This article is written by Karissa Tunis
For more on this topic, check out the full Early Intervention collection
According to WebMD.com, “Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.”
I have read studies that say anywhere from 1 in 20 kids, to as many as 1-6 kids, struggle with SPD. But no matter the correct number, it seems to be growing. Whether by diagnosis or by educating parents to have their children tested, it seems SPD affects a lot of people around us.
It’s important to remember that every child will respond differently, and some days they will be more sensitive than others. If you suspect your child may be dealing with SPD, please get them tested and help as soon as possible!
Even if your child does not deal with SPD, it is beneficial to know these traits so that incase a child ever comes into your home that is dealing with any of these symptoms, you know how to create a more pleasurable environment for them.
Some children may experience only one or two of their senses being hyper or hypo sensitive, while other’s may experience a whole combination.
Please understand that below does not nearly include all of the possible symptoms, and I know that there are more in-depth versions, but here are the basics that I have researched.
At the bottom is also a link to a free printable that includes the points mentioned below. It may be a good idea to print that out as a reminder for everyone in your house on how to respond to a more sensitive guest.
The senses I discuss below are Touch, Movement, Sound, Oral, Smell and Visual
Hypersensitivity to Touch (Over-Responsive)
- May become very distressed from a dirty diaper or dirty clothes, so change them as soon as needed
- May not like to be held or cuddled, and can become fearful or anxious with light or unexpected touch, so give them their personal space
- May overreact to rain drops, wind blowing, water from a shower or sprinkler, minor scrapes, cuts, bruises, bug bites, these may feel like torture to their skin
- May be bothered by clothing seams and/or different fabrics, hats, mittens, belts, bed sheets, blankets, towels, rugs, plush toys; certain textiles may feel bumpy or prickly to them and can even be painful on their skin
- May not enjoy messy play and becomes frustrated when hands are dirty
Hyposensitvity to Touch (Under-Responsive)
- May crave to touch everything and everyone
- May not be aware of touch unless done with force, so may not realize injuries, cuts, scrapes or bruises
- May not feel dirt on the their face or body
- May be more rough in physical play with other children, and may even be more physical to oneself
- May enjoy touching all textiles, materials, and might like strong sensory or even vibrating objects
Hypersensitivity to Movement (Over-Responsive)
- May move slowly and cautiously, and might even suffer from motion sickness and poor balance
- May dislike moving such as escalators and elevators, so you could consider encouraging them to sit if safely possible, and might avoid moving play such as slides, swings, bikes, jumpers, and merry-go-rounds
- May also be scarred of heights, so ladders or even going up and down stairs can be scary
- May be startled by sudden movements around them or to them such as pushing in their chair
Hyposensitivity to Movement (Under-Responsive)
- May have difficulty being still, prefers to be in constant motion
- May love intense movement such as being thrown in the air, running, sprinting, spinning, jumping, and fast thrilling rides, may even rock or shake body often
- May enjoy sudden and quick movements
- May have poor muscle tone and/or coordination
Hypersensitivity to Sound (Over-Responsive)
- May be distracted by sounds not normally noticed or even heard by others such as humming, fans, ticking, far off airplanes or other vehicles
- May be fearful of loud and/or sudden noises such as flushing toilets (especially in public restrooms), vacuums, hair-dryers, or a dog barking
- May be bothered by squeaky shoes, background noise, someone singing, tapping, and even the tone of someone’s voice
- May not like loud public places such as playgrounds, amusement parks, movie theaters, carnivals, parades, and concerts
- May often cover ears and even cry from noises
Hyposensitivity to Sound (Under-Responsive)
- May be oblivious to certain sounds
- May not respond to verbal cues, might not realize when name is called
- May love making noise or even talking to self
- May like loud music & TV
- May have difficulty remembering or understanding what was said
Hypersensitivity to Oral Input (Over-Responsive)
- May be very sensitive to certain food textures and tastes, might even refuse to lick envelopes and stickers
- May gag, choke, or even vomit often
- May have difficulty sucking, chewing or swallowing – especially as a baby
- May prefer only hot or cold foods
- May dislike toothpaste, mouthwash, brushing teeth and even going to the dentist
Hyposensitivity to Oral Input (Under-Responsive)
- May be always putting objects in mouth, and might repeatedly chew or suck on hair, fingers, and shirt
- May have excessive drooling during, and past, the teething stage
- May lick, taste, or even chew non edible objects
- May prefer strong and intense flavors, otherwise majority of food may taste similar and bland
- May love vibrating chew toys, toothbrushes, and even trips to the dentist
Hypersensitivity to Smells (Over-Responsive)
- May be bothered by or dislike smells that typically would go unnoticed.
- May talk about how funny things smell
- May refuse certain foods based on their smell
- May be irritated by perfume, cologne, household, baking, or cleaning smells
- May stay away from certain houses or businesses because of the way they smell
Hyposensitivity to Smells (Under-Responsive)
- May have difficulty smelling nice or even unpleasant odors (be careful with chemicals around the house)
- May not notice bad tastes (be careful with spoiled foods or chemicals)
- May not be able to smell scratch n’ sniff stickers
- May want to excessively smell objects or people
Hypersensitivity to Visual Input (Over-Responsive)
- May be sensitive to bright or excessively dim lights; might squint, cover eyes, cry, and even get headaches from the light
- May have difficulty keeping eyes focused on a task or activity for a normal or extended amount of time
- May be easily distracted by other visual stimulants such as movements, colors, decorations etc.
- May rub eyes, have watery eyes, or even complain of headaches after reading or watching TV
- May avoid eye contact
Hyposensitivity to Visual Input (Under-Responsive)
- May have difficulty with tracking, differentiating between similar objects, or even with perception
- May focus on the details or patterns instead of the “big picture”
- May have a hard time searching for items, finding a toy in a toy bin, looking for something in a drawer or on a shelf
- May have difficulty controlling eye movement following an object
- May lose place while reading or doing math problems, have trouble with jigsaw puzzles, and cutting or tracing along a line
Again, no two children are the same, and no child is the same every day. It’s important to remember that when working with a child that has SPD, you need to stay patient, know their “triggers” or struggles, offer options, and sometimes even think outside the box. Please do not force them to do anything that is uncomfortable, because to them this can be very physically painful.
There are so many incredible resources, doctors, therapy options, and products designed specifically for children with SPD. So the sooner you can get a diagnosis and some help, the sooner you can try to move on with your life – just maybe in a new way implementing some new techniques that make your little one more comfortable.
Please read and print out my Sensitive Child Printable to keep as a reminder. By knowing these “triggers” ahead of time, you can prepare a more comfortable environment for everyone.
For more on this topic, check out the full Early Intervention collection
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