He doesn’t like tags in his clothes, or long sleeve shirts. He doesn’t like itchy sweaters or jeans that are tight, and gets upset if the seams in his socks aren’t just so.
She is a very picky eater. The doctor says leave the food in front of her and she will eat eventually, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t like most fruits or vegetables, slimy foods or grainy foods, or stringy meats. Actually most of what she eats is yellow or white or tan like chicken nuggets, french fries, cheese pizza, pizza rolls. She will practicaly eat the same thing every day, and then act like she doesn’t like it any more at all.
Noises seem to stress him out. He is hyper in noisy restaurants, he complains if the radio is too loud in the car, and he sometimes seems to have super sonic hearing, listening to something at the other end of the house.
These are just a few examples of Sensory Processing Disorder, which has also been called Sensory Integration Disorder. All of the information we receive from our envirnonment comes into our brain from our senses. We see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, feel it. If you knock hard on a wooden table a message is sent from your knuckles to your brain that says ow, that hurts and your brain sends a message back to stop doing that. But if someone has a problem with sensory processing, how that information gets to the brain is misinterpreted. So grass on bare feet might feel painful or food in the mouth might feel like it is hitting giant oversensitive taste buds. It is a neurological mixup that is often misdiagnosed and can cause high anxiety in kids and power struggles in families.
Diagnosis can be done through an occupational therapist’s evaluation, either through a school district, a doctor referral or private agency. Treatment is done by an occupatuional therapist who works a “sensory diet” with a child daily and can teach the parents to do so also. This “diet” depends on if the kiddo is oversensitive or undersensitive to physical stimuli. For example if they dislike their skin being touched, a soft brush repetitively on the arms may help “center” the nerves. If they are undersensitive and sensory-seeking, they might need deep pressure massage. This diet is created based on the needs of the individual and may address the mouth, the ears, the eyes, movement, or whatever sensory input is relevant to the child.
I include this topic in the blog because it is more common than it is known. Kids who seem to have behavior or anxiety issues may well be helped with this intervention instead. While symptoms can lessen over time as the child grows up gets more educated about it, they may still recognize sensory issues in themselves even as adults.
Resources abound. An excellent place to start is a book called The Out of Sync Child by Carole Kranowitz. But you can also google this topic and find a ton of information. If you think someone you know may have sensory issues, talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or an occupational therapist. Intervention is not invasive and can make a world of difference.