Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sensory Processing Disorder

This is a follow-up post to Jude's Language Development, because in that post, I mentioned that he has some sensory issues that exacerbate his language problem, but that they needed an entirely separate post.

I hate even calling SPD a disorder, because that implies that there is a normal standard, and that people with SPD are below that standard, when that's not really how it is. I actually prefer to say "sensory issues." It's not that Jude has something wrong with him (or any of us who have sensory issues, I have several myself), but that this is just who he is, and we are learning about sensory processing issues to try to help him thrive and learn in ways specific to his particular sensory quirks.

At its most basic level, SPD is when a person's central nervous system has trouble understanding the information that is being taken in by their senses- sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (how your body senses movement), and proprioceptive (your body's ability to do work). This can result in people who are hyper-sensitive (they experience things more intensely than others), hypo-sensitive (their senses seem dulled), or sensory-seeking (they crave more, more, more of certain sensory input).

I really started to understand SPD when I read The Out-of-Sync Child, and in it, Carol Kranowitz explained that sensory processing is a continuum: On one side are people who process sensory information really, really well, and on the other side are people who don't process sensory information well at all. Everybody falls on this continuum somewhere, most of us are around the middle. And where we fall on the continuum can be different for particular senses.

  • Some people process auditory information so well that they can hear a song played once and then can play it perfectly on their instrument of choice.
  • I'm hyper-sensitive to touch (and I was even worse when I was little). I can't stand itchy clothes or tags in my shirts, and when I was little, I always wore my socks inside out because the seams on the toes bothered me so much.
  • Josh is hyper-sensitive to movement and gets really dizzy really easily. He hates rollercoasters.
  • Some people are unusually bothered by strong smells, bright lights, loud sounds, or visual clutter.
  • Jude's Auditory Processing Disorder falls under the SPD umbrella, as well. His brain simply doesn't understand the things he hears.

Something from Raising a Sensory Smart Child that I found helpful was the following quote:
Most of us have sensory intolerances and preferences. It's really a matter of degree. How much do certain kinds of sensory input bother you? To what extent do you avoid them or try to compensate for them? ... To increase your understanding of your child's sensitivities, take a look at your own-- and how you compensate without even thinking about it. What do you do about these common sensory annoyances? 
You're in a monotonous lecture or meeting: Do you chew gum or drink coffee? Fidget or write silly notes to the person next to you? Zone out or doze off? 
Street noise or noisy neighbors keep you awake: Do you sleep with earplugs, a fan, or the air conditioner on? Take Tylenol PM to knock yourself out? Put your pillow over your ears? 
Touching mushy, wet substances bothers you: Do you wear dish-washing gloves to clean goop off dishes? Use a tool rather than your hands to touch gloppy stuff? Use spray-on suntan lotion or moisturizers? 
Light touch irritates you: Do you wear long sleeves even on hot days if it's windy? Avoid loose jewelry? Prefer to wear hairstyles that keep your hair from touching your neck or forehead?

Like I said, everybody falls on this spectrum somewhere, the problem comes when these issues interfere with daily life. Josh's hyper-sensitivity to movement doesn't interfere with his daily life. Jude's difficulty processing language, sensory seeking with regard to motion, and over sensitivity with regard to touch, are affecting his learning and sleep in big ways.

 The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition                              Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues

If you think that you or your child might be having trouble with sensory processing issues, I highly suggest the two books I've linked to already, The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz and Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. They are both great books, and Raising a Sensory Smart Child is especially thorough.

So what about you? What are your sensory quirks? I've already told you one of mine. I also struggle with sound (I can't have any music playing when I'm trying to have a conversation or write because I just can't focus) and vision (visual clutter drives me batty, and I get really overwhelmed when I go shopping). When I go somewhere like Wal-Mart, or even the grocery store, I have a really hard time focusing because there is so much to hear and see.

I'm eager to hear about your quirks or experience with SPD!


  1. Thank you for your detailed explanation and linked references. I wonder about this is my oldest little girl; she seems to respond with great anxiety to loud noises / machine noises. I will check out your references and see if there is anything in there that might help me help her. She also has a strong aversion to getting things on her hands. She loves water play in the sink, but when she's done gets frustrated that her hands are wet and she cannot get them dry quickly enough.

    Does that sound like a level of SPD to you (based on your reading)?

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I always have to chew gum and drink my water in class.
    I can't stand strong smells. I have the Mamaw nose.
    Bright lights and loud sounds bother me.
    And visual clutter....it MUST be clean!

  3. Judith, that definitely sounds like some of what I read in those books. I'd highly recommend you read them. Even if it's not severe enough to affect her daily life, knowing what's going on can help you help her better enjoy her world.

  4. I can not even swing without getting sick to my stomach. Pathetic I know. It stinks but that is my world. Take off and landing in an airplane are also really hard on my tummy. Also, at night I have to have a fan on really loudly to block out any possible noise or I can't sleep. What an interesting post! Prayers for you and josh and jude

  5. I'm very much like you when it comes to sound. I can't carry on a conversation at all if there's talking or music in the background because I can't sort out which words I'm supposed to be processing and responding to. It makes people think I just don't care about them because I can't respond appropriately. :( I've learned to some degree to block sound so I can focus better. It works out well in the baby room at the daycare. I can sit in a room full of screaming babies and stay calm because I can shut the sound out and deal with what's causing it instead. I guess there are good and bad sides to sensory issues. :)

  6. Excellent post! I see this so much in myself and in my children. Thank you for sharing this. <3

  7. You've done a great job explaining SPD in a nut shell. We choose to call it "sensory issues" or "sensory problems", too. My daughter, 5, has just begun OT for her issues. She has a mix of over response and sensory seeking with dyspraxia. I've known some of this for awhile, but the issues have become more obvious and interfere with life more and more as she has aged. I am still learning about all the details of her complicated issues and mine as well. I stumbled on your blog while looking for real life people dealing with sensory issues. I'm planning on writing a blogpost soon, would you mind if I linked to this post?

    Thanks- Ashley B. Chandler

  8. Thanks for all of your comments! I'm glad it could help us all understand SPD a little better.

    Ashley, of course you can link to this, I'm glad you liked it!