My son has CAPD or Central Auditory Processing Disorder ( hereditary in my father's family), and developmental dyspraxia which both include Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder. (Given that sudden infant death syndrome is shortened to SIDS, I prefer to use SPD over SID when I write about his sensory issues.)
Sensory Boy is 8. I call him that when I write about him, because that is what he is all about. He is a seeker as a hypo sensitive child. He is loud, and boisterous, and requires heavy, fast and constant input for his delayed development of his nervous system. He has MAJOR sensory needs.
He likes to hum, sing or talk constantly, loves bear hugs and backrubs and heavy clothes,blankets and he chews on his shirts and bites his toys and pencils. He plays with his spit in his mouth all the time. He walks heavy and pounds his feet hard on the floor when running everywhere, and yes, he runs...everywhere, always. he spins, and jumps and love the clothes racks in the department stores to run his hands over or hide in, though now he is getting too old for that game.
It is often said a million times a day in our house "WALK! DON'T RUN!"
He is a foodie, and loves to eat. He seeks the oral sensations that certain foods give him, thought he hates spicy foods and finds many things to hot for his tongue, which is one of the few hyper sensitive things he has going on.
My daughter ,on the other hand, is 12 and is ADHD and "high functioning Autistic" which is just the new way of saying Aspergers. She is very much a hypersensitive sensory child. She hates certain smells, is a picky eater, and is often overwhelmed by too much noise and smells, and visual stimulation.
You can only begin to imagine what a day in my house is like with two home schooled sensory children, on both ends of the sensory spectrum! It can cause some arguments, to say the least!
"mom he's bugging me! he keeps chewing his hot dog near me, it stinks!"
"mommy she won't listen to me anymore, make her hear me!"
MOMMMM, he wont stop talking, he's making me brain hurt!"
It can be hard some days. Then, throw in my own sensory issues, and my husband who suffers from chronic migraines, and some days we all just need to find a quiet corner of the house and do our own thing, alone. Yet, to spite these differences, we somehow have managed to find ways to make it work.
So far... but, not without trial and error, experiments, and a lot of patience.
My husband and I have done a lot of reading of some great books on sensory processing in the last 12 + years, and there are ones that I'd recommend any parent of a sensory child pick up and keep in their parenting library, for you will refer to them often. Our books are well dog eared and read over and over.
The first one for parents of young children of hyper sensitive children, who seem to be always having temper tantrums and are overwhelmed by so much stuff in general is "Raising your Spirited Child" I picked it up when my daughter was 2 years old and I have been reading it for 10 years. Over and over.
"STOP CHEWING ON YOUR SHIRT!"
Recently, sensory boy has started spitting on his clothes a LOT! I mean totally soaking them, and chewing on the sleeves of his shirts making "thumb holes" in them.
He has been also swallowing air to force burp, as we call it... to the point of causing chronic stomach pain from trapped air in his system.
He seems to have ramped up these behaviours a lot in the last few weeks, and he does it without even knowing it. He is completely unaware of it until I point it out to him.
I think he is having a neurological growth spurt so to speak, as he is complaining about a lot of sensations that seem to be nerves waking up in his body and causing twitches and pains he has never felt before. It is the only thing I can attribute it to thus far, and we have ruled out serious health issues with numerous dr. appointments and lab tests.
Just yesterday while we were driving to the city for groceries and such, he sucked on the hoodie of his shirt so much in the van, that when we got out of the van to go into a store, one whole half of his hoodie was soaked! He chose to wear it on his head anyway! And I let him. he prefers the safety feeling of having a hoodie or a hat on, and at this point after 12 years of taking sensory kids into public places, it didn't even phase me. I just showed him what he'd done and let it go. 9 years ago I probably would have been embarrassed to even take a child looking like that into a store. But, I have long become ( mostly) immune to the stares of other parents who have no clue about the kinds of struggles it takes to even just get my two kids dressed and out the door without meltdowns for tags and crumply socks.
