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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Decoding Sensory Processing Disorder

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My skin feels like it is on fire, tags poke at me like a hot wire. My pants are too loose, or way too tight…no matter what, they just don’t feel right. My shoes hurt my feet, I just can’t deal

The pain I feel is very real. Transitions are hard for me, structure and routine are a must Disregulation and anxiety can lead to mistrust. What you may not know and what you may not see Is that I am a child with SPD.

Loud noises and chaos can really freak me out, Because of this, I too, may scream and shout. Sometimes I may hit, push, and run into things too Please know I am never really trying to hurt you. I may need to be alone, or have a quiet space It helps me to feel calm and my mind not to race.

Although we may learn differently, most of us are really quite smart Learning to understand my needs will help us to have a great start. What you may not know and what you may not see Is that I am a child with SPD.

Weighted blankets and compression vests help give me the input I need A few among the tools used to help me to succeed. I may have trouble sleeping and wake a lot with fear It helps to know you love me and that you’re always near. Quite often I am misunderstood when I don’t behave like the others They think that I am naughty and, “not like my sisters and brothers.” What they do not know and what they do not see Is that I am a child with SPD.

Our senses give our brains directions on how to think and feel My brain can’t read directions…my SPD is REAL. You all have a highway where all of your senses travel I have a traffic jam… which leads me to unravel. I don’t need to be judged… or felt sorry for I am just like you… although I struggle more. Please take the time today, to learn more about ME Because I am more than my SPD.

-Darci Harig

There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:

Sensory Over-responsivity: In this category, children respond very strongly to minimal stimuli. They often avoid touching or being touched. They often react strongly to certain textures of clothing or food. In addition, they will get overexcited with too much to look at or with strong smells or sound.

Sensory Under-responsivity: In contrast to children who are over-responsive, children with this form of SPD often pay little or no attention to the sensory experiences around them. They are unaware of messy hands, face, or clothes. They will also fail to notice how things feel and will often drop them. When presented with new stimuli, they will ignore them – even if a food is extra spicy or a noise is particularly loud.

Sensory Seeking: Children who are sensory seeking are exactly that – always looking for new sensations. They dump toys and rummage purposelessly, chew on shirt cuffs, and rub against walls. They welcome loud noises, seek strong odors, and prefer spicy or hot foods.

While children who fall into the categories described above exhibit widely (and sometimes opposite characteristics), they are all classified as possessing a sensory processing disorder. It’s often confusing!

SPD and Autism

One major commonality between SPD and autism is explained by Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, in their book, The Mislabeled Child:

Like children with autism, children with sensory processing disorder typically show signs of problems with the long-distance connections that integrate different areas of their brains, with the cerebellum (which helps to regulate and ‘smooth out’ the brain’s different perceptions and responses), and with the frontal lobes (which help coordinate brain activities).

In other words, children who have either SPD or autism will experience problems when controlling and synchronizing perceptions and responses. Because of this inability to process many different stimuli and effectively produce a response, children who are autistic or experience SPD will display similar behaviors.

Because of the lack of long distance communication between their cerebullum and frontal lobes, SPD and autism can lead to children being overwhelmed by noise or conversely needing music played at all hours of the day. Like I mentioned above, some children may refuse physical contact, while others might touch every object they encounter. Some children will only eat mild foods with similar consistencies, whereas others will crave spicy foods with a variety of flavors.

Therefore, it’s true that children who have autism or SPD demonstrate similar behaviors. There is, however, an essential difference between children on the autistic spectrum and those with SPD. That difference lies in social interaction. Children with autism struggle with connecting emotionally to those around them, whereas those with SPD have no such problems. So, SPD is all about physical struggles whereas autism also has an emotional and social component – and that’s the real difference.

SPD and Academics

The first way that sensory processing disorders affects academics is simply in the child’s ability (or inability) to sit still when there is a plethora of sensory information in a classroom. Many sensory seeking children cannot help getting up to touch a letter on the bulletin board while over-responsive children will flinch at every noise. In this way, classrooms of twenty-five children or more can make learning difficult for children with SPD.

Carol Stock Kranowitz in her book The Out of Sync Child explains the second way that SPD affects learning:

Your child yanks the cat’s tail, and the cat hisses, arches its back, and spits. Normally, through experience, a child will learn not to repeat such a scary experience. He learns to be cautious. In the future, his behavior will be more adaptive.

The child with SPD, however, may have difficulty “reading cues,” verbal or nonverbal, from the environment. He may not decode the auditory message of the cat’s hostile hissing, the visual message of the cat’s arched back, or the tactile message of spit on his cheek. He misses the “big picture” and may not learn appropriate caution.

While this situation is both dangerous and frightening, it also illustrates a larger issue within academic learning. If your child cannot decode sensations (the pencil is held in his hand in a certain way, the pursing of the lips to form the letter “B,” or the nuanced difference between the phonemes /d/ and /t/), he will have difficulty grasping the concepts essential for elementary reading, writing and math.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of living with a child with SPD is that they are often bright and motivated, yet cannot seem to function in an orderly fashion. For that reason, it is important to remember that the inability to function smoothly is not because the child won’t, but because he can’t. Once you are able to recognize this, helping your child decode and interpret the sensations are him becomes significantly simpler.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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3 Responses to “Decoding Sensory Processing Disorder”

  1. Alexander Rhonda says:

    Thanks

  2. Olga Sanchez Rosner says:

    Very interesting, I didn't know about SPD. Thanks.

  3. Olga Sanchez Rosner says:

    Very interesting, I didn't know about SPD. Thanks.

Comments are closed.

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