“The most important message for parents and children is to know that they are not alone, there are therapies that can help,” said Cindy Bright, an occupational therapist at the Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic at Orem Community Hospital. Bright also warned parents not to feel bad that they didn’t realize these problems with their senses might be challenges beyond the toddler years. “Hindsight is definitely 20/20 and it’s hard to know which sensitivities will hurt your children’s progress in school,” said Bright.
The experience and changes that come with school can bring the sensory challenges to the forefront. Going into a loud bathroom, the distractions of background noise and even the irritation from the fluorescent lights in the classroom can cause distress for some kids. The resulting behaviors can leave parents wondering if they’re dealing with ADHD.
Bright said doctors are getting much better at recognizing sensory processing disorders (SPD) versus attention deficit and hyperactivity, and parents should seek their advice. “Your first step should be a visit to a pediatrician or family physician so your child can have a good check-up,” said Bright. “The doctor can then decide where to begin with treatment – and occupational therapy is frequently the best option.”
Help is Available
Pediatric occupational therapists have the tools and expertise to help kids manage too much stimulation so they can feel comfortable and secure – which can help them function effectively. The therapists also work closely with parents and caregivers to teach processes and routines to encourage the development of a sensory lifestyle at home.
Sometimes it’s as simple as an inflatable cushion on their chair at school and the table at home, to help with the need to be in motion. The child might need to sit in the front of the classroom to eliminate some of the distracting noises. The occupational therapist will help determine what specific procedures work best.
“There are resources, in addition to therapy, that can help guide families through SPD. The STAR Institute has some great information and links,” suggested Bright. She also wants parents to remember that everyone interprets the world through the senses and most people have sensory quirks they learn to deal with.
“If the seam of my sock gets under my toes it bugs me so much that I have to fix it so I can concentrate and move on,” said Bright. “Occupational therapy helps kids identify what bothers them and find tools and techniques to be successful in this sensory world.”