Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a term used to describe children who struggle to process the information they receive from one or more of their senses. These difficulties tend to be categorised as either hypersensitive or hyposensitive. Those children who fall into the hypersensitive category are overly sensitive to sensory input such as light or sound, while those who are hyposensitive will under react to stimuli that should cause them discomfort. Although sensory processing issues are often given this title, SPD is not currently recognised as a psychiatric condition. However the symptoms are very real and can be overwhelming.
A hypersensitive child may:
Become distressed by loud noises
Have a dislike of bright lights or strong smells
Find bathing, showering or swimming difficult
Complain that clothing is uncomfortable, itchy, too tight
A hyposensitive child may:
Have little or no reaction to pain
Under react to sudden noises or light changes
Be unaware of danger
Adverse reactions to sensory input can result in children displaying extreme behaviours, mood swings and tantrums. It is these behaviours that parents and carers often pick up on first, but don’t necessarily attribute them to sensory issues. A child who screams if their face gets wet, who hates getting dressed, who complains that sounds or lights “hurt”, may in fact be overwhelmed by the world around them.
A little personal perspective: I have long suspected that I have sensory processing issues myself. It has never been “officially” mentioned; rather this is a conclusion I’ve drawn after years of studying child development, a variety of research and working in SEND. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with noise sensitivity and I also have an intense dislike of certain smells. I went to my first ever music festival aged 6 and I can vividly recall crying because it was “too loud”. To this day I find being in a noisy environment overwhelming, particularly if there is background music, as I can’t filter it out. I have recently invested in noise reducing earplugs and they work wonders! I also believe that sensitivity to smell contributed to my “fussy” eating habits as a child. I’m much better with eating now, but I’m convinced that not liking the smell of some foods is the reason I won’t eat them.
More information about sensory processing can be found here.
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