To this point I have not shared much about my family. You may know that I am married and have two adorable children, but what I haven't told you is that both of my children have Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. The SPD Foundation defines it as a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.
I had never heard of SPD until my daughter was diagnosed by Early Intervention when she was about two and a half years old. She had become a very picky eater and certain foods would send her into a panic. Think of your worst fear (for me it would be seeing a snake!) and that's how she would react when certain foods were placed on the table. She also hated baths and getting her teeth brushed. It would take both my husband and I to bathe her or brush her teeth. I'm surprised none of the neighbors ever called child-protective services since she would scream at the top of her lungs the entire time. We just thought she was a difficult child and a picky eater until the diagnosis came and I started to do my research. Then some of her other "unique" behaviors began to make sense.
With my son, I noticed things were different much earlier (thanks to knowing about SPD from my daughter). He's my sensory seeker - he looks for ways to give himself sensory input. Instead of standing still, he would stomp in place. He would stuff his mouth full so that his cheeks would register more input. He lacks focus and goes from task to task looking for new input. Many would look at him and think he had ADHD. I'm thankful that I had the knowledge to know the difference and have the diagnosis confirmed by experts (many pediatricians are not familiar with SPD and misdiagnosis it as ADHD).
One of the most common examples of a sensory issue that people can relate to are tags in clothing. Some children, and even adults, are terribly bothered by them to the point that they can't really focus on anything other than the darn tag (or in the case of a child, they have a tantrum) and can't move on until the tag is gone! That's pretty minor in the scheme of things but it's an example of how a sensory issue can become a behavioral issue due to a problem with sensory processing.
I am very fortunate to have some great resources in my area that specialize in sensory issues due to specializing in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many children with ASD have sensory challenges, but SPD is not always associated with autism. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation is working to get SPD as a stand-alone diagnosis on the DSM-5.
My children both receive occupational therapy as it is the most recognized treatment for those with sensory issues. During sensory-based OT sessions, the therapists interact in a sensory-rich environment with lots of swinging, spinning, tactile, visual, auditory, and taste opportunities that seem more like play to the children. Through OT children improve their ability to accurately detect, regulate, interpret, and execute appropriate motor and behavioral responses to sensations so they are able to perform everyday "occupations" in a functional manner. These occupations include playing with friends, enjoying school or work, completing daily routines such as eating, dressing, sleeping, and enjoying a typical family life.
One of the frustrations I have, however, is that many of the items that are most helpful for therapy aren't "safer choices". For example, a fitness ball is a wonderful tool for OT. I spent hours researching a PVC-free option I was comfortable having the children work on daily in our home (it's due to arrive 7/28 so look for a review in the next few weeks!). I will be posting some some options that pass my "safer choices tests" that are great "toys" for any child, but especially helpful for a child who has SPD or ASD. I'll also be posting some resources for those who would like to make certain products that are recommended since some of you are crafty and could make things for a fraction of what they cost to buy. This is not a departure from my mission of providing healthier options for your family, but a specialized area that has become near and dear to my heart. If SPD or ASD is part of your life, keep an eye out for these posts.