What The Experts Say About Overstimulation Or Hypersensitivity

Sometimes we forget that even adults can suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Although the issues are often more readily apparent in children, and many children grow out of them or learn to cope to better fit in, there are adults who continue to struggle for years. There are even some who develop this overstimulation or hypersensitivity when they become adults! Here is what the experts have to say about it.

First, they note that the coronavirus pandemic has led to sensory overload-related experiences becoming more commonplace. This happens as a result of a disrupted routine — and we’ve all had our routines disrupted over the past twelve months.

Varleisha D. Gibbs is Vice President of practice engagement and capacity building for the Occupational Therapy Association. She explains, “We are conditioned to engage with our environment. We expect certain experiences, routines, and rituals to occur. When they do not, discomfort could arise due to not getting our sensory needs met.”

The consequences are different for everyone because, after all, SPD is a very individualistic condition. One person’s symptoms might vary from another’s by a wide margin. For some, staying indoors is the right way to approach sensory overload. For others, some actually need more sensory input. In those cases, it’s best to get outside (as safely as possible, with a mask and the expectation of social distancing even in public).

Anyone experiencing sensory overload during these trying times can only take it one step at a time, and that means first identifying the sensory triggers. Are bright lights most burdensome? Loud sounds? Certain tactile sensations? One way to combat oversensitivity to these items is simply to avoid them, or focus on something else. While TV and video games can turn into addictive behaviors, they can provide an important distraction when used in moderation. 

Even at home, there’s one thing more important than any other: take breaks from work or play, and then be sure to hydrate, eat well, and get at least eight hours of sleep.

Do Kids With SPD Struggle When Visiting The Dentist?

The short answer is obvious: Yes. Children who show signs of hypersensitivity are often diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. These kids struggle with visits to the dentist’s office most. Realistically, no one likes going to the dentist. Having another human being poking around our mouths with a mirror and a long metal picking tool isn’t fun, and neither is having sensitive or sore gums for the rest of the day. But to kids with SPD, this can be as traumatic as it gets!

Not every dentist is the same, and this is especially true when you start looking for the right one for your child. While a random cosmetic dentist Briarwood might be especially trained, another from Los Angeles might not have any experience with special needs kids at all. Request recommendations from counselors or call dentists in the area and ask if they know what SPD is or how to treat kids who suffer from it.

But preparing your children for the visit starts from home. Prepare to explode your comfort zone! The easiest way to train your kids for the experience is to role play from home. You might even order specialized instruments to get your child accustomed to some of the sensations they will experience when the real thing comes around. 

Think of this as both a learning experience and an opportunity to “train” your child how to behave while they are at the dentist’s office. Clarify what the rewards for a good performance will be, and let them know that those rewards won’t come if there is bad behavior. Children should practice lying down with their hands at their sides or on their stomachs. They should attempt to remain still while you role play what the dentist might be doing inside their mouths. Try using a few pillows to prop your child into the right position on a couch.

You might also consider providing your child with a few light videos of what it’s like inside a dentist’s office or what the dentist’s work looks like. This is also a good chance to request a video tour from the dentist who you actually plan to visit. No matter what you do, let the dentist and staff know that your child has special needs when you make the appointment. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute, because untrained or underprepared staff won’t have any idea how to make your child comfortable!

The video might work as only the first step. You might take the child to the dentist beforehand to get the lay of the land. This might feel strange, but many dentists are accustomed to them: they’re called desensitization appointments! During this time, you and your child can meet and converse with staff to ask any questions that haven’t been answered. Familiarity can be the key to a good experience.

Let the dentist know what flavor of toothpaste your child prefers. When the day arrives, be sure to distract your child from what’s happening. Many offices will have a TV for exactly these types of situations, but you can bring a mobile device if they don’t.  

How Are Children With Sensory Processing Disorder Coping With Remote Learning?

Children and their parents have been cooped up together at home for months — and the signs of fracture are showing due to stress. It isn’t easy being your child’s sole source of in-person help when it comes to schoolwork, especially since some subjects — like math, which uses common core now — have changed their standards and requirements so much from when they were children themselves. And teachers aren’t always available to give help.

But what about for children with sensory processing disorder (or SPD)? How have they been coping with this strange new paradigm?

Some of them adapt better than others. And it’s important to remember that many children with developmental disorders or issues relating to socialization don’t like going to school. So staying at home and staring at the computer for a few hours might be far more welcome, if a little more difficult.

When Anacortes School District surveyed parents on the possibility of abandoning remote learning in favor of a return to classrooms, 75 percent said they wanted classrooms back as soon as possible. That’s not a huge surprise, as Superintendent Justin Irish admits: “We are really trying hard to meet everybody’s needs. We understand families are trying to juggle work, school and home. It’s hard.”

Even parents without children with SPD say they wonder how long distance learning can last. Colleen Jackson said, “It needs to end right now. I love Anacortes, I love the middle school, and I love all the teachers. I want my children to be with them in a classroom setting.”

