February 6, 2017

Child Therapy: Understanding Sensory Processing disorder

“It’s the tactile version of nails scratching on a board. [It] sets your teeth on edge, and whatever it is you touched you can still feel on your skin for hours like a sticky goo.” (Jessica Gray, The Mighty). An individual with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) has difficulty processing information received through the senses, creating obstacles in everyday tasks. In 2004, a study (Ah, Miller, Millberger, McIntosh) reports 1 in 20 children are affected by SPD. Sensory Processing Disorder is often misdiagnosed due to lack of symptom awareness.

What are the symptoms?

There are two types of individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder: sensory seekers and sensory avoiders.

• Sensory seekers are the kids that crave sensory input. They are constantly on the move, running and jumping into furniture. Often times, they are considered ‘behavior problems’ or ‘hyperactive’. Sensory seekers need extra sensory input to thrive, for example active movement, music, and deep pressure such as bear hugs.

• Sensory avoiders are the kids that reject sensory input. Common behaviors may include refusing physical contact, refuting brushing teeth or washing face, and seems uncomfortable in tight clothing. Sensory avoiders often need quiet time or breaks from activities. These kiddos need a limited amount of distractions while attending to a task. Eliminate sensory distractions such as background TV noise, bright lights, tight clothing or tags, etc.

Children with SPD may present with behaviors that may seem perplexing to parents.  They may throw tantrums while getting dressed, crash into walls, refuse physical contact, or be highly susceptible to pain. Some children may be under-responsive to senses; hot food may not affect them and they may have abnormally high pain tolerance. Other children may show signs of fight-or-flight response. In extreme sensory situations, such as playgrounds or birthday parties, the child may run away from the environment because the sensory input becomes unbearable. Click here for an extensive sensory checklist.

Treatment of SPD:

Treatment for children with SPD involves an individualized treatment plan based on the specific needs of the child. Occupational therapists modify child-center activities to increase optimal learning. Self-regulating skills is an important aspect of SPD treatment. Below are some at-home tips and activities to incorporate with your child with SPD.

For sensory seekers:

  • Allow plenty of time for active play. Create obstacle courses in your basement, play tag outdoors, or go to the playground.
  • Create a ‘crash pad’ by filling up a baby pool with blankets and pillows that they can jump into.
  • Count how many times they can climb up and down the stairs. Create a game out of it!
  • Play wheelbarrow by holding your child’s feet and having them walk on their hands.
  • Give big bear hugs! Weighted blankets are a great idea for nighttime.

For sensory avoiders:

  • Create a space where your child can cool-down. Sensory tents are a great option!
  • Noise canceling headphones can be worn in extreme noise situations such as malls, airports, or sports games.
  • Buy loose fitting clothing made out of comfortable fabrics.
  • Cut the tags out of clothing before having your child try it on.
  • Create (and stick to!) a routine. Sensory avoiders have difficult time adjusting to new schedules, so stick to a routine that is appropriate for your family!

For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder click here. If you feel your child has Sensory Processing Disorder, contact Lumiere Children’s therapy for a consultation with one of our Occupational Therapists!



About SPD. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://www.spdstar.org/basic/about-spd

Arky , B. (n.d.). Sensory Processing Issues Explained. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained/

McGlensey, M. (2016, February 25). 14 People With Sensory Processing Disorder Describe What It Feels Like. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from https://themighty.com/2016/02/14-people-with-sensory-processing-disorder-describe-what-it-feels-like/

Contact Us

Premier Child Therapy Services in Chicago, IL

Contact Blog Form
First name
Last name
Areas of Interest