Tag Archives: sensory processing disorder

A Response to Skeptics About Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD

Recently, a person with a PhD in the humanities, who is chair of a department at a prestigious private university, said to me, “You’re wasting your time talking to people online about autism. Autism doesn’t exist outside of the United States. The rising number of cases is just another example of mass hysteria, people convincing themselves that there’s a problem and the pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of them. We always had people with autism and they got jobs. The only issue is that now you need a college degree to get a job so parents are pushing schools to give their kids more help when it’s their responsibility to do the extra work their kids need.”

I was incredulous and went into my logical brain. I tried to convince her that perhaps my ten years of reading the news and research on sensory issues, ADHD, and autism, and listening to parents of children with autism and related conditions talk about their struggles, might give SOME weight to my opinion and take me out of the category of “hysterical” parents. Later, I asked some people in the hidden disabilities community if they thought I should educate her by sending her some links. The consensus was not to bother, because anyone with such an extreme position and unwillingness to admit that she was not the expert of all time as a result of having met one or two college students with Asperger’s wasn’t worth the effort when there are so many people eager for and appreciative of guidance and support. A close friend said to me I shouldn’t feel insulted so much as sorry for this person, who clearly couldn’t appreciate my passion for educating and inspiring other parents and the professionals who work with their kids. I don’t know if it was actually Eleanor Roosevelt who said this, but I’ve always loved the quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”! (At one point, I asked, “So you think my work is stupid and pathetic?” She did not contradict me but continued her diatribe. To my credit, I did laugh at the audacity of her non-response!)

“Do you even get paid for the work you’re doing?” the PhD asked me.

My gut dropped. I had, after all, just lost two freelance jobs worth five months’ income in the last week and had been “singing a happy tune” to try to prevent panic for days.

“No,” I answered. “Well, I make enough money selling Amazon.com items through my website to pay my hosting fees. And I earn about 48 cents for each copy of my book sold. But sending out my newsletter, advising people online—no, I don’t get compensated for any of that.”

The PhD’s eyeballs rolled. “Your son doesn’t even have autism.”

“Yeah, but his issues overlap autism, and SO many kids with SPD also have autism! I want to better understand the special challenges of kids with other hidden disabilities so I’m more sensitive when I advise parents. And besides, isn’t there some value in giving back when you have so much information and insight that can help others?”

The PhD had no answer for that. I suppose information and insight about something that doesn’t exist except in the minds of neurotic U.S. parents doesn’t have much value!!!!!!

It’s funny—so often, parents of neurotypical kids try to one up each other, comparing whose child meet their developmental goalposts first, whose child is more extroverted (so highly valued in our culture), or who said something so intelligent that surely he’s a shoo in for an Ivy League school. Maybe that’s why someone who doesn’t know us parents of kids with hidden disabilities thinks we’re all obsessing over college. In ten years of being in online support groups for parents of kids with sensory processing disorder, I’ve never experienced a parent trying to one up another. Ever. Nor have I ever experienced it with parents in my community who have kids with hidden disabilities. Now, we do congratulate each other when someone’s child consents to a dental procedure with Novocain for the first time, or ties his shoes by himself at age nine, or goes an entire day without wetting the Pull-Up even though he’s eight—because we know how much effort went into achieving that milestone. And maybe we can’t find the time to play the “one up” game because we’re too busy trying to get that homework assignment to travel from the homework folder to the teacher’s desk without showing up at school to make that happen, ensuring that our child will get credit, a grade that isn’t a demoralizing F, and feedback we can use to help her work on her language disability that keeps tripping her up.

I feel I lucked out by getting connected to parents for whom parenting isn’t a competition so much as a collaboration—between Mom, Dad, grandparents and other caregivers, teachers, therapists, other parents who can share their wisdom, and of course, our wonderful kids. We cheer each other on and help each other out. I’ve seen parents join support groups desperate for answers and for someone to say, “I’ve been there. You’re doing great!” only to pass forward that message to another newbie when they’ve found their “sea legs” as a parent of a child with a hidden disability.

