Studies Find That Sensory Processing Disorder More Common Than Once Thought

There’s that oft-repeated line about how kids aren’t really autisitc: “They just grew up with parents who didn’t know how to discipline them,” people will say. But science is finally catching up to the willful ignorance of the masses. We’re finally getting a chance to teach people about the reality of sensory processing disorder (SPD) and how many children will grow up with some form of it.

Even though SPD has been found to be much more common than once thought, scientists say it still isn’t understood very well — even by the scientific community.

A Pine Grove Country Club event at Iron Mountain in Michigan was recently held in order to inform parents about SPD and educate them on how best to approach the possibility that their children may be growing up with it.

Carol Kranowitz is a National SPD Trainer and Author. She said at the event, “It’s a common, but misunderstood, neurological problem that affects not only children but also teenagers and adults. The behaviors of a person with SPD often look like others.”

That’s because kids experience symptoms of SPD differently. Each person is different, which is just one reason why educating parents and exploring options to treat SPD is difficult; it requires a lot of time personalizing treatment to do correctly. 

Kranowitz explained this phenomenon, and more, to at least 200 service providers at the Iron Mountain event. That’s important, because police and medical personnel often don’t understand when they might be dealing with a person suffering from SPD over, say, a drug addiction. That’s why these interactions can sometimes become dangerous for both the person experiencing SPD and police who don’t understand.

She said, “So we see a fidgeting child, we think, oh, it’s ADHD, let’s him him a psycho stimulant — when in fact, the child is fidgeting because the seams in his socks are annoying him so much, that’s the only thing he is thinking about.”

The point Kranowitz was trying to make wasn’t difficult to understand: sometimes it’s important to figure out what might be bothering an individual, even when that particular complaint might not be made by others. No detail is too small or insignificant, and it’s important to understand the hypersensitivities that some people experience, sometimes even as adults.

DIISD Department of Early Childhood Director Casey McCormick said, “[Kranowitz is] helping us identify the different types of sensory issues that kids may have and then strategies we can use to support them.”

Dickinson-Iron Early On Coordinator Cherie Fila said, “If we can understand that better, we can help them learn what they need to do, or we can help them arrange their environment better.”

Did You Know That October Is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Month?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) affects nearly 1 in 20 of us, even though most of us don’t know much about it. October represents SPD Awareness Month, so there is no better time to learn everything there is to know! This month, let’s try to end a few of the misconceptions related to these behavioral disorders and stem the flood of misinformation. 

Did you know that while many kids living on the autism spectrum are also suffering from some form of SPD, autism itself isn’t actually SPD? Technically, SPD isn’t even a set of behavioral disorders. Actually, it’s a neurological condition that sometimes presents through those behavioral problems. The diagnosis of SPD remains complicated, in part because even doctors don’t know to routinely look for it when similar symptoms present. 

The behavioral issues often associated with this neurological condition are a result of mostly environmental factors. A child will become stressed because they do not know how to respond to certain stimuli — like noise, tactile sensation, or temperature fluctuations — and so they can act out because they don’t have any other way of coping or relieving that stress.

SPD educators will gladly provide information related to the learning methods often required of kids with SPD. It’s not that they can’t learn — it’s that they learn differently from most other kids. Activities that include tactile sensation are important to kids growing up with SPD because they need to learn how to adapt to these new experiences.

Teachers can provide kids with classroom-like learning experiences by taking them outside and asking them to touch and describe certain objects they find in the local environment. These might include sticks, leaves, or trees. Science teachers can benefit kids by letting them touch biological objects like fur, skin, shells, etc.

Believe it or not, there are a number of ways to teach math and science using sensory functions like touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste! Including all of these functions as often as possible is an important way to help children learn and grow.

Do you know how to interact with kids who suffer from autism or forms of SPD?

Make sure the children are receiving enough individual attention. Educators must learn to spot the warning signs of a child’s stress. Baby steps are also an important way of helping kids work to a goal. When the stress becomes too much for someone to handle, it’s important that they have a designated safe space where they can go, no questions asked. 

Last but not least, every child with SPD is different and has different needs. Educators and parents must work together to learn about a child’s learning style and help them become an important part of the community over time.

Teenager Suffering From Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder Goes Blind

Children who suffer from sensory processing disorder (SPD) are often diagnosed with other disorders as well. One such disorder called avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is being blamed for causing a teen to go blind because he was not comfortable eating a wide range of nutritious foods. Children are known for their picky eating habits, so what signs should a parent watch out for when determining a child’s diet?

