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 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 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.
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