Sensory Processing Disorder (part 2): does your child have sensory issues?

If you haven’t checked out my post Sensory Processing Disorder #1, I would encourage you to do so. In that post you will find what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is.

Now that you are familiar with it’s definition, let’s look at where and how it presents itself and suggestions on how to help your child.

First, I would urge you to consider whether your child has sensory issues. SPD is most often associated with Autism, but it frequently shows up in adopted children.

There was a great article in Adoption Today’s June 2013 issue called “What’s the Best Therapy for my Traumatized Child?” Julie Beem and Anna Paravano say in part, “Sensory Integration: Sensory integration therapies are frequently recommended for those struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder. The link between early childhood trauma, especially due to neglect, has been observed, and many of the children from ‘hard places’ exhibit varying degrees of Sensory Processing Disorder. Working with Occupational Therapists who specialize in sensory integration often helps traumatized children increase their ability to self-regulate, remain focused and calm. In turn, this can help other attachment and trauma therapies to be more productive.”

If we don’t look at Sensory Processing Disorder and ask if it could be an issue with our children, we may be missing a part of a whole. It is difficult to have bonding and other moves forward when a child is simply extremely uncomfortable and irritated by something that we can easily fix.

When we first heard that our son had SPD, I immediately connected it with the lack of touch and affection he had as an infant. He was severely neglected. It turns out that SPD does show up in many children who have been neglected or abused in early life. What we learn in our first months and years of life is through our senses; what we feel, touch, see, and hear. If a child isn’t touched, or is physically abused in their first months or years of life their body will have a less than normal reaction to stimuli.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in regard to your child:

  • Does your child crave constant movement?
  • Does your child cry often? (This could be due to a number of things, but for our son it was a telltale sign that he was uncomfortable.)
  • Does your child walk on her toes a lot?
  • Does your child pull at his clothes, or dislike getting dressed?
  • Does your child play with only a few specific toys?
  • Is your child overly sensitive to noise, touch, light, crowds, etc.?
  • Does your child have poor motor skills?
  • Is your child clumsy?
  • Does your child have an extremely high or very low pain tolerance?
  • Does your child not understand they are hurting others, i.e.. banging head against a person, biting, hitting? [They don’t seem to be doing this to hurt someone, but to meet a need (sensory).]
  • Does your child over-focus on some things, but have an inability to focus on others?
  • Is your child easily overwhelmed?
  • Does hunger make your child irritable? (They may not be able to identify the problem or the feeling of hunger, but when fed, their aggravation subsides.)

I am not saying that if your answered yes to most of these questions that your child has SPD, it is simply something you should look at and consider. My son has SPD, and has significant issues, but we still wouldn’t answer yes to every question on the above list. Oddly, he isn’t clumsy and has good motor skills, both small and large.

I also believe that children can have sensory issues without having SPD, it may be on a lesser scale. My daughter and I are perfect examples of this. There are certain things that bother us, but we don’t crave the sensory stimulation that my son does.

Following is a list of sensory needs and solutions (Sensory Diet):

