He's Just FUSSY! My Adventures with Sensory Processing Disorder

Posted by Stacey on 10/29/2012 to Mom Madness

Let's start at the beginning. My oldest son, Nathan, was the fussiest baby on earth. I'm not sure that it's a scientific fact but it certainly seemed that way at the time. Looking back almost 7 years, I wish I knew then what I know now. He had all of the signs of SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) however, just seven years ago; this disorder was way under a normal pediatricians radar. As an infant, his fussiness was attributed to reflux, colic and allergies. As a toddler his rough play and excessive tantrums were attributed to his frustration with delayed speech. At the age of 4, he had seen numerous developmental pediatricians and child psychologists and the only answer was SPD. I wanted to pretend that he was just quirky and different. I wanted to pretend that it was normal for a 3 year-old to, in the same day, give turn by turn directions and spell road names and then, not be able to handle having his hair cut or his nails clipped. Sensory problems can often be a factor of Autism Spectrum Disorder but it's not the same. It's similar in that it has its own spectrum and levels of severity.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults. People with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound, and movement. They may feel bombarded by information, they may seek out intense sensory experiences, or they may have other symptoms. "Sensory processing" refers to our ability to take in information through our senses (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and hearing), organize and interpret that information, and make a meaningful response. For most people, this process is automatic. When we hear someone talking to us or a bird chirping, our brains interpret that as speech or an animal sound, and we respond to that information appropriately.

Children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), however, don't experience this process in the same way. SPD affects the way their brains interpret the information they take in and also how they act on that information with emotional, attentional, motor, and other responses.

The way we deal with our senses creates two actions: seeking and defending. Here are some of Nathan's SPD charateristics:

Proprioceptive Seeking

Proprioceptive seekers are in constant search of deep pressure. Bumping, crashing and throwing themselves onto furniture, they look for any opportunity they can to squeeze themsel.ves. They may have gained a reputation for their rough housing or wrestling, as they are chronically looking for the kinesthetic input they need to focus and thrive.

Tactile Defensive

Tactile defenders have a hard time habituating certain touch sensations. A clothing tag can lead to constant agitation, and is often said to 'feel like an irremovable spider'. Stitching in seams may feel like thousands of needles poking into the skin, as every stitch can be felt as irritating, creating a burning sensation. People with tactile defensiveness have a hard time finding socks, underwear, and shirts as the seams are actually perceived as painful. Most clothes will feel too tight, and cause a sensation of being overheated, which becomes almost impossible not to focus on. They will often fidget with and adjust their clothing.

Auditory Defensive

A person who is hypersensitive to sound will often be easily distressed by loud noises. Certain pitches and frequencies may also be agitating, such as high-pitched sounds like electronic beeping, shoes squeaking, or children verbalizing. They may also be disturbed by metallic scraping noises and other sounds that are perceived similar to the way a neuro-typical person perceives fingernails on a chalkboard. Listening to people and making eye contact may be difficult due to people's voices being perceived as louder than they really are. They are also more easily startled by loud sudden sounds, such as fireworks, car horns, or doors slamming. They often want the only noises in their environment to be under their control, and may make loud noises to override uncontrollable sounds.

The interpretations of senses start in infancy. I wore/wear all of my children in a wrap, do a lot of skin-to-skin interaction and infant massage - Nathan is my only child with sensory problems. Ironically, my middle child was a NICU baby that was only allowed to be held for 30 minutes per day for the first 6 weeks of his life and he has no sensory issues. At the age of 6, Nathan is a lot like a normal kid...just sensitive. If it's not his shoes feeling funny, it's his belt. He still freaks out about any loud noise and his first instinct when scared is to cover his ears. When he throws himself into a wall, I just know that he needs that pressure. While this adds to the mayhem of our life, we also know that we can handle all of his sensationalism...one day at a time.

Do you have experience with SPD?

Please share your experiences. There is always a need for more information, resources and stories


Date 10/30/2012
Renea P.
This post came at the perfect time. We are experiencing something similar with my daughter but no diagnosis yet. It is hard finding good info or other peoples stories with SPD.
Date 10/30/2012
My oldest who is four has spd; as well as a significant speech delay and.moderate fine motor delays. I too wish I had known about it when he was an infant. He was extremely high maintenance and difficult at times. We are now seeing many of these things again in our newest baby, because we have already been down this path before we saw the signs this time and had him evaluated. He will be starting occupational therapy soon. OT has been amazing for my oldest.
Date 10/30/2012
I swear this post feels like it was written about me. I was and am described by at least 80 percent of those things. Tags have always driven me crazy and I have told my sister, mom and husband that they chew too loud for as long as I can remember. Reading this makes me feel like I am not crazy and I only hate that my mom hadn't been told by doctors. I was diagnosed as ADHD and I think that I was mis-diagnosed.
Date 10/30/2012
I have a 3 year old with SPD and this post sounded so similar to him! He's constantly throwing himself to the ground when upset and banging his head, and he's over sensitive to noise. He also didn't start talking until about a month ago and struggles with fine motor skills. This post came at a good time for me tho b/c he just recently started throwing himself to the ground and into things, and I wasn't sure if this was part of the SPD or if I was just a bad mom! Thank you for the reassurance! He
Date 10/30/2012
Lillieth Grand
Great post! I have been working with children who have SPD for over 20 years now, the last 19 as a music therapist. Because music functions globally in the brain and has a direct and immediate impact on the sensory system, music therapy can be a powerful thing for persons with SPD. Make sure that your music therapist is board certified. A listening program is not music therapy. I also am lucky enough to be the mother of a child with SPD. He has severe neurological impairment due to seizures a
Date 10/30/2012
melissa b
my first is 4 now and has spd with mild autism. By the time he was about 15 months old i knew something was different but since he was my first no one belived me. As an infant he hated to be held or cuddled, From the day he was born he was the lighted sleeper we tried to have him in our room but even the sound of one of use rolling over was enough to wake him up. Since then has to sleep with a white noise machine. He has a lot f similar symptoms. The seasonal changes in clothes is a tough one i
Date 11/3/2012
My oldest son is a lot like this but we have no diagnosis other than the ever-changing ones for his language delays. I believe my nephews may have SPD too. They were/are all very high maintenance babies. I think my youngest two girls may have a few issues with it too since they're high maintenance as well. Thanks for sharing.
Date 1/15/2013
Our 8 yr old son is very challenged with SPD/Dyspraxia, and multiple language disorders. Every since he was a baby he had what we call the "witching" hour--to this day we still can not get him to do or comphrehend anything between 6-7 pm. We don't know if it's due to his disorders what it is. But all the dr's told us he was fine--it was just his "fussy" time--but we knew it was something more--We just recently learned he has all these challenges. When he started school we were told nothing,
Date 3/15/2013
My adventure with SPD began two years ago with the arrival of my son. As it turns out, our two youngest children have SPD and are sensory avoiders. For my son (who may rival your son for fussiest baby ever, lol), that meant screaming with terror in the infant swing and needing to be swaddled to sleep for almost a year. He still doesn't sleep well, but is too big to swaddle, and absolutely cannot tolerate anything under his chin (like the strap of a bike helmet). For my daughter (who also

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