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Sensory Processing Disorder

Article via Psychology Today

Sensations: Too Much, Too Confusing, or Not Enough?

Sensory Processing Disorder appears in a variety of ways.

Posted Nov 27, 2018

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner—rice pudding again—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

A.A. Milne’s poem about miserable Mary Jane used to mystify me. As a child, I knew that not everyone loves rice pudding, but I wondered why she was having a tantrum. Couldn’t she say, “No, thank you,” and then just get over it?

Now that my older eyes are open, I’m more sympathetic. Evidently, Mary Jane can’t communicate to her grownups that she hates rice pudding.  Maybe she’s two, so she behaves like a two-year-old. Maybe she is full. Or—what is now my go-to answer—maybe she has Sensory Processing Disorder(SPD), which makes “just getting over it,” all by herself, difficult or even impossible.

Like Mary Jane, some children withdraw not only from grainy or odd-textured food, but also from physical contact. They may refuse to participate in experiences that other kids enjoy, communicate ineffectively, and respond in unusual ways to ordinary sensations of touch, movement, sight, sound, smell, and taste. These kids may have SPD, so they don’t behave as we expect—not because they won’t, but because they can’t.

SPD is real—and it’s common, affecting about 17 percent of children and adults. SPD begins as a physical condition but may later develop into a psychological condition; if underlying sensory issues are ignored, a little kid often begins to feel shame, low confidence, rage, and loneliness.

Sensory processing is what everyone does, all day. Sensory messages come in through receptors near the surface of, and deep within, the body—the skin, eyes, nose, mouth, outer ear, inner ear, muscles and joints, and internal organs.

For a typical person, the central nervous system efficiently processes the incoming sensory information so she can use it to yank her hand from a scorching frying pan, pull the right boot onto the right foot, or catch herself before she trips.

But for an atypical, “out-of-sync” person with SPD, an inefficient central nervous system garbles sensory messages—meaning that he can’t use them to function smoothly in daily life. He burns his hand on the pan handle; he mismatches his boots and feet; he stumbles and falls.

The most common and easily observed SPD issue is over-responsivity.  Over-responsive kids may be provoked by an unexpected touch, lumpy sock, speed bump, siren, fluorescent light, scented crayon, rice pudding, and so forth.

But though this is SPD’s most common outward presentation, not everyone with the condition has over-responsivity. In fact, children or adults with SPD may not be bothered by sensations at all and may seek more, not less stimulation. Many of these individuals have less obvious types of SPD—these can look like ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or other psychological issues in the DSM-V.

What is the matter with Mary Jane? SPD may be—or it may be exacerbating—the main problem. Put on imaginary “sensory spectacles” to examine the situation and ask yourself, “What sensations are too much, or too confusing, or not enough?”

Here are possible reasons for Mary Jane’s behavior:

  • Sensory over-responsivity. Sensations threaten her. She sees and smells the dessert and anticipates how disgusting it will feel and taste in her mouth. Her sensory systems say, “If you eat it, you’ll die.”
  • Poor sensory discrimination. Sensations confuse her. She may be unable to discern textural differences between grainy rice and smooth pudding in her mouth. Even if she likes the flavor, rice pudding may make her gag.
  • Sensory craving. Ordinary sensations are insufficient. She needs constant, intense sensory input. Pudding is not the problem; inactivity is. Today, she hasn’t played outdoors enough, and her body yearns for sensory-motor activity. She may feel as though she cannot sit still a minute longer.

What helps? If, through your sensory spectacles, you see that Mary Jane is overwhelmed, then lower the sensory load. Replace the offending food with one she likes so she will stay peacefully at the table. Or, if you see that she is fidgety and craves movement, then raise the sensory load. Let her go jump rope, stretch an exercise band, dance to music, or hang from a chin-up bar.

If Mary Jane’s behavior is frequently out-of-sync at school, at home, and out and about, it may be necessary to have an occupational therapist who uses a sensory integration approach evaluate the child. Insisting that she eat rice pudding will never work; addressing her sensory processing challenges with understanding and appropriate treatment will.

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Choosing toys that support healthy development

The American Academy of Pediatrics has put out a great position paper advising on the place of toys in a child’s life and what types of toys are best. This point is great:

Recognize that one of the most important purposes of play with toys, especially in infancy, is not educational but rather to facilitate warm, supportive interactions and relationships.

Simpler toys tend to be better for kids’ developmentally and will have more longevity than flashy, electronic toys. Look for toys that promote creativity and imagination. A toy that has one purpose will grow old quick, but something like a wooden block set can have many uses.

Some of the toys and games that are perennial favorites at Solaris include:

  • Finger putty such as Crazy Aaron’s
  • Play-doh
  • Modeling Foam
  • Kinetic sand
  • Legos / Duplo
  • Don’t break the ice
  • Giggle Wiggle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head
  • Beanie babies (great for symbolic play)
  • Balls
  • Bubbles
  • Puzzles
  • Zoom ball
  • Mini trampoline

Further reading:

Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era

Toy Buying Tips for Babies & Young Children

How Play Connects To Learning




Sleep disorders & behavioral issues

An article in the Washington Post has highlighted a new theory into some diagnoses of ADHD – they may actually be an undiagnosed sleep disorder instead.