I could post here a bunch of links showing that autism is on the rise in many countries, that many experts debunk the idea that diagnostic changes alone are responsible for those rises. I could also post links to research articles and news pieces about breakthroughs in understanding and treating sensory issues and autism, which many of you know I post on the Facebook page for the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child whenever I come across them. I love to participate in conversations about how we can best help our kids shine in a world where “quirky” doesn’t always fit in so neatly, and how we can keep our spirits up when we’re feeling misunderstood, frustrated, or worn out. At the same time, I have to balance that with enjoying my own family, helping my son get the extra help he needs, running my business, and being good to myself. So I’ll let the skeptics check out the book’s Facebook page, use a search engine, and do their own work to convince themselves that we parents of kids with sensory issues, ADHD, and autism are not dealing with “mass hysteria” and aren’t being “duped by the pharmaceutical companies” into imagining our kids need help. And I’ll choose to feel sorry for those who don’t know what a joy it is to have a quirky kid and a slew of supporters cheering you on whenever you feel discouraged. Thank you to ALL of you who participate in this marvelous community of people who care about kids with hidden disabilities. I know you’re out there and I appreciate you!

(Okay, I can’t help myself. Here are some helpful links for finding support groups and resources for your quirky kid: http://www.sensorysmartparent.com/websites.html )

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG! If you liked this article, PLEASE come join me at the new www.SensorySmartParent.com and sign up for my NEW newsletter and blog. Thanks!

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Sensory Processing Disorder and the 7 Senses

Sensory Processing Disorder is real and it affects our 7 senses. There is so much to learn about how to help our kids with sensory issues!

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April 9, 2012 · 3:03 pm

Teenagers and Sensory Issues: Special Challenges for a Special Time

As I look forward to my son entering his teens very soon, I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers and sensory issues. Years ago, when I was first thinking about writing a practical guide for parents of kids with sensory processing disorder, I knew I wanted to cover teenagers and their sensory challenges. I knew of teens with SPD and I recognized that there was nothing out there in books or on the internet to help parents. I’m very proud to say that my coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and I were really at the forefront of talking about sensory issues in teens in our book.

I’m repeating here my most recent Sensory Smart News because I know how eager moms and dads, and professionals who work with teens with SPD, are to get info aimed at this particular group of kids. So here it goes:

 

Teens with sensory processing disorder have special challenges because of the stage of development they’re in and the fact that until now, their sensory issues may have gone unaddressed. In the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to teens as well as many practical tips for older kids. If you are unfamiliar with the special challenges of teens with sensory issues, here they are—followed by practical strategies for addressing those challenges.

 

 

1. Finding the right OT can be challenging. Few occupational therapists are trained or experienced in working with teenagers who have sensory processing disorder. Play-based SI therapy may seem silly and embarrassing to teens.

 

2. Poor self-esteem. Teenagers who have had sensory issues for years will have learned at least some accommodations to get around them and are less likely to experience the extreme behaviors and responses they did when they were younger. However, years of feeling different and not knowing why, and noticing that they have never been quite as mature and self-controlled as their peers, take their toll. Teens with sensory processing issues usually struggle with self-esteem. They need a lot of encouragement to admit they have sensory issues and need some help.

 

3. Need for independence. Teenagers need to have their independence respected, so being told, “You need to do X, Y, and Z to manage your sensory issues” usually doesn’t go over very well!

 

4. Desire to fit in. Even teenagers who don’t feel the need to have a lot of friends or be conformist want to have some friends they feel they fit in with. Sensory challenges can embarrass them and may make them feel isolated, and different in a negative way.

 

5. Changing hormones. Teenagers have ever-changing hormones that can exacerbate sensory issues by making them more sensitive to input than they were in the past. The normal changes of adolescence can also make them more moody and emotionally sensitive.

 

6. New expectations. People are less likely to see your teen as a young, immature person with a hidden disability and more likely to see him or her as a young adult whose behavior is willful.

