Back to Health: What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder resulting from the brain’s inability to integrate everyday sensory information received from the five senses: touch, vision, sound, smell, and taste.
In addition to the commonly known five senses are two additional senses that are rarely heard of: the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The vestibular system has functions located in the base of the brain, the upper part of the neck and the inner ear. It is the main regulator of all incoming sensory information and is considered the most important sensory system because it has the most influence on the other sensory systems and on the ability to function in everyday life. The proprioceptive system is located throughout the spine as well as all other joints of the body. Dysfunction within the sensory integration system can lead to problems with learning, motor skills, behavior, and social and emotional development.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 20 children suffer from a Sensory Processing Disorder.
Some children with SPD are hypersensitive: they feel bombarded by sensory information. These children may appear to be withdrawn socially because they avoid activities that make their brain feel “uncomfortable.” On the other hand, children who are hyposensitive to sensory information may seek out intense sensory experiences in order to “feed” their brain. Some children may have a mix of both.
Children with SPD can often be misdiagnosed as having ADD, ADHD, or various other neurodevelopmental disorders. This is because SPD often co-exists with ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and various learning disorders. Children with SPD are often misunderstood and labeled as aggressive, clumsy, inattentive, or difficult.
The neurological disorganization resulting in SPD can occur three different ways: the brain does not receive messages due to a disconnection in the nerve cells; sensory messages are received inconsistently; or sensory messages are received consistently, but do not connect properly with other sensory messages.
Signs children may display with Sensory Processing Disorder:
Touch: Children who have difficulties processing tactile sensory input may appear: anxious, controlling, or aggressive. They may avoid or crave touch, dislike messy play such as finger painting, appear irritated by certain clothing like tags on a shirt or food textures, appear irritated when someone is in close proximity, often are very active or fidgety, have difficulty manipulating small objects, use their hands to explore objects, or often put objects in their mouth.
Smell: These children may be susceptible to allergies, especially environmental allergies. They may display an excessive need to smell toys, items, or people or they may not like new clothes, toys, or furniture because of the smell.
Taste: Children who have trouble processing taste stimuli may be picky eaters.
Vision: Children with sensory processing disorder of the visual system may have difficulty going down stairs; poor hand-eye coordination; frequent headaches or stomachaches after visual work or school; or difficulty copying. These children may be unable to read without losing place or aloud. They may also rub their eyes after use.
Auditory: Children with auditory processing disorder may become upset with loud or unexpected noises; hum or sing to screen out unwanted noises; be easily distracted by loud noises; enjoy loud sounds and repeat them several times; have difficulty with clothes that make noise; notice or are bothered by environmental noises that most would screen out like a refrigerator, air conditioner or ticking clocks; have difficulty with verbal prompts; cover ears frequently; or speak in a loud voice to screen out incoming noise.
Vestibular: Children with vestibular processing disorder may have a history of repeated ear infections or ear tubes. They may also display avoidance of movement, especially head movement; head banging; motion sickness; avoidance of merry-go-rounds or rollercoasters; excessive spinning or watching things spin; inability to read or write in cursive; dizziness or nausea caused by watching things move; hearing problems; inability to sustain listening without moving or rocking; problems with balance; difficulty walking on uneven surfaces; or the need to move fast.
Proprioception: Children with proprioceptive processing disorder may need to have physical contact with another person like clinging or the need to be held, exhibit hysteria over washing hair or pulling shirts over the head, avoid eyes-closed activities, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, sleep walking or falling out of bed, extreme restlessness while sleeping, need for heavy covers, clothing, or a backpack to feel grounded, or the need to have a light on to sleep. Some children avoid team sports, have an aversion to crowds, are clumsy, trip over their own feet, bump into things, have difficulty grasping mathematical concepts, or are unable to accept physical and social boundaries.
Tips to help improve your child’s behavior:
Refined sugar should be avoided. It is helpful for parents to begin reading labels and become aware of the amount of sugar in their child’s favorite food. Every four grams of sugar in a product is equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar.
Food preservatives and food colorings are considered neurotoxins—substances that are considered toxic to the nervous system.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good “brain food” and can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout. They are also found in dark green leafy vegetables and flaxseed oil. It can also be helpful to supplement children with a good brand of omega-3 fish oil which is available in capsule, chewable, and liquid forms.
Dairy-free and gluten-free diets may also be beneficial in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Exercise your child’s brain! Our brains learn and retain information by moving through three-dimensional space. In today’s world, infants are spending more time in car seats, walkers, and other devices that impair proper neurological development. As children get older, the increase use of computers, video games, and text messaging limit important movement necessary to continue and maintain proper neurological development. Children need a daily dose of running, skipping, jumping, climbing, swinging, and crawling. When they are young, expose them to a variety of different textures, especially on their hands, feet, and face. In addition, children need activities that involve activation of both sides of the brain. For example, have your child read a book while listening to soothing music.
Neurofeedback is a safe and natural method for teaching your brain to function in a more healthful and balanced way. The first step in neurofeedback performing a comprehensive qEEG brain map. This process allows us to read the different frequency bands (delta, theta, alpha and beta) across the brain. This map will show brain frequency and which areas may be over or under signaling that may be contributing to symptoms within the body. Dysregulated brain wave patterns over the somatosensory cortex, temporal lobes, or occipital lobes can all affect sensory processing. Imagine yourself sitting in a comfortable chair watching your favorite Netflix show. Sensors are on placed on your scalp and monitor your brain wave frequency. When your brain waves are in the optimal pattern the picture stays bright and the volume normal, and when the waves deviate from the normal pattern the picture darkens and the sound softens. Our brains like stimulation, so the bright picture and normal sound rewards the brain for firing in the optimal pattern. Over time this becomes the preferred pattern and symptoms improve.
Chiropractic care is an essential method of treatment for any child with a neurodevelopmental disorder. Children with SPD are said to have a “disconnect” between the brain and the body. Properly functioning vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems are the two key components in developing and maintaining a healthy sensory processing system. Because these two sensory systems have a large part of their function housed in the spine, it is essential that children with signs of SPD be evaluated for any interference in the spine. Removing the interference through the chiropractic adjustment allows the child to develop these much-needed sensory systems to their highest ability.
In conjunction with a proper diet and specific sensory integration exercises, chiropractic is a safe, effective, and natural form of care for these children.