4 Signs your Child Might be Struggling with a Sensory Processing Disorder

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As a parent, the last thing you want is to see your child struggle. When something doesn’t come easy, it can be a natural inclination to rush in and fix the problem. What if you can’t quite pinpoint what the problem is though? How do you help them then?

There are, unfortunately, many diagnoses that are invisible to the naked eye. While it’s always best to err on the side of caution and have your child evaluated by a medical professional, there’s nothing wrong with arming yourself with information so you can go to those evaluation appointments prepared for what’s to come.

What is sensory processing disorder anyway?

The human brain can sometimes have difficulty organizing and responding to information from our senses. When this occurs, it is called sensory processing disorder.

SPD, or sensory processing disorder, is one of those diagnoses that isn’t always easy to see at first, but can have a profound impact on how our kids interact with the world.

The signs and symptoms of SPD aren’t always easy to recognize, but when you know what is happening inside your child’s brain, you are better able to get your child the help that he or she needs.

While this list won’t be exhaustive, here are 4 signs your child might be struggling with a sensory processing disorder.

1. Are mealtimes miserable because your child is a picky eater?

What can sometimes look like picky eating to the outside observer is often a child who is unable to communicate that they are struggling with the smells, tastes, and/or textures of certain (sometimes many) foods.

Is your finicky eater subsisting on the same four foods and meltdowns ensue when you try to introduce something new? It might be time to consider that this is more than just a season that will pass.

2. Do social situations seem to stir up anxiety in your otherwise happy child?

Does your child cover their ears in frustration when people are talking too loud? Do they seek out quiet corners at a busy playdate? Do they cringe and avoid the obligatory hugging that always seems to happen at family gatherings?

If you are seeing these things happen again and again, it is a telltale sign there is something causing discomfort. Kids struggling with sensory avoidance issues often dislike loud noises, too many people talking at once, bright lights, and even sometimes being hugged or touched.

3. Does your child seem to invade other people’s space and not really understand personal boundaries?

Do you find that your child seems to be unaware of other people’s personal space? Do they get too close to your face while talking? Do you notice them bumping and crashing into things, seemingly on purpose?

Again if you are seeing these things, it’s likely that they are seeking sensory input. Kids with this particular challenge often crave physical contact. They like to receive big “bear hugs” and sleep better at night when they are tucked in nice and snug. Meeting this need helps them settle and feel more calm.

4. Is each morning fraught with battles over what your child will wear to school that day?

Does your child tantrum over tags in their clothing? Do they refuse to wear certain styles or materials? Do seams in socks cause streams of tears?

If this is the case, there is likely a sensitivity to certain textures happening. Odds are if this is a regular occurrence, this is not just a battle of wills over freedom of expression through clothing choice. When your child has sensory processing difficulties, clothing material matters.

How can you help your struggling child?

Are you seeing things that you attributed to your kid just being a kid? That is very possibly the case! But, if you are seeing many of the signs here and you’ve ever had a feeling that their picky eating or dressing difficulties were more than what is typical for a child their age, then it’s best to trust your mommy intuition and take them in to be evaluated.

One really helpful resource is the sensory processing disorder screener from ADDitude. While it can’t provide a definitive diagnosis, it’s an informative tool that will give you a good starting point and some topics to discuss with your child’s doctor.

It’s important to remember that these signs can be indicative of more than just sensory processing disorder. Many diagnoses have overlapping symptoms and it’s impossible to know what is really happening with your child without having a professional evaluation.

It is also important to keep in mind that no matter what diagnosis (if any) your child is given, they are still the same child you’ve nurtured and loved. A label doesn’t change your child or your relationship with them.

Knowing what is happening inside your child’s mind is a good thing. Knowledge is power. With this, you now are able to arm yourself with information and tools that will ultimately help you help your child.

Also, don’t forget to share on social media! This is something that isn’t nearly talked about enough and by sharing you might be bringing awareness to a parent who is desperately trying to find answers for their struggling child. 

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