Growing evidence suggests that a segment of children with ADHD are misdiagnosed and actually suffer from insufficient sleep, insomnia, obstructed breathing or another known sleep disorder. But the most paradigm-challenging idea may be that ADHD may itself be a sleep disorder. If correct, this idea could fundamentally change the way ADHD is studied and treated.

Karen Bonuck, a professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is known for her work on a 2012 study of 11,000 children published in the journal Pediatrics. It found that those with snoring, mouth breathing or apnea (in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep) were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely than those without the sleep issues to have behaviors resembling ADHD by age 7….“There’s a lot of evidence that sleep is a big factor in behavior in children,” Bonuck said in a recent interview.”

In a recent Yahoo article, one mom shared her story of learning that her son’s undiagnosed sleep apnea was behind his behavioral problems. An imaging done by an ENT revealed that the child’s sinuses were completely inflamed and blocked and a sleep study showed he received no amount of REM sleep and oxygen saturation in the low 80s.

Mouth breathing and the long term issues associated with it are also highlighted by pediatric dentist, Sherry Sami, formerly a clinical instructor of dentistry at UCLA. She lists bed wetting, cavities and behavior changes as sings to look for.

The take away is to consult a pediatric ENT and do a sleep study if you suspect a sleep disorder may be contributing to behavioral challenges. Other signs to look for are teeth grinding, mouth breathing, snoring, frequent nighttime wake ups and bed wetting.

Creating connection – through music

A small study on child development looked at the role music and movement has between babies and adults. To anyone that has rocked a baby and sung a lullably, you probably know already the soothing affect it can have. The question this study asked was:

What makes young children behave in a pro-social way — taking actions that help others and benefit the group?

Babies that were moved in synchrony with a partner and to the beat of a music demonstrated more signs of social connection than a baby who didn’t.

The study also looked at the effect of lullabies on the moms who sang them. The lullaby calmed down the baby, but it also calmed down the mom who sang them.

Play is important for kids…and adults!

Play is so fundamental to our work here. It’s the natural way for children to learn about their world. But play is equally important for adults.

The importance of play for children is well documented. Now researchers are turning their attention to its possible benefits for adults. What they’re finding is that play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being.

“What all play has in common,” Brown says, “is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.”

Read more here.

We’re Hiring!

We are looking for talented and enthusiastic pediatric occupational, physical and speech therapists! Please fill out our career form to apply.

Ideal candidates will have the following qualities:

  • eager to learn new therapuetic techniques and approaches
  • adopts a holistic, whole child approach in their treatment strategies
  • works collaboratively with other therapists and the families they work with
  • friendly, caring and fun

World Down Syndrome Day #jeans4genes

Today we are supporting #Jeans4Genes in honor of our sweet friend, Jackson!


Here is his mom’s story:

Hello! My name is Natalie Palin, and our four-year-old son Jackson was born with Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down syndrome. We have been so lucky to receive therapy at Solaris now for over a year!


Minutes after Jackson was born and before I had even had a chance to hold him, a doctor turned to us and said, “I hope I am wrong, but your son is exhibiting several characteristics of Trisomy 21.”


Since we had had a negative prenatal test, to say we were shocked would be an understatement. Thankfully, I was quickly connected to an organization named Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network (DSDN), and it has made all the difference on our journey. The short video linked below explains more about DSDN and the important work it strives to accomplish.


No parent should be left to feel as alone and scared as we felt after the doctor’s poor choice of words during Jackson’s diagnosis. Today Jackson is healthy, happy, and thriving. The extra copy of the 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome does make some things more difficult for him, but love, laughter, and happiness are not on that list. Our mission as parents is to continue to show the world how Jackson is more alike his typical peers than different.


Thank you for considering to participate in our Jeans4Genes campaign. Your support for Jackson and his peers means so much!


Natalie S. Palin
Rockin’ Mom since 2014 (because Jackson rocks his extra chromosome)

To support DSDN and families like the Palin’s please donate here.

Here is the video link to learn more about DSDN.

Handwriting & Yoga Summer Camp 2018

We will be holding our Handwriting & Yoga Summer Camp the week of June 11th. This camp is ideal for kids between the ages of 5 and 10 who need to improve their writing legibility, have issues with letter reversals, spacing, and correct letter formation. Led by an occupational therapist, our campers will undertake activities designed to improve their gross and fine motor skills and body awareness.  The yoga aspect will give kids the skills they need to improve their attention and learn self-relaxation techniques for stressful situations.

Camp cost is $400. Siblings get a $20 discount.

Daily Schedule:

8:45 Drop off
9:00 Sensory Motor Activities
9:45 Snack (bring from home)
10:00 Fine Motor & Visual Motor
10:15 Handwriting Activities
10:50 Break
11:00 Yoga
12:00 Pick Up

To register, please fill out our registration form.