What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
According to childmind.org Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD can be seen in kids that seem to have trouble handling the information their senses take in—things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. Besides these common senses, there are also two other less well known ones that can be affected—proprioception, or a sense of body awareness, and vestibular sense, which involves movement, balance, and coordination.
Kids with sensory processing issues experience too much or too little stimulation through these senses. They may also have difficulty integrating sensory information—for example things that they see and hear simultaneously, like a person speaking—might seem out of sync for them.
What is the Cause?
According to Dr. Monika Bueger of the ICPA “In children with SPD there is often a history of a traumatic or difficult birth, c-section, or breach birth; all of which can cause injury and subluxations to the spine. Additional causes of subluxations include falls; when children are learning to walk, they are constantly falling face first or backwards. Then there are the falls out of cribs, off couches, beds, chairs; off playground equipment or bicycles, etc. Car accidents can cause spinal trauma, even if the child is restrained in a car seat or has a seat belt on. School-aged children carrying backpacks, children playing recreational or school-related sports are all prone to spinal injuries.”
There are a few words that I would first like to define from Dr. Bueger’s statement. The first is the term subluxation. If you have ever visited a chiropractor odds are that this will be a fairly familiar term. A subluxation is a spinal misalignment that affects the function of the nervous system. Or in other words these are points along the spine that cause stress on the nerves. Just like in the statement above an individuals first subluxation is typically during the birthing process. We will save this topic for another blog but it is important to realize that during the birthing process there is a tremendous amount of strain on the baby, and often times tool such as forceps or a vacuum are used which creates even more. All of this stress can cause a babies first subluxation thus limiting a child’s nervous system and neurodevelopment from day 1.
Types of SPD
When there is enough stress placed upon the nervous system it can become stuck and it has two options , speed up or slow down. That is why there is two classifications of SPD.
Hypersensitive kids are extremely reactive to sensory stimulation, and can find it overwhelming. They may:
- Be unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises like ambulance sirens
- Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or
irritating—even after cutting out all the tags and labels-or shoes
because they feel “too tight.”
- Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
- Be fearful of surprise touch, avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
- Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
- Often have trouble understanding where their body is in relation to other objects or people
- Bump into things and appear clumsy
- Have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying; so for
example, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam
Hyposensitive kids are under-sensitive, which makes them want to seek out more sensory stimulation. They may:
- Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable
- Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it
- Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
- Not understand their own strength
- Be very fidgety and unable to sit still
- Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
- Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs
- Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
- Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines.
Think About the Highway
The best analogy that I have heard when thinking about SPD is a highway. Picture a completely clear highway that your are driving on all alone, you can go as fast or slow as you would like. All of the lanes are open, all of the exits are open and everything is very smooth. Now introduce a subluxation. This would be like adding a lane closure, pot holes and heavy traffic to this scenario. Information coming in can be delayed or distorted just like cars trying to enter rush hour. Distorted input to the brain creates distorted output to the body or in other words the exits are all backed up as well. This creates backup and confusion much like it does in the nervous system. Over time the nervous system becomes “stuck” and this becomes their everyday life. Multiply this by years and we now have a child suffering from SPD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
What We See
In our office we see just that, a stuck nervous system that cannot sort through the congestion. We have had kids take their cloths of because the sense of clothing touching their skin is to much, glazed over look in their eyes because they cannot sense their environment, blank stares, tantrums, distracted and the list goes on. After we sit down with the parents and do over their history from conception until today we use our insight millennium to scan the nervous system and look for areas that are “stuck”.
The image above is what it looks like to have a nervous system that is stuck when one or more subluxations are present. The different color bars represent abnormal nervous system output. When we see this in the office we smile because we know we can help.
If you know someone that is struggling with SPD or other neurodevelopmental issues I hope you can forward this to them to hopefully answer a few of their questions.