 

 

What’s a parent, teacher, or therapist to do?

 

1. Modify traditional SI therapy techniques to be more teen friendly. As a substitute for playing with a tray of shaving cream or finger-paints, encourage the teen to cook, garden, do art or arts and crafts, and engage in other activities that challenge his tactile issues. Work with a sensory-smart occupational therapist who is willing to alter her approach to helping your teenage son or daughter to reduce any embarrassment or defensiveness.

 

2. Talk about sensory issues positively. Reassure your teenager that sensory issues are simply a difference in brain wiring that can have advantages but that can also be controlled and addressed to make life a little easier. See Raising a Sensory Smart Child for specific advice on helping teenagers overcome their defensiveness about having sensory processing disorder and how to talk to them about the “little tricks” you and the OT can teach them to “make their lives easier.”
 

3. Offer accommodations and sensory diet ideas for him or her to choose from. Present accommodations and activities to teenagers and let them decide which they would like to use. Honor and respect their choices and encourage them to engage in problem solving with you. If they don’t want to be seen doing a brushing protocol for tactile issues, can they do it discreetly in the bathroom at school? If all the kids are wearing loose clothes and they prefer them tight, can the teen wear tight clothing, such as bicycle shorts, underneath looser clothes that seem more stylish?

 

Teens with sensory issues need teen-friendly activities as part of their sensory diet.

4. Help him to feel okay as he is and find a group of peers he’s comfortable with. Practical solutions for grooming, picky eating, and dressing, and encouraging talks about the upside of being different, can help your teen with sensory issues feel more comfortable among his peers. However, he may also feel better about himself if he expands his group of friends. Encourage your teen to develop hobbies and engage in new activities from individualized sports that don’t require high levels of skill and competitiveness to enjoy them to groups that engage in the arts, community service, spiritual growth, etc. Extracurricular activities can help kids find their “tribe” and feel the power to make a difference in the world as well.

 

5. Accept that your child may be more emotionally sensitive at this stage. Be alert to signs of increased anxiety and depression and consult a medical health professional with any concerns you have. Remember, addressing sensory issues will reduce overall anxiety that can lead to mild or moderate depression (when you feel you can’t manage your discomfort, over time, you can develop depression). Don’t forget some of the most effective treatments for mild or moderate anxiety and depression include physical exercise, time spent outdoors, meditation, and breathing exercises. Mindfulness practices from yoga and tai chi to tai kwan do and karate can help, too.

 

6. Focus on self-awareness and accountability for self-regulating. It’s very difficult to get others to accept poor self-regulation in a teen, even if you educate them on hidden disabilities. Therefore, the sooner you collaborate with your teen in creating a workable sensory diet that prevents negative behaviors, the better. It will be easier for your teen to develop better self-regulation if she is trained in using specific self-calming and self-alerting techniques that she knows work for her. Hold her accountable for using her alerting music and gum, taking time out to sit in a quiet space and do breathing exercises or use a brushing protocol, etc. Have her participate in creating a sensory diet tailored to her needs to keep her sensory needs met and to prevent fight-or-flight behaviors. Let her experience the natural consequences if she refuses to use her calming, focusing, alerting techniques.

 

Above all, never forget that kids with sensory issues need a “just right” challenge, a balance of accommodations to make them more comfortable and challenges that take them out of their comfort zone.  Sensory diet activities for teenagers help them to develop a higher tolerance for situations and activities they’ll encounter in life, and over time, retrain their brains to process sensory information more typically. Be creative and encouraging in setting up a sensory diet for a teenager, and always be collaborative to respect the teen’s need for independence.

 

Finally, if you’re a parent frustrated by trying to get your teenager’s sensory issues under control, consider joining an in-person or online support group, such as the ones on yahoogroups.com, or creating one. Knowing that you aren’t alone, and having practical and emotional support from other parents going through the same experiences with their teen, can help you enormously at this stage of your child’s development.

Check it out!

