Children who have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have difficulty integrating their senses into a manageable, useful stream of information. For people with typical sensory integration capacity, a tight collar or an irritating sound can be ‘tuned out,’ and do not present an impediment to focus. Children with SPD are often unable to manage the inputs that come in and have significant difficulty focusing their attention on something other than an unwelcome sensation. Further, children with SPD often do not have well-developed awareness of their bodies’ position in space, and can be clumsy.
Raising a child with this condition presents a challenge that is unlike those of other developmental or physical conditions, and most informational materials describing SPD do not do very much to explain the lived experiences of the children and family members for whom SPD is a fact of life.
One client of mine used to chew on electrical wires, because the sensation of chewing was calming. His parents found this habit distressing, and approached The Essential Learning Group for help. Ultimately, the process of helping this little boy to outgrow his unsafe, destructive habit demanded fairly intensive family cooperation and some keen observations of the habits and triggers in his daily life.
Our goals in treating SPD are highly qualitative. Many therapists have quantifiable goals, with easily measurable assessments. Therapists treating children with Sensory Processing Disorder rely on family and people in the community around to report progress to us and to convey as much detailed information as possible, so that we might identify the best opportunities to help. Whereas a physical therapist can see a client reach a concrete strength-building goal, specialists treating SPD must develop a new set of references for each client.
For the boy with the chewing habit, success came gradually. His mother kept a journal recording when he chewed on things and what happened immediately before he began to chew. She also recorded which times of day he tended to be calmer and less inclined towards chewing. Together, we unwound the pattern, and found incremental solutions, such as encouraging him to ask for chewing gum as a substitute for electrical wires. Finally, his mother told me that she could keep electronics out in the house again without anxiety that her son would feel compelled to chew on wires. She could leave him alone and feel confident that he could independently manage his oral fixation. Through intensive collaboration and observation, I had helped this family to overcome a significant challenge and set new and exciting goals for their son.