Q: My 10-year-old son has just been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. He has exhibited some unusual behaviors but is not on the autism spectrum. We see an occupational therapist every other week. What are the long-term expectations for someone with SPD? Are there some things that he will just outgrow and that will get better with maturity? Is there anything else you recommend besides occupational therapy?
A: Sensory processing disorder refers to children's problems in responding to information that comes through the senses. Some children hear sounds more loudly than others, and others are sensitive to seams or tags on clothing. Some struggle with physical coordination. Occupational therapists can be very helpful to these children.
Psychologists can also help children cope with this disorder. When I work with children who have SPD, I search for tools they can use to cope with their issues without receiving too much attention or power from having these problems. In other words, I help them to adjust to their disorder without their feeling or appearing different or strange to peers and teachers. Here are some examples:
1) A child who doesn't like loud sounds can wear earplugs, but I suggest that they not be obvious to others so that other children don't notice them. I also teach the child how to explain his use of earplugs to other children if they ask.
2) If a child's tags or rough clothing feels uncomfortable, I recommend cutting tags, choosing softer fabrics and using mild detergents. By the time these children are tweens and become fashion-conscious, most seem to outgrow their clothing sensitivities — or at least manage to select clothes that fit in with peer styles and are comfortable.
3) Sometimes children with SPD struggle with falling asleep because they hear sounds, creaks or scary noises. Earplugs or quiet music can make that problem disappear.
I also advise that parents avoid a lot of adult talk about their children's issues and help them select tools that permit them to manage them independently. Parents should avoid feeling sorry for them and talking to them too much about their problems. Instead, they can praise them for their problem-solving skills. These issues will soon become part of the past, and parents' assumptions that they will outgrow their problems will help them with their optimism in coping with them.
Children with SPD should keep busy and active with wholesome sports or extracurricular activities so that their interests become the center of their lives and they build strong self-confidence.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.