Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

Picture it. A four-year-old is all dolled up in a in a lacy dress and matching gloves, holding a basket of flowers and ready to sprinkle petals as her aunt prepares to walk down the aisle. As her turn approaches the little one begins to whine, “I don’t want to go.”  She pulls off the itchy gloves and the tears start to flow… A tantrum is underway as she shrieks, “Take the dress off me! It’s too scratchy!!! No I don’t want to throw the flowers and you can’t make me!!!”


Let’s break down some of the reasons this child may be having such a BIG reaction… she may have Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). There is the possibility that she has both SPS and SPD (SPSD.) In addition, she may be acting in response to family stress, the lack of preparation for the event or a sudden overwhelming anxiety caused by a combination of the above factors.  

Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) and Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘have’ Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This term speaks to a trait that 15-20% of the population experience, whereby a heavy volume of sensory information bombards their nervous system, often causing over-stimulation. When this happens to a child they can become dis-regulated and need help processing their thoughts, emotions and behavior.

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Distractibility- Another Perspective

I had one of my ‘aha’ moments in physical therapy a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about this whole notion of ‘distractibility’ ever since.

I’m a pretty intelligent adult, with many academic credentials and yet I watched myself acting like a grade-school student who really didn’t care much for the lesson my teacher was so kindly trying to explain to me.

You see, my therapist has been working on an issue I’ve been having with my shoulder and she was concerned with the lack of progress. After my treatment, she invited me into another room and took out a moveable model of the shoulder. She started to patiently explain all the detailed parts, how the muscles, tissues, etc. fit together and how they affect each other. I realized that my mind wasn’t keeping up with the scientific explanation because I started to think about what I was going to eat for lunch. I knew her lips were moving but my mind was elsewhere.

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The Highly Sensitive Dog

One of my new years resolutions was to walk more.  Since I live in a warm climate I could not use the excuse of cold weather to stay huddled inside. So there I was, one recent brisk winter morning, wearing my wide brimmed hat and sunscreen, all set to carry out my resolution.

As I rounded a corner I heard the soulful wailing of a dog. It wasn’t a usual bark; it sounded like it was coming from deep inside the animal’s soul. The depth of the crying sounded an alarm in my own heart and I found myself thinking that anyone who hurt an animal to that extent should be reported to authorities.

I felt like a detective, paying close attention as I passed each house, but I couldn’t identify the direction from which I heard the almost continuously wailing.

As I turned down a walking path I noticed a couple way in front of me with three German Shepherds. Within a few moments I heard the soulful crying again and saw that the man and woman had brought the animals over to a grassy knoll. The man kneeled next to the dog that was in despair.

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The Pause to Check System

The idea for this blog article came to me at a recent holiday party when I over-heard a conversation between two moms discussing how they were going to handle going to Christmas at their in-law’s houses. One mom lamented that the house is traditionally filled with bowls of sweets and decorated with breakables and treasured holiday-themed trinkets that her young son can’t help but touch. “He loves his grandparents,” she sighed, “but he doesn’t want to go to their house because he is scolded so frequently.”

This interchange brought up a memory of when my nephew was about a year old and he came to my house for the first time. Since I work with young children I knew that it was up to me to create an environment where he would feel happy, safe to explore and want to come back.

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The Gift of Trust

The holiday season is in full swing and this is the time of the year I find myself cringing as I observe parents in ‘high gear’ as they unintentionally put stress on themselves and the rest of their family. While the authentic desire to create some kind of magical holiday celebration is usually the impetus to the endless chaos of shopping, baking, cooking and decorating, many families wind up enduring stressed out days leading up to the big event.

Just yesterday, as I walked out of the supermarket to my car I watched a parent screaming at her two children to stop whining and asking for things. The three of them looked miserable as they passed the bell ringer who was cheerfully wishing them a “Merry Christmas!”

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“I’m On The Spectrum”

I just latched my seatbelt to settle in for the five-hour plane ride from San Diego when the younger man sitting next to me started an innocent conversation with the question, “Are you going to New York for fun or business?”

I replied by saying that I was on my way to the east coast for a speaking tour to help parents and teachers understand children, especially children who are highly sensitive, have been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder or just are challenging to figure out. He asked if I talk about kids with autism or Asperger’s. “Do you have an interest in that?” I responded. He had my rapt attention. “I have Asperger’s.” he declared. “I’m on the spectrum.”

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Tantrums vs. Meltdowns

It is important as educators to use appropriate terminology whenever possible. One point of confusion for some early childhood specialists revolves around tantrums and meltdowns. While these words are often used interchangeably they actually have very different meanings.

Tantrums are either a manifestation of learned behavior or a result of built up stress. Sensory meltdowns happen when sensory input triggers an uncontrollable neurological response. Tantrums can be “stopped” even at the peak of breakdown because they are not being driven by neurology, whereas sensory meltdowns must run their course and can last several hours.

 

MANIPULATIVE TANTRUMS

Manipulative tantrums usually start off innocently and without much deliberate thought. Adults sometimes —unconsciously— contribute to this type of tantrum by being inconsistent with rules, routines or boundaries.

Children learn to push back when our “No” is inconsistent. If whining, persisting or demanding is eventually given in to it reinforces ‘manipulative’ behavior. Manipulative tantrums tend to happen with children who learn to have their wants and needs met through unhealthy behavior.

Having established rules and age appropriate consistent routines in place can prevent manipulative tantrums. It is imperative that the expectations placed on children are within their developmental ability, otherwise frustration will ensue.

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5 ‘School to Home’ Insights From Super Teachers

 

As a new school year begins we want to share some of the most valuable methods employed by ‘super teachers.’ These insights, when adopted by conscious parents, can transform life at home. If you are just beginning your teaching career this can serve as a basis for implementing desired results and early achievement. Share these ideas with your families and be the model of all you aspire them to be. 

The following 5 practices used by master teachers have a direct and positive impact on the flow of a day while also encouraging responsibility, self-regulation, and cooperation in young children.

 

1. Control the environment, not the child. 

Experienced teachers have learned that trying to control children often creates power struggles, outbursts and frustration. They know it is worth their time and energy to set up the environment in a way that children will not get their hands on grown up materials. Labeling bins and shelves with photos and words not only creates physical orderliness (which helps with behavioral orderliness) but it also serves the dual purpose of reading readiness. It is the adult, rather than the child, who takes responsibility for the amount of clutter, availability and safety of the environment.

Home Hint: Has your child ever gotten his hands on your cell phone, television remote, car keys, laptop, doughnuts, chips, or dog food? Are so many toys available that the mess becomes overwhelming very quickly?  If so, it’s probably time to be more conscious of how your home environment is organized and if it is working for or against you.

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Writing Disabilities and Ways to Help

A writing disability is having trouble with written expression and can range anywhere from problems with spelling to holding a pen. Writing is crucial to a child’s academic success, and knowing how to identify a writing disorder and ways to intervene can make a huge difference! Writing disabilities are often associated with other learning disorders.

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The Promise Of A Least Restrictive Environment

The IDEA strongly prefers that children with special needs be educated to the “maximum extent appropriate” with typically developing peers and removal should only occur “when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” This preference is commonly referred to as the least restrictive environment (LRE) and is one of the underlying mandates of the IDEA.

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