Anyway, we have been brainstorming about things we could give the boy as a way to stimulate his oral sensation needs, to stop this burping, drooling, spitting and chewing of his clothes. I'm not fond of giving him gum all the time to chew on, and he loves to chew on straws ( and the legs of his army men and the spikes on his dinosaurs and the tired of his hotwheels...) So the picture below is of my husband's latest do it yourself oral sensory seeking solution for the Sensory boy.
We cut two McDonald's straws to make a necklace and paper punched holes in them to make them able to hang on an embroidery floss necklace. It was cheap and easy and fast and it works for him! when he is done chewing a straw, we just take it off and throw it out!
Given that he is 8 and will not swallow the straws and only chews them until there is not more "chew" left in them, I feel it is safe giving him this as an option to save his shirts and stop him from getting an upset tummy from swallowed air and trapped gas in his stomach. Though, I would not recommend this option for children who may gag on the straw, or bite off pieces and eat them.
For sensory boy it is all about the chewing of the straw, and he would take the straw from a drink from McDonald's and chew on it every time we went anyway, so we figured it was a good option for him.
So far...it is working!!!
I have never purchased chewlery or chewies, as they are called, but I have heard good things about them as a safe options to allow a child to fulfill their oral sensory input needs. If your child is seeking oral stimulation by chewing pencils, towels, clothing, or has their hair in their mouth all the time, etc, you might want to look into them.
Below, is some information for parents new to the Sensory Processing world. The sources for the info below came from experts from http://www.pdc-atlanta.com/content/sensory-integration
My advice for parents new to SPD is to read, read ,read. just google the words, and start reading. Arm yourself with as much information as possible, because the more info you have, the better able to advocate and help your child you will be.
If you have any questions, feel free to message me in comments, or on twitter
So, What exactly is Sensory Processing?
We all take in sensory information, all day every day. Sensory information as sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch, and movement is continuously entering our body through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and joints.
This information is then sent to the brain, where our brain tries to make sense of it by comparing it to past experiences. If the brain recognizes the sensory input it automatically knows how to tell the body to respond. If the sensory information is new, the brain typically needs more information to know how to respond and so seeks out the source, such as a sound or a texture, until the brain has figured out how to tell the body to react.
In infancy we begin learning to interpret the information received through our senses so that over time we are able to perform an increasing number of skills automatically.
Throughout the lifespan there are things that help us relax, concentrate, or just feel good. For example, parents use swaddling and rocking to help calm a fussy infant and babies learn to suck their thumb or a pacifier to self-soothe. As we grow and our bodies mature, we learn which things help us feel more calm or improve concentration in various situations and often do them without even thinking about it, such as chewing gum, working out, drinking coffee, doodling, taking a warm bath, listening to music, etc.
The typical child has an inner motivation to seek out sensory activities and to conquer challenges. This drive encourages the child to participate actively in experiences that enhance sensory integration. With every experience the brain is building a store of information so that it knows how to tell the body to respond to the environment automatically in a variety of situations. Over time, we also learn, without being told, what information is important to pay attention to and what can be ignored.
In the normally developing child, sensory integration occurs when the child participates in everyday activities comfortably. For this to occur, the child must also have a good sense of where their body is in relation to the environment in order to feel safe moving or being touched. This is a problem my son has. He crashes into things when he runs, can literally just fall of his chair at the kitchen table when sitting and eating.
There are many children who are unable to sort out and cope with the information they receive from their senses, touch and movement as well as the eyes, ears, mouth and nose. The information is disorganized and the child’s performance is then affected.
The term Sensory Processing Disorder is becoming more widely used to refer to problems occurring during the sensory integration process. It refers to difficulty with sensory processing as it relates to the ability to move the body, maintain attention, as well as react and behave appropriately in all situations. There may be weaknesses in one or more sensory systems, such as touch, movement, or body awareness, impacting the ability to accurately interpret the sensory information coming into the body and brain and then perform motor tasks in response. A child may also have difficulty screening out input from their body and/or the environment, impacting their ability to adequately focus and pay attention, resulting in problems with behavior and internal organization. Children with Sensory Integration issues can often be confused for ADHD.