 

Know the symptoms of depression in teens: See the information on the Mayo Clinic website. Information on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which often begins in adolescence, can be found at WebMD.

Find more quick information on teens and sensory issues at www.SensorySmartParent.com and in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG! If you liked this article, PLEASE come join me at the new www.SensorySmartParent.com and sign up for my NEW newsletter and blog. Thanks!

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Filed under exercise and movement for sensory kids, grooming, heavy work, helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, Moms of kids with SPD, online support groups, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, sensory seeking, teenagers with sensory issues

Brain Differences Are Real! How YOU Can Retrain the Brain of Your Child Who Has Sensory Issues

The brains of people with ADHD, autism, and/or sensory processing disorder are different from the brains of neurotypical people. There’s reams of evidence this is true, including a new report on visual processing differences and ADHD. Whenever I hear people say ADHD or sensory issues aren’t real, or that some kids don’t have autism and are just the victims of bad parenting, I wish I had a portable brain scanner to whip out to show people WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP! (Forgive my crankiness–I hear so many of your stories about ignorant people who are convinced it’s all nonsense and I share your frustration!)

For those of you who have already accepted this fundamental reality about different brains, please remember that brains are retrainable, or plastic so there is reason to be optimistic, although it may not feel that way on your worst days. How does brain retraining work? As the saying goes, “When neurons fire, they rewire.” That means that when a neuron is stimulated and sends out an electrical signal to another neuron, a bridge between them forms. When the stimulus is repeated, the bridge is strengthened. In time, that bridge becomes very strong. That’s why we see that after a sensory smart OT does the same activity, hand over hand, with our child again and again, one day, he just “gets it” and doesn’t need cueing or demonstrating anymore. In fact, the stronger the neural network of bridges, the easier it is for him to translate the original skill to a new activity. He can blow a bubble off of a bubble wand  AND blow out a birthday cake candle.

Kids with sensory issues may need lots of practice to acquire skills such as bubble blowing. Have your sensory smart OT assign you homework--activities you can practice with your child, as part of a sensory diet, to retrain her brain.

Retraining the brain is easiest with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but we can retrain the brain at any age as long as any damage to the brain is not too severe. Even then, our brains are marvelous at rerouting signals so that we can make do with what we have.

What this means for us as parents is that we help our children develop more typical sensory processing, better self-regulation, and new skills through repetition and practice. Talk to your OT regularly about what she is doing with your child to build new neural networks and follow through with “homework.” My son’s marvelous sensory smart OT, Lindsey Biel, showed me how to stand over him, cueing him to keep his legs together using my own legs, and count off to jumping over three stuffed animals lain on the floor, in sequence. “1-2-3 jump–legs together! 1-2-3 jump–legs together, that’s right!” Every week, we had homework to do. It was fun and easy to work into our home routine (especially because Lindsey is a huge advocate of sensory diet activities that combine with everyday life easily). I learned that this follow through was as important as a musician practicing between lessons. Just a few minutes of each activity a few times a day helped tremendously. In fact, my son had so much fun he would often try activities on his own, or point to the equipment (it helped that he is a sensory seeker so jumping and the like always held great appeal–I know you parents of sensory avoiders have it a bit harder!).

If you haven’t done OT homework at all, or in a while, make a plan for yourself to learn what to do with your child and work on it every day, even if only for a few minutes. You can do it, and it’s fun!

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, occupational therapy, organizational issues, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory diet, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

Fine motor delay? Fine motor skill benchmarks to watch for in your child

This month’s Sensory Smart News is chock full of tips for developing fine motor skills in your child. I think it’s important to take a variety of approaches and keep working on those skills in fun ways to bring your child up to speed with her pre-handwriting and handwriting skills. Of course, language processing difficulties and short-term memory issues (which may include motor memory or visual memory problems) can factor into a child’s difficulty with handwriting, but very often, fine motor skills play a big role.

