Talking about Sensory Processing Disorder.
Yesterday, I went live in my Facebook group: 'Katie's Classroom - Honest Parent Chat' talking about children with sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Our eldest son, Bass, who is 10 has sensory difficulties/differences/issues however you'd like to think of it. His sense of taste and smell are supersonic! If we mistakenly eat an apple or banana in the car for example he's often sick but I'll talk about Bass a bit later.
Here's a little synopsis of my video chat I did yesterday. I explain what SPD is, how it affects children and what we can do to help. I hope you find it useful!
What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Sensory processing is how our brains and nervous system use what we sense (see, hear, touch, taste, feel) to make sense of the world.
When a child has a sensory issue they are either very sensitive or not sensitive enough to the things around them and this can affect the way they hear things, smell things, taste things, see things and feel things.
If your child has SPD then they have an oversensitive sensory nervous system and they will often feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious by their senses and their mind and body will often go into flight or fight mode and feel in danger.
SPD children are never far away from a meltdown - a way of them telling you they are feeling really uncomfortable.
Hyper or hypo-sensitive?
There are two main types of sensory processing disorder:
If your child is hyper-sensitive, they are extremely reactive to stimuli - they basically have supersonic senses! Your child will feel things profoundly. They may not like labels in their clothes, loud music, fireworks, food textures, hugs, baths, showers, brushing their teeth, the feel of their socks, people talking for example.
Hypo-sensitive children are sensory seekers! They LOVE sensory input. They love touching things, feeling things, hugging you tightly, jumping on a trampoline - they always want their hands on things. They often have an extremely high tolerance for pain and discomfort but these children are often deemed 'too rough', that they 'don't know their own strength' and that 'they get too close'.
How does SPD affect our children?
Life for a child with SPD is really really challenging and stressful both for the child and you trying to manage it!. They often feel overwhelmed by their senses, which triggers meltdowns.
Often children with SPD can't self-regulate. They can't respond to things around them that are socially and developmentally age appropriate.
So often children with sensory difficulties have poor behaviour or behaviour that is hard to understand but their behaviours are often dramatically diminished when their sensory needs are addressed.
What are our experiences of SPD with our son Bass?
Bass has supersonic senses! He has a supersonic sense of taste and smell. A few years ago he was diagnosed with ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), which basically means he would rather starve than eat something he didn't want to eat. I believe Bass's ARFID is a byproduct of his SPD.
I think our first experiences of Bass's SPD was as a baby - he cried a lot. The world made him feel uncomfortable a lot of the time. He hated anything going over his head so getting him dressed or changed was challenging. He didn't like baths. He didn't like loud noises. He didn't like fireworks night. He didn't like food.
The most dominant SPD symptom we have with Bass is his eating. He doesn't really like food and all the different textures. He would happily and to this day only eats a handful of things. He would be sick if avocado was placed on his high chair tray. He would be sick if someone ate an apple in the car. He gags at smells coming from the kitchen or the bin. He absolutely hates people smacking their lips.
I think the most heart breaking SPD moment was when he was 5 years old when he started school in Reception. He would often be found in the loos crying and hiding because he couldn't tolerate the lunchroom. He hated all the smells, the clonking of the cutlery, the loud voices and watching and sitting next to children with food around their mouths and smacking their lips as they spoke to each other - Bass was physically repulsed by this and would often hide, feel overwhelmed with anxiety and hide.
Bass also doesn't like to be touched so hugging him has always been difficult.
So how can we help a child with SPD?
1 Learn to live with their sensitivities.
As parents we do everything we can to help our children be as happy as possible and as comfortable as possible. I'm sure that if you have a child with SPD you are already doing all that you can to stop the meltdowns and help your child feel more comfortable. Tip number one is keep doing what you're doing!
2 What triggers your child's meltdowns?
I think it's all about understanding the things that trigger your child. Working with them and giving your child the words to identify their feelings and emotions. It might sound a bit laborious but sometimes, especially if you feel the meltdowns are getting too out of control and feel too constant, start jotting down what/when/why they're happening and I think this will help.
3 Practical things...
Google 'self regulation' resources and you'll hopefully find a whole list of things that can help a child with SPD. A small trampoline, weighted blankets, weighted lap bags, a sensory swing, noise reducing headphones, massage roller, therapy balls and essential oils are all supposed to be good!
4 Transition help
Many SPD children find transitions difficult. So continue to let your child know that something is coming up. Give warnings in good time before you do anything but keep the anticipation period short so as not to give them anymore anxiety about the event. A visual timer is good for this.
Things to remember!
Although tricky, try not to get upset when your child gets upset.
Try not to let your child's emotions affect your emotions. It is very easy to often mirror our children's behaviours but try and remain and stay calm.
Remember they're not purposefully being bad.
Remember tantrums and meltdowns are just a way (stressful yes) but just a way of letting you know they're feeling really uncomfortable. They're just having some sort of internal struggle.
Don't put your child in a box!
Remember time moves forward and life won't be like this forever. Managing Bass's SPD now is far easier than when he was a toddler. Children with SPD are constantly trying to cope and find strategies to help themselves so as they grow older they'll learn more and more ways to cope.
Thank you for reading this email. I hope it was useful and gave you some comfort as I know that parenting a child with SPD is hard and really stressful at times.
I would love to hear from you! Does your child have SPD or you think they might? What do you do that helps? Tell me!