SPD, What is that??

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So now we get to all the things we have learned.  Starting with what exactly this means.  SPD is Sensory Processing Disorder, or Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  Here is the official definition from the SPD Foundation ( http://www.spdfoundation.net/ ), one of my favorite resources:

Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.”

The best description I’ve found to describe this to people is that kids with SPD are born without a sensory filter.  So all the things that we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell come at these kids, and they can’t figure out which ones they are supposed to pay attention to.  So they react in one of two main ways; they either shut down completely, or they overreact and try and find a way out.  Some people with SPD are called Sensory-Avoiders.  Squirt is in this category.  If she doesn’t like the way something hits her senses, she tries to get away from it.  That means not wearing the shirt with the itchy tag, or the shoes that don’t fit right.  It also means covering her ears in loud places and trying to get out of crowds.  The other group of people with SPD are called Sensory-Seekers.  Booga is much more in this category, although he does some avoiding, too, mainly with things on his feet and loud sounds.  But these kids tend to notice that things don’t “feel”, so they try harder to get the sensations they are looking for.  They swing longer, spin faster, climb higher, hit harder, squeeze tighter, and seem to never stop because they are trying to get their systems to start to process these senses better.

Imagine entering a small closet to find it crowded with people, bright work lights shining in your eyes, loud music coming in, everyone talking at once, the smell of burnt popcorn nearby, and the wrong side of the Velcro stuck to the tag of your shirt.  This is the overwhelming feeling these kids are trying to process every day.  No wonder they act out!

So how do we deal with it?  Well, with Occupational Therapy, mostly.  Of course, Booga didn’t qualify, so we’ve mostly had to make it up at home as we go, but we are going in for a new evaluation next week, so we’re crossing our fingers that he qualifies this time!!

Occupational Therapy sounds like something for grown-ups, doesn’t it?  But it has nothing to do with your job, except that a child’s job is to grow and learn and cope, so I guess it helps with that, right?  Squirt’s OT involved a lot of swinging, balance, handwriting, building core strength, etc.  Unfortunately, we’ve had to take a break from that since she went back to school last year, but we are on a waiting list and hoping to get her back in soon.  In the meantime, we’ve had some success with her in horseback riding lessons, which helps her focus and works on her core and balance.  Booga’s OT at home program is intense, and VERY hard to keep up with, and I have to admit to not doing very well at all since Scooter was born.  It involves a lot of massage, compressing joints, hanging, swinging, flipping upside down, spinning (oh so much spinning!), heavy work (anything that makes him lift, pull, or push heavy things – this can be helpful when I have housework to do!), squeezing clay or Playdough, and jumping, bouncing or crashing (his favorite, of course).  If I do the full course of OT, all 3 times a day, we will spend at least 2 hours a day on this.  Doesn’t seem like much, but with 4 kids, 3 sports, a nursing baby, and homework (Heaven help us, the homework this year!!), sometimes getting dressed and having dinner ready is about it for my day!

So what have we learned?  Well, we’ve learned that having a clean, uncluttered space is very important for Squirt (guess I should pick up the house, huh?); that she will probably never sing and do motions with her friends, but she is still enjoying the music as she stands there; that handwriting is not as important as I’d like to think; that calm and quiet is probably not in our future; that processing all the day’s input and shutting off to sleep is sometimes just impossible; that shoes really aren’t necessary; that being loud just means they are hearing things we aren’t and trying to be heard above it all; that spinning faster can actually slow you down; that responding to someone calling your name means shutting out all the other input first; that sitting still is not a requirement for dinner, homework, or even for sleeping!; and mostly, that they aren’t being naughty, rude, disrespectful, or ornery – they are just trying to learn to cope in a world that is truly overwhelming.

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5 responses »

    • Absolutely, but you probably won’t like my advice. Every kid is different, so every adaption has to be personal. Doesn’t really help does it? ;) But, seriously, there are so many things we can do. The first is to realize that their acting out is probably tied to an overstimulus, so try and find what is setting them off and reduce it. Second, give them LOTS of fidgets! Third, give them time to walk off energy, get away from a group, and decompress. And lastly, keep everything in the classroom low-key. We are so quick to make everything bright and colorful and full of big pictures and music and movement, and it’s overwhelming. Calm colors, less clutter, and a quiet environment will go a long way to helping these kids focus and learn.

  1. I am so glad to have found your blog, via SPD blogger network. I too am considering starting a blog soon to document our sensory journey, to let other sensory parents know that they are not alone (and not crazy!) and to hopefully increase awareness around SPD. People need to know SPD is real. It exists and families like yours and mine are living testament to that!

  2. I stumbled across your blog while visiting the ‘Peace it all Together’ blog. I have a daughter who is four years old and has SPD along with many other special needs. I loved how you explained SPD. I especially loved your last paragraph. All parents of children with SPD struggle with keeping these things in mind. I can’t tell you how many looks we get when out in public, or when guests come to dinner and judge because Kailey can not sit at the table. Everyone thinks that our children are unruly and need discipline. But just like you said “They are just trying to cope in a world that truly is overwhelming.”

    I too have a blog and would like to share this post with my readers. Would you mind?

    I am glad I found your blog. I am looking for other families and mothers who are on the same journey. I know I can learn from them along with helping others when ever possible. Thank you for this post.

    Joelle Bishop
    http://www.caringforkailey.com

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