Many children with ARFID are turned off by various textures, smells, colors, etc., and refuse to eat most foods. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and lethargy — or in this case, blindness.

About 5 percent of children — mostly boys — are affected by ARFID. The disorder affects kids more often than adults, who usually grow past the picky eating habits. 

How might a parent recognize the disorder in their own child? The following symptoms might be displayed: 

  • Slow eating
  • Will not gain weight
  • Reduced sociability
  • Eating habits not the result of poor body image
  • No obvious physical or mental illness

For many parents, the lack of a wide array of symptoms can make diagnosis difficult or impossible, especially when the case of ARFID is mild.

According to a report published in England’s Annals of Internal Medicine, the 14-year-old who lost his eyesight was severely vitamin deficient. His weight was normal for his age, but likely only because the foods he ate were highly processed and high-fat, such as chips, bread, pork, and fries.

The study’s authors said, “The researchers concluded that the patient’s ‘junk food’ diet and limited intake of vitamins and minerals resulted in the onset of nutritional optic neuropathy.” 

Dr. Sejal Parekh of ABC News said, “His doctors did initially diagnose him with mild nutritional deficiencies, specifically Vitamin B12, and prescribed the right shots.”

The boy did not complete the assigned regimen.

Many victims of ARFID have physical symptoms no one would connect with the disorder, and that was initially the case for the boy. He was eventually diagnosed, but not before his vision was beyond repair.

Parekh said, “ARFID differs from anorexia in that it is not driven by body image or weight concerns. ARFID can be recognized in child with other sensory processing disorders and autism.”

Other complications of ARFID include anxiety disorders, developmental delays, gastrointestinal diseases, and low weight. Treatment includes meal coaching, food exposure therapy, education, counseling, and behavioral therapies. This might occur in the home, or patients may be hospitalized.

What Is “Sensory Day” At The Ohio State Fair?

The world is becoming a much more inclusive place for those of us who have special needs, even as a lot of people still believe that vaccinations cause autism (hint: they don’t. But failing to vaccinate your children might result in a short life for your kid and others). The Ohio State Fair knows that a lot of the kids who visit each year fall into the category of those who require a little extra help to adapt to the rest of us, which is why it hosted a “Sensory Day” on Wednesday, July 31. Hopefully other organizations will follow this example.

The fair has organized a day without flashing lights or music, and tried to cut down on loud sounds as well. The Ohio State Fair also tried to organize more streamlined parking to get kids to the fun festivities that much faster. Long lines moved fast.

Director Shawn Henry of the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence said: “If you are overwhelmed and need a break, you can go in the quiet room. We’ll have fidgets and other items just to make the environment something that’s inviting, that’s relaxing, then, you can go back out and enjoy other activities.”

The hope is that the Ohio State Fair will draw more attention as perhaps the most inclusive event in the country. General Manager Virgil Strickler said: “The Ohio State Fair isn’t just about food and rides. It is about community. We want to make the fair as enjoyable as possible for all Ohioans, and Sensory Friendly Morning is one way we can achieve that goal.”

In order to increase enjoyment for all attendees, the space was reorganized with prompts that help everyone get to their next ride a little bit faster. The schedule was presented visually to help people find the right ride at the right time. 

Up to sixteen percent of young children may suffer from a sensory processing disorder, although many parents and doctors still fail to diagnose these concerns. Those kids who are affected may not respond to touch, sound, or visual stimuli the same way the rest of us do. They can become very sensitive to strange patterns of unfamiliar environments, and may be easily distracted when those situations present.

Hopefully the Ohio State Fair’s new considerations will make it easier for parents to enjoy the day with their children who have special needs in the future as well, which should result in a great experience for many summers to come!

Why Do Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder Have A Tougher Time In Summer?

When you have a child who is learning to grow up with sensory processing disorder, you might be surprised to know that summer can be one of the most difficult times of the year. While much of the other three seasons is spent inside, most people prefer to be outside during the warmest months. That means parents will take their kids out and about as often as possible. This change in routine can be a real pain for kids with SPD.

Director of the Children’s Center Early Intervention and Family Support Jeff Johnson explains: “There are people talking, there are smells coming off the grill and their bare feet are touching the grass and the wind is whipping and the leaves are rustling and there’s a dog barking…All of that piled onto somebody with a generalized sensory input problem could put them over the edge.”

Different kids have different needs, as any parent of a child on the spectrum already knows. For example, some kids won’t like to be touched. A spray sunscreen can work wonders for those who don’t want to be lathered up. Then again, those who can’t stand the sound of a spray can will probably prefer it the old-fashioned way.