As a parent of a child with ADHD as well as myself, and a child who has moderate Sensory processing Disorder, I can se the difference after 12 years of educating myself.
I think it is VERY important for every child firstly diagnosed with ADHD, to be screened for CAPD and Sensory Processing Disorder, since the stimulant drugs used for ADHD do nothing for SPD, and it should go without saying that no one should be taking a medication for something they don't have. It is true that ADHD and be co-morbid with CAPD and Sensory Processing Disorder ( I'm personally a living breathing example of that) but if your child has been diagnosed with ADHD only, and the medications does not seem to be helping the similar traits, then I'd suggest you educate yourself on SPD and CAPD and have your child further tested to see exactly what you are dealing with.
Children with a sensory processing disorder can have either a hyper (over-reactive) or hypo (under-reactive) response to sensory input, or can demonstrate a combination of both depending on the situation. The following are common behavioural characteristics of children with a hyper responsiveness or a hypo responsiveness to sensory stimulation.
The hyper responsive child may be very sensitive to touch and have difficulty with:
- Grooming tasks: nails cut, tooth brushing, hair washed or cut, bathing, face washed
- Dressing: dislike of tags, socks, baggy clothes, tight clothes, shoes
- Playing: avoids messy or gooey substances
- Socially: have difficulty sitting close to others, tending to push or hit
The hypo responsive child may also not feel touch adequately and may:
- Have a tendency to hold things too tightly and break things or use too much pressure
- Stomp feet when walking
- Close doors with too much pressure
- Bite and chew on objects
- Bump into furniture and objects in the environment
- Demonstrate clumsiness in their motor skills (running, jumping, handling objects, writing, etc.)
The hyper responsive child may be sensitive to movement and demonstrate:
- Cautiousness or fearfulness when their feet leave the ground, such as on stairs or a curb
- A dislike of having their head upside down or out of a neutral position
- Motion sickness in cars or on carnival rides
- A dislike playground equipment
- A preference for more sedentary play options (board games, TV, video games, reading, drawing)
- Poor muscle tone and stability; frequently appear tired; need to lean on things
The hypo responsive child may not get enough movement and demonstrate:
- A constant need for movement and activity
- A need to seek out jumping, twirling, spinning, rolling, swinging activities
- Inattention and distractibility
- Risk taking during play and with playground equipment (i.e. jumping from high structures, swinging high and fast, etc.)
The hyper responsive child may be sensitive to visual input and demonstrate:
- A sensitivity to bright sunlight or changes in light intensity
- A dislike of flickering or flashing lights
- Frustration with a busy visual environment such as when shopping in a busy store
- Frustration with puzzles and trying to find an object in a confusing background
The hypo responsive child may seek out visual stimulation:
- Seek out visual input such as flickering lights, lava lamps, fish tanks, etc.
- Need continuous stimulation to stay on task
The hyper responsive child may be sensitive to sound:
- Sensitive to loud or unexpected noise, and react emotionally or aggressively
- Dislike alarms or sirens
- Easily distracted by others around him
- Bothered by common household sounds
- Have a tendency to make sounds just for the sake of it
The hypo responsive child may also seek out noise:
- Seek out making loud sounds with objects
- Make sounds just for the sake of it
The hyper responsive child may be quite sensitive to anything he puts in his mouth:
- May be a picky eater and have very restricted food preferences
- May not have mouthed toys and objects as an infant
- Prefer bland and soft foods
The hypo responsive child may seek out a lot of oral stimulation:
- May mouth objects continually
- Chew on objects and clothing often
- Seek out spicy, salty and chewy foods
- Over stuff the mouth
As part of the sensory integration process, it is necessary to be able to know, without being told, what information in the environment or our bodies is important to pay attention to and what can be ignored and screened out. This is referred to as sensory regulation.