NEED SOLUTION (Sensory Diet)
Craves physical stimulation: jumps, runs, bangs head, hits, bites
  • Provide a safe trampoline. Our son spends most of his time on the trampoline. They have one in his classroom and when he gets overwhelmed he goes to it.
  • Use a large ball (big bin in grocery store) and bounce it across your child’s body.
  • For younger children, place child facing down on big ball. Hold your child on the ball and roll them back and forth so their hands hit the floor in front and their feet hit the floor in back.
  • Spend time at the park (meets many sensory need if it’s not too crowded).
  • Swimming is an awesome sensory tool. Also great for adopted children.
  • Swinging (both of our kids LOVE to swing)
  • Spinning (play Ring Around the Rosie)
  • Rocking. Our sensory guy has always craved that rocking movement. It was the only thing that would quiet him when he was a baby.
  • Rice or beans (place in a big bin and provide measuring cups and other things to pour and scoop with).
  • Play dough. Be aware that a child who doesn’t handle change well will not want the play dough to change shape. Jeremiah freaked out when he squeezed it and it turned into a ball. Not cool. Over time he got used to it. 🙂
  • Leg Pulls. We did a lot of these. When Jeremiah was upset we would place him on the floor (we have wood floors, you can also put a blanket under them) and grab his ankles. We would scrunch his knees up and push him back and pull him forward. Two pumps on pushing and once pulling back. You can say, “Pop. Pop,” when you push them out. Make it fun.
  • Weighted vests (some kids like them, some hate them. You could start with a life jacket to see if they like something wrapped around them.)
  • Our Speech Therapist recently recommended we put together a sensory bag. You can put several different textiles in, like sand paper, something fuzzy, something squeezable.
Child bangs head
  • Consider headaches first. Try combatting with more water.
  • Use a tight fitting hat or beanie
  • Get an OT’s advice on how to rub their head.
Child hits
  • Encourage them to be nice, even if they aren’t doing it to be mean. Place your handover theirs and use a gentle motion on your arm.
  • Show her what she can hit. Say, “Be gentle/nice to Mommy. Hit the table,” and guide her to the table.
  • Have your child hit a ball.
Craves visual stimuli [stares at things, gets close to objects and looks at them, shakes head a lot, stims** (waves hand in front of face)]
  • Purchase hand held spinning lights (usually at the checkout in some stores)
  • Swinging
  • Rocking
  • Spinning. If they always spin in one direction try to get her to go the other way. Play Ring Around the Rosie.
  • Roll balls back and forth.
  • Rice or beans are good for this (see above). My son likes to grab a bunch and let it fall back into the tin. I think he also likes the noise it makes.
  • Drawing. You can take a magna doodle anywhere, they even have mini ones. This will also help with their hand/eye coordination.
  • If they’re young and they stim, I don’t see it as a problem. If your child stims, and still seems irritated, try finding something that will assist them with their need, such as the spinning light. You may want to find other solutions when they become oder and children make fun of them.
Crowds/noise bothers them
  • Provide a quiet, calm environment.
  • Have a routine everywhere you go. If you frequent a certain store, go the same route through the store each time.
  • Insert ear plugs if the child is older. 🙂


Once Jeremiah’s therapists came to the conclusion that he had SPD, they incorporated the above Sensory Diet. Every two hours we worked on motor sensory issues; leg pumps, ball bounces on his body, rolling him over a big ball. After doing that for a couple months he began to take over and fix many of his sensory needs himself.

You can have an Occupational Therapist (OT) work with your child, but I would recommend being present for the sessions because this is something you’ll want to continue at home. If your child is having difficulty in school you can get an OT to work with them there, but that may require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Jeremiah had meltdowns for quite a while every time we tried to go into a store at the mall. He was fine in the large area, but once we came upon the opening of Target, or any other store, he would flip out. We kept trying. There were many months when he couldn’t do it, but one day he went in, no problem. We felt it was a fear of a closed-in space, or maybe the lighting and tall shelves.

All this to say, one day your child may have an issue with something and another day she won’t, so keep trying. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t worked the last three times. You never know when that moment is going to come. This is the same with the Sensory Diet, there have been many things we’ve tried over the years, some have worked, and some haven’t. Some didn’t work so I stopped making efforts because I was only frustrating Jeremiah and feeling guilty that I wasn’t helping him as much as I should. I would reintroduce that “thing” or a Developmental Therapist would, and it worked.

*I do not recommend a child be medicated for SPD. I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose a child or person. The only reason I mention labels is to help children. I do not use them as an excuse, nor do I see my child through that label. I adore by kids and it only helps me to understand what they are dealing with when I think in terms of labels.
**Stimming is a repetitive behavior that stimulates one or more of the senses (such as hand flapping in front of the eyes).

Check out these other sensory related links:
Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (what it is)
new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder
13 (funny) reasons you know your child has SPD (originally posted in part by Shut Up)