Wellness

Understanding How Sensory Processing Disorder Affects Children

How Sensory Processing Disorder Affects Children

For children with sensory processing disorder (SPD), the world is too loud, bright and overwhelming. Typically, their senses are over- or understimulated by sound, touch, taste, sight and smell. About 5 to 15 percent of school-age children struggle with sensory issues. Health experts believe SPD is more prevalent in children than autism spectrum disorder and is as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Children with SPD have different triggers that can cause them problems. Here are five challenging situations that can bring on overly sensitive reactions:

 

  • Eating out – Many restaurants are noisy, which can overstimulate the hearing of children with sensory issues. Some struggle to sit still as they try to deal with loud sounds around them. They may look for ways to escape by hiding under the table or a chair, or finding a quiet place in the restaurant. Food temperatures, textures and smells also can cause difficulties.
  • Getting dressed – Children with SPD may refuse to wear new shoes or jeans, because they’re too tight or the material is too rough, or shirts and sweaters that are itchy. Removing labels and washing new clothes to soften the material may eliminate these reactions.
  • Shopping – Bright store lights, crowded aisles, loud music and noises can be traumatizing for these children. They don’t like to be touched and find the shopping experience confusing. To get away from the situation, they may run, scream or have a meltdown.
  • Playing outside – Children with SPD often are afraid of getting hurt when they’re outside. They may have strong reactions to visiting a playground because they don’t like swings or the feel of cold metal against their skin. They may be more comfortable using play equipment designed for younger children.
  • Socializing – Surprise touches and hugs or large social events can be frightening experiences for children with sensory issues, even if they’re with family and friends.

Undersensitive children
On the flip side, children who are undersensitive may need more sensory stimulation, such as continuous touch and hugs. They like textured objects, fast movement and can tolerate high levels of pain. They also have problems sitting still, but don’t understand their own strength or the concept of personal space.

Professional evaluation
Each child with sensory issues struggles with different things. Parents who notice symptoms should consult their doctor for an evaluation. Treatment may include working with health professionals to explore the child’s specific visual, physical and linguistic limitations.

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