One crucial component of understanding how to help your kids with SPD make the most of the summer months involves communication. You need to go the extra mile to let them know that in most situations they can control how long they stay outside, what kind of activities they’re comfortable with, and how to say “no” to the ones they aren’t comfortable with.

There are other forms of entertainment available as well, and not all of them have to take place outside. Older kids might respond well to video games. Visual kids might do well with toys aimed at the fidgeters out there. Others might prefer an array of musical instruments to pass the time, and using these might even help them adapt to the discomfort of an outdoors environment in some situations.

Another issue with the outdoors is the temperature. Many kids are sensitive to heat. In other words, “excessive heat” means something completely different to them than it does to everyone else. Some might display a mild dislike for the sun, while others will actually start to develop symptoms that, in the worst cases, can even become life-threatening. Sensitivity isn’t always just in the head or the way the mind works. Sometimes it’s a literal physical intolerance, and that means heat stroke can come on more easily. 

It’s best to make sure your kids know how to tell you when it gets to be just too much!

Common Sensitivities For Those With SPD

It is very important to understand that Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a disorder that affects the nervous system. It is the nervous system’s inability to properly organize sensory stimuli from the environment. The best way to explain how SPD works is to think about having a conversation with someone at a coffee shop. While many people are capable of tuning out background music, noise from the other patrons and can focus on having a conversation, others cannot. All the stimuli are competing for attention in the brain at once which can create anxiety and cause a sense of being overwhelmed. There’s an old adage that everyone is on the Autism spectrum – well the same can be true for SPD. Here are some common sensitivities:

Hate Getting Hair Cut – Especially in men who use razors to groom their hair, the vibration stimulates the sensation of both touch as well as sound which can be very difficult to process for people who have SPD.

Clothing Labels Annoy You – While we know there is a label in the back of our shirt, most of us are able to forget that it’s there. We’ve all had the occasional tag that has annoyed us. The difference for people suffering from SPD, they will be fixated on the label until it is resolved and not be able to focus on anything else.

New Cleaning Smells Bother You – The smell of cleaning problems, especially with those who have an olfactory sensitivity can be too much to bear. Even cleaners that are allegedly scent free can be detected by those who are ultra sensitive to smells.

Needing To Touch Things To Relax – Fidget spinners before they became a fad were actually a toy that was developed to help kids calm down when stressed. Mermaid pillows are a great example of something tactile that can help someone relax.

How To Take Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder To the Movies

Many relaxing real-world situations can become the exact opposite for children with Sensory Processing Disorder (or SPD). Everything is a little bit more difficult for parents whose children suffer from SPD because each new situation represents a question mark. School, church, and other social gatherings can be especially difficult. These places are filled with unexpected sights, smells, and sounds. What about the movies?

Some parents will inevitably avoid this activity for fear of their child experiencing sensory overload. Sometimes, there are options.

  1. Depending on where you live, it’s possible that there might be “sensory-friendly” movie screenings. These screenings are specifically for children with special needs and their parents, and it’s expected that people will be filtering in and out of the theater. The sound is turned to a lower setting than most movies, and the lights are kept on. In addition, children won’t need to feel confined. They can get out of their seat and move around all they like.
  2. A lot of kids with SPD do well with noise-canceling headphones. You can make a kit for situations just like these. What calms your child down? Put those items in the kit. A fidget spinner or silly putty sometimes works like magic.
  3. Although it might seem over-the-top, try replicating the movie theater experience at home. No, you don’t need to decorate, but it might help to dim the lights, turn up the volume, and invite a few people over for a movie night. If your child does really well in this situation, then it might be a good time to try the real thing.
  4. Your child’s needs won’t necessarily be anything like another child’s needs, so be sure to take them into consideration when choosing your child’s seat. If your child hates crowds or doesn’t like to stay seated for long periods of time, then an aisle seat near the exit might be the best way to go.
  5. Avoid going to the movies at night. Daytime movies are often less crowded, so it’s less likely you won’t be able to find the right seat for your child.
  6. Neither you nor your child should feel any obligation to stay if one of you isn’t going to have fun for the duration. Make sure your child knows that he or she has the power to tap your shoulder and leave at any time.

Misdiagnosed With Depression Or Anxiety When You Really Have Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (or SPD) can present in a number of different ways. Its effect is different from person to person, which is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to diagnose accurately. Misdiagnosis is all too common. For example, if a child presents with depression or anxiety, he or she might be diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD). It doesn’t help that so many children who have attention deficit disorder also have sensory processing disorder.