And the struggle is even greater for parents who do have children with SPD. Alyssa Stiller is a single mom and had to hire a specialist to help her raise her 11-year-old child who has both SPD and ADHD. “Trying to keep him focused seems impossible,” she said.

You might be surprised — or might not — that some of these parents are upset because they doubt the pandemic is even real. How this might play out in the near future is anyone’s guess.

How To Expertly Misdiagnose Sensory Processing Disorder

Kids who are on the spectrum or have another behavioral or developmental disorder are already at increased risk for alcoholism, drug use, and depression. That’s because life is a lot harder when you can’t fit in without the extra effort. Considering this fact, sometimes we need to step aside from teaching kids and parents how to address SPD — and instead focus on the doctors who sometimes misdiagnose it. With all the challenges kids face these days, there’s no need to add another by mistake.

Those who suffer from SPD usually have issues with perception and coordination. Why? It’s because of the way our bodies are built to function. Take for example that a person’s brainstem helps to process information on its way to the brain, where it will be integrated, filtered, and organized. Most kids (and adults) with forms of SPD have trouble with that part of the equation. We can process the information without thinking about it. But they think about it.

Think about what it would be like if you actively contemplated each breath. We can think about breathing. But eventually as we go about our daily business we forget. Breathing is background noise. It’s something we do without giving it too much thought. If we had to think about breathing in and out every second of every day, problems might develop. That’s what it’s like for kids with sensory issues. They feel more than we do in one way or another.

That’s not to say that every case of SPD is a misdiagnosis of a physical issue, but sometimes there are cases in which actual injuries are to blame. When these injuries are not found or are ignored, SPD-like symptoms can develop. What a simple visit to a doctor, physical therapist, or spine specialist could have fixed in the blink of an eye is instead remedied with years of education and personal development training — something that doesn’t always work.

One of the most common overlooked problems that contribute to misdiagnosis of SPD is a traumatic birth injury. These most often involve the upper neck or brainstem. They’re overlooked because at birth, there is no way to tell whether developmental issues are the result of an actual injury or simple genetics. It’s different when someone suffers an injury when they’re older because they’ve already developed enough for you to diagnose that something is wrong — which means it’s easier to find a doctor who cares.

It’s also possible that these birth-related injuries can lead to SPD. If treated immediately, those symptoms might never develop. Health care providers aren’t always trained to diagnose or treat these issues, which means parents should keep an eye out themselves. We know it’s difficult to learn absolutely everything there is to know about SPD, but this one is important. 

What are the warning signs? Some you might not expect! They include: ear and sinus infections, constipation, gas pains, reflux, poor balance, falls and fall-related injuries, etc. Birth injuries are more common among those who received a C-section or some other sort of intervention while in labor.

Don’t Let Diminished Coverage Of Coronavirus Fool You

The mainstream news outlets have mostly transitioned from daily coverage of coronavirus to the recent string of BLM protests and sporadic riots, but don’t let it fool you: coronavirus cases are actually on the rise worldwide, with more announced each day than the day before. Even though cases are leveling off in certain areas of the United States, the danger still exists. And that means we must remain vigilant in protecting our kids and elderly loved ones.

There has been a great deal of misinformation circulating among certain groups, mostly leaning conservative. The biggest on the list is that this pandemic isn’t as bad as past pandemics for which we did much less. While that is not the case, failing to take precautions for an illness decades ago doesn’t mean that making the same failures today makes sense. We needed to react to the novel coronavirus, and so we did.

Another piece of misinformation involves the wearing of masks, which can reduce a sick person’s chance to spread the infection by preventing the spread of droplets when a person sneezes. 

No one is restricting your right to live as a free American citizen — but they are restricting your ability to put other people in harm’s way when there is no reason to do so. Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you drink while you drive? Exactly. The government’s sole function is to protect American citizens from threats both foreign and domestic. Don’t be a domestic threat. Do what you’re told — and act like an adult so our children can remain safe.

Although local and state governments are pushing us along the path to reopening businesses around the country, please be smart and safe when deciding whether or not to rejoin the fray. The virus is not gone. Our common sense should not be so quickly pushed out the door while the virus is still a threat.

How To Handle Young Kids With SPD During Quarantine

All right, we’re not quite there yet. No national shutdown has been announced. In fact, local governments around the United States have spoken against such action — which shows a somewhat ignorant and indifferent view of how bad the coronavirus covid-19 outbreak could become. But parents are still worried — and rightly so — about the possibility of being cooped up at home with young kids who suffer from sensory processing disorder as the reality of a national quarantine becomes ever more likely.

The biggest issue that kids with SPD must deal with is hypersensitivity to a number of senses, including tactile sensation or sound. That means the biggest thing you need to keep in mind as a parent is what’s going on around the house.

With all the kids at home at once, there can be a greatly increased level of anxiety. But the reverse can occur as well. There can be a lot of excitement, feelings of aggression, depression, and a desire for exercise. These feelings can be even more exacerbated once the family dog realizes that you’re not going to work and they’re not going to school. He’s going to love the extra attention. 

