Fact: My daughter(4years) has been diagnosed with SPD: Sensory Processing Disorder and NO it is not a death sentence 🙂
Disorder? Sensory Processing? What is THAT?
The best explanation I heard for it is to compare a child to a computer: the software and hardware is all there, but sometimes it is not working properly together, causing “glitches” (meltdowns). Sensory input that is not dealt with correctly, or sensory needs that is not met. It can be adjusted to work together with certain tools and activities, and LOTS of patience and love!
This infographic by North Shore Pediatric Therapy explains Sensory Processing Disorder well:
This concept is very new to me, even though I have been studying Remedial Education, it did not exactly fit (that time) into the category, so it was never discussed. It is also a relative new type of disorder, not new that it did not exist before, but new research and understanding the symptoms makes it more of a reality. Sometimes a childs negative behaviour stems directly from a lack of sensory processing. Interestingly enough, 1 out of 20 children have this disorder, knowingly or unknowingly.
Now, I am teaming up with a fellow bloggers to bring you a series called Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviour, and through this series it will become apparent that all kids, and adults, have sensory needs, and it will give us, as parents, some insights into typical or atypical kid behaviour.
But, first I want to tell our story: how I realized my daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder, mostly laying at the seeking side of it, and then how we try to help her to cope(and to cope ourselves).
(Please note I am in no means an expert, and will direct you to the experts in the posts. This is simply to share our journey.)
Lella was a terrible sleeper as a baby, and I am not exaggerating! Took forever to fall asleep and then woke up several times a night. She was just over two years when she dropped her daytime nap. She only started to sleep through at night by two and a half years, but still has a hard time “switching off”. She still sleeps with her “doekie” (her comfort cloth). This is one of her tactile seeking behaviours.
She reached gross motor milestones very quickly: sitting by 5 months, crawling by 7 months, walking by 10 months and then running or skipping most of the time! This has to do with the Vestibular Sense (the sense of body orientation in regards to gravity, located in the inner ear). Another sign of her vestibular seeking nature is her climbing onto the highest point of a jungle gym, not being scared of heights and has a “wild” spirit as some would call it. She is forever on the go, never sitting still. Activities that require for her to sit still will easily bore and frustrate her.
She loves making messes(read Reasons behind the Mess, seeking out tactile experiences to the point that some would call it “naughty” behaviour. Therefor we try and include a lot of different sensory activities like these by Project Sensory in our day, helping her to find appropriate ways to “feed” her tactile cravings, and other sensory cravings too.
My daughter likes to taste things, chew on objects that is not meant for eating etc. This has to do with her seeking oral stimulation in different ways. Here, we try to give her gum to chew, and chewy snacks, like biltong(jerky), dried mango, hard biscuits, popcorn etc. This gives her extra oral stimulation throughout the day to help her to avoid chewing on clothes, her hair and so on. I need to get her one of these chewable jewelry, that will be perfect for her! Read more on why a child will chew on everything and get tips from the Golden Refections blog to help your child in other ways.
Our biggest challenge at moment is her mood swings. Around two years of age, we thought this to be the symtom of the “terrible two’s”. But it did not get better, only worse. I did research on my own and eventually got to the explanation of SPD, and a lot of her “tantrums” made sense. She will flip out washing, blowing and combing her hair. Tags on clothes will irritate her terribly, clothes that are too snug will throw her into a fit just like that, shoes will hurt her easily, any out-of-routine happenings will result in tantrums. This is all signs of SPD, and it can cause her to get overstimulated in the wrong way. At the one hand she wants tactile input, but on the other hand she gets easily overstimulated too. And if she does not get enough sensory input, she seeks it out in inappropriate ways.
After my research, we had her evaluated by an Occupational therapist, and she did find the diagnosis of Sensory Seeking behaviour, although her development is on par, in some ways even higher than expected. This could also explain why she easily gets bored with certain activities: it is no challenge for her, resulting in frustration and unappropriate behaviour. We have since moved her to a class where the children is almost two years older than her, but she does all the work they do, and she seems to love it and thrive there!
Most of her meltdowns happens at bath time, or bed time. My guess is that by that time of the day, her body just had enough stimulation throughout the day, and she is just plainly overstimulated. We still have to find a magic “thing” that will help us to avoid this. We do have a good routine(something that is very important to SPD children: they need to know what will happen in advance), and we use the countdown system: warning her 10 minutes before bath time that it will come soon, counting down to the transition. This also helps in social situations(when having to leave to go home after visiting family etc.)
We still have a long way to go, a lot to learn ourselves(patience) and trying to help her develop her own coping stategies that is socially acceptable. It is NOT easy parenting a SPD AND strong-willed child, BUT, but the good news about SPD is that it can handled as children get older. Phew, sigh of relieve!
For more on Sensory Processing please refer to the following great posts:
What is SPD? by Lemon and Lime Adventures
Ideas for how to cope with SPD by Golden Reflections Blog
Identifying SPD signs by Kim’s Counseling Corner
Myths about SPD by The Inspired Treehouse
It is a year later, and things are still tough some days. I have noticed some improvement in handling certain situations. That could be that she has learned to control her emotions as she got a bit older. (Good news that it does get better!) In other situations, like school, she’s been having some more behavioral/disciplinary issues. We’ve gone through a few weeks of play therapy, to address certain issues and seen an educational psychologist. She is not worried about her cognitive development (she is ahead of peers), but did recommend occupational therapy during her “worst” time during school time. Just for some more vestibular input, to work out built up frustration. We will start therapy in the new term, about 2 weeks time!
She has started with Grade 1! We are 7 weeks in and she is doing so well! Don’t get me wrong, we still have our days where the school clothes are bothering her, the hair must be fastened(a battle every morning) and having meltdowns most afternoons because the days activities are overloading her sensory system(although the routine is doing her good).
We have found that she has to unwind and play her day out when she gets home. She will have a place in the house where she sets up her “classroom” and I listen to how she plays teacher(that tells me loads?). She has to tell me when she is ready for homework, or I have to bribe her at times, but then she sits on the bar stool that swivels, which helps. We also do lots of sensory based activities to learn her spelling(see THIS post)words and doing sums(check out this Whiteboard Hack.
I am trying to limit after school activities, which is quite difficult, to try and keep the sensory overload to the limit.
The teacher does complain about her being busy and fidgety in class. (I am getting her a wiggle cushion to see if it helps.) And that she likes walking around(going to the bathroom often), but that is a sensory break for her and hopefully the teacher understands that too.
We survived Grade 1 with flying colours last year! All glory to God! She did very well academically, achieving all 7’s(that is the highest score). She participated in netball and athletics too. She is starting the second term of grade 2 this week. Term 1 was off to a rough start, getting used to a new teacher, new class mates and routines. But, she is coping well. The fidgetness and attention deficit at times is still present in class, but is does not impact her academics as much as teachers nerves. We have some social behaviour we are working on and the not-so-new cheeky attitude! Sleeptime is still an issue. She is trying to go to sleep without Melatonin now, but it is a huge struggle, turning off that mind. We are exploring other herbal meds, but have not found anything that works as well as Melatonin(we can’t get it without a prescript here in SA).
Our girl is independent in so many ways and growing up so fast! Somedays we wish she could stay little, but with that said, the older she gets, the better she process sensory input, so it does get easier the older she gets!
She has come so far, acquiring coping techniques with each year that passess. So proud of her and incredibly in love with her!