Sensory regulation is the ability of the nervous system to take in sensory information and organize it, allowing us to screen out unimportant information and help us to focus on that which is important
What is a well modulated system? A well modulated nervous system adapts to changes in the environment, allows us to remain focused on a task, block out unimportant information, pay attention to relevant stimulation, and doesn’t over or under react to a situation. For example, if our brain and body are proficient at sensory regulation we are able to ignore the background sound of a lawnmower in order to read a book without feeling confused or agitated.
Poor sensory regulation occurs when the brain has a problem letting in or screening out the necessary information from the body and the environment. This usually causes a response to sensory input that is over-reactive if the brain is letting in too much information or under-reactive if the brain isn’t letting in enough information.
Good sensory regulation requires us to be at an appropriate level of arousal, or attention and focus, so that we can respond to sensory stimulation with appropriate behaviour responses without over or under-reacting. Children who demonstrate poor sensory regulation are also often operating at a level of arousal that is too high or too low and thus tend to have what others perceive as problems with behaviour and attention. these things can be called "stims" or sensory seeking behaviour.
- High Arousal Level: A child with a high arousal level may be in constant motion, active, or impulsive, resulting in difficulty remaining focused on the task at hand. They may also be emotionally over-reactive to situations. These children are often easily distracted and have difficulty paying attention.
- Low Arousal Level: This child may appear tired, inactive, or bored, and difficult to please. They are unaware that their body requires input to reach their optimal performance level, and tend to prefer more sedentary play options
Praxis / Dyspraxia
Sensory processing allows the body to move and interact with the world. The typical child is able to easily learn new and more complex motor skills from infancy, moving from such skills as waving, then crawling, to tying shoes, writing, hitting/kicking a ball, and eventually more complex sports.
The ability to organize, plan and perform such motor actions is referred to as praxis. Praxis occurs when we first learn a new motor task and we have to think about how to do it. Eventually the task becomes automatic and occurs without even thinking. An example of praxis in early childhood is seen with playing games such as “Patty-Cake,” learning actions to songs, buttoning, writing the alphabet, as well as with learning to play sports and musical instruments.
Poor sensory processing can disrupt this ability to plan and perform motor actions. Dyspraxia is the difficulty with performing motor activities and may involve problems with one or more of the following foundation skills:
- The ability to come up with an idea of what to do; instead the dyspraxic child tends to wander
- Body awareness; the dyspraxic child tends to bump into things, trip, or fall
- Grading the movement, knowing how much pressure to use; the dyspraxic child often uses too much force or not enough
- Timing/sequencing of motor actions; the dyspraxic child is frequently clumsy
- Learning from previous experience; the dyspraxic child is often unable to remember how to do something
A dyspraxic child may also demonstrate:
- A tendency to play the same game or activity over and over,
- An inability to create new or different ways to play with toys and instead do the same thing over and over again; a lack of creativity
- A tendency to copy what others are doing, a “copy cat”
- An avoidance of motor activities, preferring more sedentary/passive play options
- Seeking out activities that provide jumping, climbing, or crashing
A child’s difficulty with motor skills, or dyspraxia, may also impact their behaviour, causing them to compensate with either becoming silly, overactive, or avoiding motor activities.
Parenting a Sensory child.
as a person who has many of these sensory issues as well, having two children on such different sides of this disorder can be overwhelming. My son sometimes overwhelms me with his constant prattling and humming and clacking his tongue. His heavy running through the house and falling off things and squeezing the cat to tight to show her he loves her can leave me with frazzled nerves by the end of the day. I am always constantly on guard and watching what he is doing because he doesn't always know to do things in a way that won't hurt him. He is hypo sensitive to pain, and he can fall and bump his head and get up laughing and keep going.
As a parent looking out for your child's safety it can feel overwhelming to learn and absorb all of this, and find ways to help your own child. But you learn what works and what doesn't.