But for your sake and for that of your kids’, it might be necessary to implement a divide and conquer tactic while you’re stuck inside.

What does that mean? First, keep your older kids separated from the younger ones. Keep them locked away playing video games in the basement while you spend time with anyone suffering from a behavioral or developmental disorder like ADHD or the autism spectrum. You can make sure there are no loud noises or unwanted contact in the room. If Fluffy the family dog makes your child feel better, then by all means — invite him into the room.

Limit television, smartphone, and computer use. Encourage learning exercises like reading. If teachers have provided homework while school is canceled, be careful to ration how much your child does at any one time. Your goal is to keep them from feeling overwhelmed while providing the same nurturing environment in which they excel. 

When reading and homework aren’t options, try board games. Spend a chunk of time cleaning to divert any energy your child may have building up inside. Try listening to music. When all else fails, then it’s time for a little TV — but try not to overdo it, and be sure to turn it off well before bedtime.

Is Netflix Production “Atypical” A Realistic Portrayal Of Autism?

It’s easy to acknowledge that television in general is more accepting of individual differences than society at large, but it seems that most viewers are starting to wake up to the fact that celebrating differences isn’t so bad. We’re all different. Some of us just can’t hide it as well as others. Such is the case for many of those who are on the autism spectrum. Netflix’s TV show Atypical has allowed viewers to stream three seasons, and is expected to produce a fourth.

Talented 27-year-old actor Keir Gilchrist plays Sam, a high school student who is noteworthy for two big reasons: he’s obsessed with penguins and he’s autistic.

But how does Gilchrist’s portrayal of Sam stack up to what those on the spectrum actually go through? Gilchrist long ago admitted that he was friends with one or two people who are on the spectrum. Still, outsiders have pointed out that while his portrayal and the show’s writing seem to indicate that they know people on the spectrum, people on the spectrum obviously weren’t intimately involved in the show’s production. 

Mighty contributor Adriana White wrote: “It now seems obvious to me that the show was envisioned and created by someone who knows someone with autism, perhaps very well, but it is definitely not the same show we would be getting with an autistic person, or several autistic people, working behind the scenes. This is why I hope Netflix takes the autistic community’s concerns to heart, and makes a concerted effort to hire autistic writers, and more autistic actors.”

Advocate Kerry Magro shared these sentiments, but believes that the show has grown over the years. Reviewing the third season, Magro wrote: “I love how I could relate in several ways to Sam’s character. Growing up with autism, I also started in college at 19 and it was a dream come true. After years during my adolescence of being told by experts that I would be lucky to graduate from high school one day, I truly saw getting into college as a milestone that I could do anything I wanted in this world.”

When asked how the character of Sam is relatable, Gilchrist opened up about how he gets into the character’s head. “I don’t know that it’s as difficult as people think it is. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the autism spectrum. I’ve even been amazed when I started playing the part that people really had no idea what autism even was. Even if they’ve met people on the spectrum, they don’t understand how it works at all. But it’s very relatable.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder And ADHD Share Genetic Similarities

Those who grow up with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD often have overlapping symptoms — turns out, that’s no coincidence. The two behavioral disorders result from the same mutations to identical genes. They have more in common than scientists once thought. The study was recently published in Nature Neuroscience and sheds light on common misconceptions surrounding the two disorders.

The paper reads, “The study shows that many more genes for ADHD and autism can be identified directly by studying more people in a similar way with extensive DNA sequencing, thereby providing a more complete picture of the biological causal mechanisms and possible approaches to medical treatment. 

Researchers from Aarhus University, Copenhagen University, and the Lundbeck Foundation shared their results to discover genetic similarities found in the exome sequences of around 8,000 kids who were already diagnosed with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder. An additional control group of 5,000 kids without either behavioral disorder was used to reinforce the results.

Lead Researcher Anders Borglum said, “In the study, the gene that is most frequently affected by mutations in people with ADHD or autism is the so-called MAP1A gene. The gene is involved in the formation of the physical structure of nerve cells — their inner ‘skeleton,’ so to speak — and is important for the development of the brain.”

He continued, “We discovered an increased burden of mutations that destroy or severely affect the MAP1A gene in those with ADHD and autism, while very few of the control subject had changes in the gene.”

Studies like Borglum’s are much more common now that the human genome is so easily and cheaply mapped — something that was impossible only ten or twenty years ago. The massive amounts of human knowledge accumulated because of these new studies is overwhelming.

This study, for example, represents the first to include genome mapping and DNA analysis of both behavioral conditions at once.

Borglum said, “The very fact that mutations are found to the same extent and in the same genes in children with autism and in children with ADHD, points towards the same biological mechanisms being involved. This is the first time that the genome has been mapped so comprehensively for both ADHD and autism, and the discovery that children with ADHD have the same amount of deleterious gene mutations in their DNA as children with autism is both striking and quite surprising.”

This is progress, and could change how we communicate effectively with our kids — in addition to how we effectively educate their parents.

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.