Sensory Processing Disorder is Common on the Spectrum, but What is it Like?

Does it seem like every little thing is a BIG deal to your child with Sensory Processing Disorder?

Take the morning routine, for example.

  • Getting dressed is fraught with anxiety over texture, tightness, and tags.
  • Eating breakfast is stressful, especially if you ran out of the preferred cereal and refuse to turn on the T.V.
  • Leaving the house is a nightmare because it requires finding the misplaced backpack and attempting to tie shoes.

If you didn’t know any better you would think the world was ending due to your child’s too-intense reaction. And this is just the start of the day.

For children with a Sensory Processing Disorder, routine tasks take a serious toll on their tolerance, flexibility, and capacity to stay calm. 

You’ve seen it with your own eyes but might be wondering…”WHY?!”

Imagine how your day typically unfolds and how you respond when little stressors appear. It’s likely you are pretty good at self-control and don’t “lose it” when something goes wrong at the breakfast table or in the office.

Now, imagine that you have a sensory processing disorder and the equivalent of a capacity for only 10 stressors a day before you meltdown. That adds up pretty quickly.

Take a look at what the getting-ready routine involves:

  1. Morning alarm clock (annoying)
  2. Polyester t-shirt (bothersome)
  3. Socks with a seam along the toe (irritating)
  4. Favorite cereal is all gone (aggravating)
  5. Toast burned (provoking)
  6. Not allowed to watch T.V. during breakfast (plaguing);
  7. Hate the feeling of tooth-brushing (disturbing)
  8. Being reminded to “hurry up” (exasperating)
  9. Misplaced backpack (maddening)
  10. Shoes that are impossible to tie (infuriating)

Children with a sensory processing disorder not only lack self-control but are often hyper-sensitive to touch, sound, and change. Sadly, they wake-up at a disadvantage for handling typical stimuli and the constantly-changing nature of the world around them.

As a parent, what can you do?

3 Solutions To Helping Children With SPD Feel Comfortable:

  1. Understand where they’re coming from.
    Your child isn’t trying to make you angry – they honestly get over-stressed over-quickly so when you can keep cool it reduces environmental stress.
  2. Be compassionate.
    Your child needs to feel loved, no matter what.  Communicate in a soothing tone that acknowledges their emotions.  E.g. “Oh honey, I can tell you’re stressed out.  Shoe tying can be really frustrating, huh?”
  3. Schedule sensory exercises first thing in the morning and throughout the day.
    These help their brains become calmer and more tolerant.  Click here for one example of an activity you can do at home, or ask your child’s OT or neurological chiropractor for ideas.

Now, I’m curious to hear from you.

What is one thing you already do to help your child with a sensory processing disorder feel more comfortable in their own skin and the world at-large?

Please share a comment below.

If you liked this article please “like” it below and share it with your friends.  As always, I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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  • amy lindquist says:

    I love this article! I help my child by giving her lots of extra time and patience. Tasks may take a little longer but if there’s no reason to rush, it helps keep things calm for all of us.

  • Nancy Pone says:

    This is why we are so often late. I refuse (usually, there are things you just can’t be late for) to get stressed, or further stress my kids out in order to rush them through things are already difficult and that they are already having, or about to have , a meltdown over. If people want to criticize me for being late, they can come to my home and try to live my life as a mom to five – several with SPD – and see what it is like! I don’t think they would be so critical after that. What really drives me nuts though, are people who attribute my kid’sproblems to bad behavior or lack of discipline on my part.

    • Samantha says:

      Letting go of others’ judgments and accepting that arriving late is just how it goes sometimes are wonderful things to embrace. I know you’ve worked hard on that. Thanks for sharing Nancy!

  • Judy says:

    My daughter had an issue with “bumps” in her socks. Sock time was an absolute nightmare. I finally made up my own little story and song about how “Bumps are Against the Law”. I would straighten and re-straighten her sock as we sang and talked about the naughty bumps. I would finally end with “There, we arrested those naughty bumps”. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped me to stay focused on being patient and it helped to distract her enough to finally feel like the bumps were gone.

    • Samantha Moe says:

      What a great solution Judy! When kids struggle they first need us to acknowledge we hear them, even if we don’t understand it or know how to fix it.

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  • Jill says:

    Before we leave for an event, party, or basically anything outside of school or normal routine (even having people over to our home) .I will tell my son that when he is starting to feel like he is going to get really upset, he should come find me and ask me to take a walk.

    In the middle of coldest days of winter, I’ve thrown on my boots and jacket and he and I walk to the end of our driveway and back. Just enough time for him to take deep breaths and calm down.

    He is now 8, and we’ve been aware of sensory issues since about age 4 (no full diagnosis, but this article is him to a tee), he has been seeing an OT, attending some camps, and is now on an anxiety medication. When he comes to me in full melt-down mode, screaming that he “needs” something “right now”, I can calmly ask him to walk back to the door, turn around and ask me in a calm and quiet voice, using manners. He does it every time! I immediately stop what I’m doing to help him (I don’t want this to be the way I do this forever), praise him and thank him for asking me nicely and reminding him he will always get better results when he asks me nicely without demanding. PROGRESS!

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