One of the first things you want to know when your child gets diagnosed with SPD is “will this get better?” Sensory processing disorder takes on many different presentations, but there are certain things we can expect to see as time progresses. Here is what to expect down the road for your child with SPD and what you can do to help them succeed.
People often become aware of SPD in very different times. Maybe you noticed some differences with your child while an infant. This may be struggles with feeding or soothing. Perhaps as your child became a toddler with more ability to respond to their environment you saw them react to grass on their hands and feet, moving down the slide or other activities. It is common for parents to first learn about SPD when their child first enters school. Maybe you were like me and noticed your sensory challenges as an adult. Whatever and whenever made you learn about SPD, there are ways that you can help SPD get better.
Better days ahead…
Good news! SPD doesn’t have to stay that way it started! In fact, it won’t. There is so much that can be done to help your child (or yourself) improve.
First, if you haven’t seen an Occupational Therapist yet, do it! Start by asking your pediatrician for a referral to OT. The OT will help assess your child for their sensory profile and needs. This can be a great start to understanding your how your child processes sensory input and how you can help.
The OT will help create a sensory diet that you can do with your child daily at home. I have seen AMAZING progress from kids who do a sensory diet on a regular basis! Even a month later these kids are doing new things they absolutely avoided earlier. This is one thing that can be hard for parents and caregivers to stick with, as they won’t necessarily see a difference at the moment or even in a week. Don’t give up! The more the brain uses these sensory processing pathways, the more smoothly that processing will go in the future. If you are having a hard time finding a sensory diet that you can stick to at home, check out Sensory Sid Activity Cards.
Next, as you and your child become more experienced with SPD, you will also learn all the tricks and tips that just make life easier. Now that I know more about myself, I know that when I am struggling to focus, I need a quick movement break (maybe a brisk walk to the mailbox), a glass of cold water or a crunchy carrot snack. When I am overwhelmed, I know I need to limit extra sound (hello, headphones). So much easier now that I know how to handle these “quirks”. No more just spacing out or running away from the overstimulation. Help your child find these things out and create good patterns and choices to help them succeed.
Does age matter?
It does! But it comes with good and bad, so be prepared to find the positives in each situation.
If you caught your child’s SPD before age 5, congratulations! You have a great opportunity to make some amazing changes in how your child processes sensory information. Children 5 and under have shown to make the most nervous system changes. Dig in and be prepared to see some great improvement!
Missed that under 5 window? Yeah, me too. Don’t worry, though! There is still a lot that can be done to actually change the way the nervous system processes sensory input. Consistency and repetition are key. Keep that sensory diet rolling! Also it should be noted that as kids get past this point, they are way better equipped to communicate. This means identifying and solving sensory issues can get way easier!
Didn’t figure this out until you were an adult? Eh, I bet you figured out some great coping strategies anyway, right? I know I did! The really great news is that our nervous system can continue to make positive changes no matter our age. Again, this goes back to consistently and repetitively giving our brains and bodies a chance to process sensory input.
So, now that we know sensory processing disorder can get better, I know some of you are saying “but why are they getting worse?!” Next, we will take a look at what can make SPD “regress”.
Why did my child get worse?
It is easy to get scared and frustrated if you suddenly see the improvements that your child has made disappear. Maybe the certain foods your child ate are no longer okay. Perhaps they suddenly won’t go down the slide that they went down last week. Maybe they are coming home from school disregulated and a mess. There are certain things that commonly make SPD worse.
Are they getting sick or getting over a illness? Are they extra tired? If their body (or mind) has been fatigued, it is so much harder for them to process sensory input. I want you to imagine that you just came home from a really hard day at work. You are tired and want to fall into bed but you get busy making dinner anyway. While you are hustling to get done as fast as possible your spouse is reading an article about their work outloud. You hear it, but boy is it difficult to keep following along while you are getting dinner done! Would you have been able to do this easier earlier in the day, while your mind and body were fresh? Probably. Processing sensory input when tired or sick is just harder.
Even simple things like the time of the day can have a great effect on how well your child processes input. For instance, I am a morning person. I am more likely to be able to do tasks that challenge my sensory systems early in the day. At night, when I am fatigued, my auditory system is done. Done hearing loud noises, done trying to sort through background sounds to make sense of them. My child is a night owl. Waking up is hard to do and the first hour of the day is not the finest.
Its easy to think of growth spurts as fun evidences of new skills learned and getting bigger. When a child is going through a growth spurt or puberty, they are way more likely to struggle with their sensory processing.
Kids also go through “cognitive growth spurts”1. One of the downfalls for these mental leaps is that for those with SPD it often makes things harder. Even when they are learning new skills and abilities it often leaves them tired and disregulated.
This also falls inline with stress. If your child is stressed about a friendship, a big change or something happening in school, they may fall apart easily. They simply have less bandwidth to handle things that are difficult for them.
Lastly, we all have our days. Some days, sensory processing just isn’t that easy. I have recently been learning to one wheel (a really big challenge for a vestibular challenged person like myself). It has been hard and slow. Some days I get on and its okay! Its better and easier! Some days, I feel like everything is too fast, too bumpy, I am going to fall and its NO FUN! I often keep those rides shorter, put it away and try again later. I am making progress. And so can you and your child!
Coming back around
If your child has hit a regression, don’t get discouraged. Sensory patterns and needs can change over time, too. You may need to re-try things that you have done in the past that did or didn’t work. Maybe it is time to touch bases with your OT again.
Use these down times as an opportunity to build good coping skills and sensory strategies. Keep going with that sensory diet! With consistency, it will come back around…and get back on the progress track.