We don’t often think about handwriting before kids actually have to do it starting in kindergarten–I remember thinking, why is my son’s OT through the Early Intervention program concerned about whether he can draw with a crayon at 27 months old?–but the child who is behind in fine motor skills will need lots of extra help to catch up and be able to handwrite well in school. If your child is trying to compose his thoughts in a coherent way, the last thing he needs is to be struggling with writing them on paper using a pencil.

Fine motor skills play an important role in handwriting.

So where should your child be with fine motor skills? Here are some fine motor skill benchmarks from Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues (a complete list of skill benchmarks can be found in our chapter on Dealing with Developmental Delays).

7 months or so:

–can bang 2 objects together

–can poke objects with index finger

–good grasp and voluntary release

13 months or so:

–mark paper with crayon

–put 3 or more objects into a small container

16 months or so:

–points with index finger

–builds tower using 2 cubes

18 months or so:

–one hand holds object stable while the other manipulates it (Oops! That was a biggie I missed in my own child–fortunately, once he began early intervention at 27 months, I had my OT, Lindsey Biel,working with him hand over hand to develop this skill)

–scribbles spontaneously

24 months or so:

–snips with scissors

–strings one one-inch bead

–imitates vertical stroke and circular scribble

5 years old or so:

–prints first name

–writes numbers 1 through 5

If you are concerned with your child’s progress in fine motor skills (using fingers and hands), gross motor skills (using larger muscles), speech, socialization, or other skills, I urge you to investigate and get answers now. Don’t be afraid or intimidated! You can’t possibly tell if he will grow out of it or catch up on his own. Early intervention makes a HUGE difference because children’s brains are more easily trained when they are very young. When in doubt, check it out!

Here is a link to a list of early intervention providers in your state who can do a FREE evaluation of your child from birth to age 3 if you suspect developmental delays: http://sensorysmarts.com/ei_providers_by_state.html

You can also Google “early intervention” and your state’s name.

If your child qualifies for services, they will be FREE or on a sliding scale depending on your state’s policies. If your child is over age 3, or in school, ask your local school district to evaluate him. Reaffirm your request in writing by certified mail.

You can also consult a private OT for help with handwriting issues and fine motor skill delay. Be sure to ask about whether she is familiar with and experienced with working with children with sensory issues.

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Filed under evaluations, fine motor skills, handwriting, Lindsey Biel, sensory processing disorder

Halloween and Sensory Issues

Getting ready for Halloween? Now’s the time to think about whether your child with sensory issues and/or autism can handle a costume, trick or treating, parties, and exposure to umpteen food dyes, artificial flavors, sugars, and hydrogenated oils. I well recall candy being a rare treat when I was a kid, and now it seems I’m saying “no” to Starburst several times a day as junk food is everywhere. That said, there’s nothing like being part of a neighborhood trick or treat celebration or spooky party to create good childhood memories, IF you make some accommodations for your child with sensory issues and/or autism. Start talking about a costume now. Often, our kids are more comfortable in a costume that’s homemade or modified. Many of the store-bought ones (aside from being pricey) are scratchy or provide other unpleasant tactile input. A costume that relies on wearing a mask, uncomfortable hat, makeup, or a wig may not be tolerable for your child. Have her practice wearing the uncomfortable pieces of the costume beforehand so she doesn’t melt down on Halloween, saying, “But I can’t wear this!”

I wrote a Sensory Smart News piece on this very topic which you can find on my website, SensorySmartParent.com Halloween is a great time to for make believe and for confronting fears in an emotionally safe way. I hope yours is healthy and happy and full of spooky fun.

Happy Halloween to you and your child with sensory issues!

 

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What’s up with this child? Listen to your instincts!

Please share this promotional video with anyone you think might benefit from it. It was inspired by all those well-meaning comments we parents heard, and by the courage of parents who said, “No, I think there’s something ‘off’ with my child and I’m going to explore that possibility.”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG4O2TV2smg

 

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Filed under auditory processing disorders, clothing issues, grooming, haircuts, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder diagnosis, sensory processing disorder symptoms, sensory seeking, SensorySmartParent.com, SPD and auditory