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Guide to Managing Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Posted on July 18, 2019 by Ann

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Story of Dinesh

Dinesh is a 7-year-old high-functioning, active boy in one of the special schools. At home, his mother faces difficulty when brushing his teeth, washing his hair and dressing him. He is a picky eater and shows discomfort in noisy environments. When angry, Dinesh throws objects and hits/scratches his parents. He enjoys flipping objects and rocking. At school, Dinesh refuses to join in group activities as he doesn’t want his peers to touch him. He doesn’t like arts and craft activities as they involve touching paint and glue. His difficulties and behaviours may be associated with poor sensory processing.

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory Processing is the way in which the nervous system manages incoming sensory information from the seven sensory systems.

Apart from the five basic senses, there are two other senses that help us participate effectively in our daily activities:

  1. “sense of balance” (vestibular), and
  2. “sense of position and movement” (proprioception).

Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD)

Every action we perform requires input from the sensory systems, though we may not always be conscious of it.

A majority of us may not be comfortable with one or a few of the sensory inputs. Some of us may feel nauseous when they travel by bus and others may not be comfortable with the shirt tag beneath the collar. But we manage these difficulties and are able to function normally.

For some, participating even in a simple task may seem very difficult when the sensory information is not managed appropriately in the sensory system. These people may have a disorder called the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Children with SPD often suffer from impaired self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or aggression.  These result in problems involving social participation, self-regulation, and impaired sensorimotor skills needed for daily activities. A lack of participation in daily sensory experiences (e.g. avoidance of playground activities, social interactions) can also significantly impact a child’s learning opportunities due to decreased active exploration of the environment.

There are 3 types of disorders:

  1. Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD),
  2. Sensory Discrimination Disorder, and
  3. Sensory Based Motor Disorder.

Though there are 3 types of disorders, for this article, we are only focusing on the Sensory Modulation Disorder and its impact on a child’s day-to-day activities.

Children with SMD are either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory stimuli and some exhibit different responses to different stimuli.
[Editor’s note: Hypersensitivity occurs when a person is uncomfortable with minor stimuli. Hyposensitivity occurs when a child needs to seek additional sensory information to feel contented.]

Common patterns of sensory hypersensitivity are:

  1. tactile defensiveness (doesn’t like to be touched or doesn’t like to touch sticky items like food), and
  2. auditory defensiveness (doesn’t like to hear certain types or frequency of sounds/noises).

Most of the children with tactile defensiveness are observed to be very active. They try to avoid being touched.

Children with auditory defensiveness cover their ears most of the time and produce some sound to minimise the other noises.

Children with hypersensitivity avoid sensory input that is controlled externally. For example, they like to touch but don’t like to be touched.

On the other hand, children with hyposensitivity usually carry out extreme actions like spinning, inflicting injuries on themselves. or bumping into things.

Tips for managing children with SMD at home

The most important role of the parent is to follow up on the home programme regularly.

Some common tips you should keep in mind, when you plan activities for your child with SMD are:

• A child with SMD would benefit from a predictable schedule.

• Light touches may arouse or alert the nervous system. Touches applied with deep pressure are typically more calming.

• Create sensory stories with pictures to help your child participate in activities that he or she is not comfortable with.

• Most picky eaters are hypersensitive to touch in the mouth area. Introduce the food they are not comfortable in small portions along with their favourite food.

• Teach your child appropriate ways to take in sensory inputs, instead of asking him or her to stop inappropriate behaviours. For example, instead of asking a child to stop putting his or her fingers in the mouth, provide the child with chewy tubes.

• Involve your child in household chores such as rolling or kneading dough, carrying, or pushing/lifting heavy objects. This may help the child with understanding the position and movement of sensory input.

• If your child enjoys movement, bring him or her to a playground or park.

• If your child has poor sleeping patterns, deep pressure hugs and slow rocking before bedtime may help with a good night’s sleep.

Story of Dinesh (continued)

Dinesh has been receiving occupational to follow his parents to the market and causes less behavioural disrupti Cons at tional therapy for the past 15 months. He is now school. He is also able to participate in the group activities with his peers.

MINDS is an All In Preferred Partner.

Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) is one of the largest Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore, serving some 2,400 clients from past the age of six to their ripe old age. MINDS’ services include four special schools, three employment development centres, three day training and development centres, and one multi-service residential home.

This guide was originally published by MINDS’ Allied Health Professionals unit and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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