eater

• Keep your hands tight and don’t put your bare feet on the floor

• Frequently covers eyes or ears

• Afraid of sudden movements, playground equipment, car trips or elevators

Sensory sub-reactivity

• Seems unconscious to itchy touch sensations like itchy tissue

• Not bothered by inoculations or bruising

• Ignores loud noises

• Don’t notice when the name is called

• Do not notice when it falls

Sensory craving

• Touch everything

• Blows and shocks, requiring deep pressure on the skin and muscles

• Seeks intense movement, swaying, swaying, shaking or climbing constantly

• Likes to shake and nod, turn or be upside down

• Sniffs objects and people

• Puts inedible objects in the mouth after 2 years

• Speaks in a booming voice

Ineffective sensory discrimination

• Evaluates distance from a ledge or moving objects such as swinging children

• Has difficulty seeing the differences between faces, pictures and letters such as “b” and “d”

• Has difficulty hearing differences in voices, melodies, and sounds such as “g” and “k”

• Becomes confused when orienting limbs to dress

• I cannot tell if the milk has soured or if the food is chewed enough.

Ineffective sensory motor skills

• Has loose or “floppy” muscle tone

• Movements “in flight” (that is to say without apparent obstacle)

• Has difficulty using both sides of the body together for clapping or reading

• Has difficulty thinking, planning and executing new and complex actions, such as negotiating an unfamiliar obstacle course

• Shows reduced fine motor skills to draw, write or articulate words

• Shows reduced gross motor skills when crawling, running or climbing

If you think your child is showing signs of a sensory processing disorder, talk to your pediatrician or ask to be referred to a pediatric occupational therapist. If you think there is something wrong with your child’s development, listen to your maternal instincts! No one knows your child like you.

Fortunately, SPD is treatable, especially when children are young and their brains are malleable.

Are you looking for some activities to introduce sensorimotor experiences and improve your child’s developmental abilities at home?

Try these practices, body on activities with your little one!

• Circle games (eg Hokey Pokey or Duck, Duck, Goose)

• Resistive activities (Tug-o-War or soft brutality)

• Heavy work (carrying sacks of potatoes and buckets of water, digging or pushing a stroller)

• Follow the guide

• Stretching activities (squatting like a seed and gradually “growing”)

• Play in tubs filled with water, sand, beans, rice, mud, shaving cream or other pleasant to the touch ingredients

Whether your child has been diagnosed with SPD or just needs a little extra time to develop basic sensorimotor skills, fear not, Mom! Now that you know the signs of SPD, you can stop worrying so much and seek help if needed. In the meantime, have fun with your child, get outside every day and join the ranks of parents around the world raising “amazing” children.

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About Timothy Cheatham

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