If a misdiagnosis occurs, then the depression and anxiety won’t be alleviated until the cause of the symptoms is addressed. Many who haven’t been properly diagnosed will self-medicate, a dangerous trend in adults and children who grow up with these disorders.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds won’t do a thing to treat the real cause of the depression, which can in turn compound its effects. Education is important when trying to set things right. Once properly diagnosed with the correct disorder, a patient can gradually be weaned off the wrong meds in order to receive the right ones later. Some kids with attention deficit disorder will find that stimulants help them focus or cope with, although others will find the drugs interfere with personality.

First, you’ll want to pay attention to your child’s reactions to various stimuli as they grow up. Do they have abnormal reactions to taking drugs or simple actions that involve tactile sensations like washing hair? What about walking around barefoot? Kids with SPD might not be so easy to diagnose, because they can sometimes go from one extreme to another without warning. At one point they might endure sensory overload, while at another they may desire more sensation because their senses have been dulled.

Scientists at the Sensory Processing Treatment and Research Center in Denver, Colorado, believe that over half of children with either disorder actually have both.

The earlier you can retrieve the right diagnosis and provide your child with the right occupational therapy, investigative analysis, and social training based on individual symptoms, the sooner the child will adapt to fit into society normally. Symptoms of SPD can be managed or eliminated over time, but it’s important to fight those symptoms as early as possible.

New Treatment Possible For Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder

Fragile X syndrome in children is characterized by learning and cognitive impairments and usually falls under the category of Sensory Processing Disorder (or SPD). It can leave kids mentally handicapped, but new research will provide parents with hope for their kids. According to a study done by the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, a medicine that helps regulate cyclic adenosine monophosphate (or cAMP) might help reduce or eliminate symptoms of SPD.

More than 90 percent of those on the autism spectrum will experience symptoms of SPD. This can leave patients with more or less sensitivity to sights, sounds, textures, and tastes. Patients will usually become uncomfortable or experience increased levels of agitation and anxiety.

Fragile X occurs when the corresponding mental retardation protein (FMRP) is deficient because of a gene mutation. This mutation leads to a variety of problems–obstacles that kids and their parents must learn to navigate around. In the study, scientists used fruit flies to find out whether or not pharmacological options might pose a solution. The mutated fruit flies experienced an improved response time versus normal flies.

The medicines that might eventually be used to help those with fragile X syndrome are well known among the medical community. Dipyridamole is typically used to help relieve patients who have blood clots, and lithium is a controversial yet powerful drug used to combat bipolar disorder or extreme depression. Lithium can also be used in conjunction with a number of other drugs to treat schizophrenia and other mental disorders. That these drugs might also help those with SPD was previously unknown.

Because there are a number of genes linked to the autism spectrum and SPD in general, a lot of research focuses on how to manage symptoms instead of how to eliminate them altogether. Right now researchers would like to conduct human trials to see how fragile X patients respond to drugs that regulate cAMP signaling.

October was Sensory Awareness Month, so this ray of light couldn’t have come at a better time. This is a great time to raise awareness for those suffering from SPD or similar behavioral and developmental disorders through outreach, fundraising, donation, and personal involvement.

Treating SPD With Therapy

Considering there are over 8 different senses and three different subtypes of SPD, a child diagnosed with the disorder has their own set of unique needs and challenges. Once it is determined which senses are over and/or under sensitive, working with a PRP therapy Tampa can help generate a plan to make life easier for you and your child.

Most of the time your child will be working with an occupational therapist that will help retrain their senses. Sensory Integration involves play, sensory stimulating activities in an effort to bring positive feelings that the child can associate in other environments. This is sometimes referred to as a sensory diet, where activities and exercises are introduced to the child in a safe controlled manner in order to discover new sensations.

This type of approach can be very helpful for physical therapy, vision therapy, and listening therapy as well as psychotherapy and speech therapy. This is all based on the theory of neuroplasticity or the belief that the brain can change.

A good occupational therapist will then help you take these techniques and apply them at your home through a process called sensory organizing. An example of this is establishing a routine that mitigates sensory exposure by breaking down each thing into small easy to accomplish steps.

There are many other “life hacks” that are easy to implement to make life more comfortable for your child including:

  • sound blocking headphones
  • sunglasses in bright areas
  • tag free clothing
  • sneaking in nutritious foods into meals

For more information on treating your child with SPD by using therapy, feel free to contact us for more information.