The Real Life Experience of Sensory Processing Disorder

By Alyssa Neudorf

The first question most people ask is, what is sensory processing disorder (SPD)? I would describe it simply as processing the entire world differently. A person who is partially sighted or hearing impaired will process the information coming to those senses in a different way from someone with typical vision or hearing.

What does this mean for me? As a person with SPD, it means that I process all the information coming to ALL of my senses differently, more intensely and all at the same time. Most people have the luxury of blocking out repetitive stimuli like the clock ticking, the clothes you are wearing, the smells in the air and, the chair you are sitting on while reading – this is not something I get to do. I am aware of everything all the time.

When all this intense and repetitive information becomes too much something called sensory overload is reached. Sensory overload can look and feel different for each individual person. For me, it is something that happens suddenly. I am fine until I am not. I begin to feel very warm, shaky, things start to dim around the outside of my eyes. My brain starts to try and leave my body making it very, very hard to speak or move without help. It feels like there is a tonne of bricks stacked on my vocal cords and the signals to legs are slow or blocked. Mentally I know I can speak and I can move but making that happen is very hard. It is at this point that a simple question, touch or surprise will trigger a meltdown. People will often ask “what do you need?”, or “what can I do?” The problem is at this point I don’t know and if I do I can’t always tell you. I can’t think and I feel frozen and stuck with everything spinning, flashing and pounding away around me all while becoming more intense. Then hyperventilation kicks in.

Sound exhausting and painful yet?

Having a schedule and routine helps me to plan out my sensory energy for the day. There is only such much I can do with 20 tokens and everything in your days takes different amounts. Getting dressed, eating, school, being social, going outside, tying your shoes, and taking the bus just to name a few. As a result, I can’t drive yet even though I would like to, don’t go shopping much, I wear certain clothing, most of my shoes don’t have laces (those that still do will be replaced with elastics), and I only wear specific socks. Clothes shopping is a big challenge and thus is avoided and is only done on a day when I don’t have to do anything else that day.

That is just a small window into the life of one person with SPD. It is different from person to person. Hopefully this article has helped you gain some understanding of what it is like to have SPD.

Connecting with a Multidisciplinary Approach

By: Stephanie Magnussen

Although it may seem apparent that a child needs specific help, there usually are many layers to an individual’s needs.  For example, if a child has a speech delay, the parent may request that he sees a speech pathologist.  But why does this child have a speech delay?  Is there is a sensory need that is not being met, or are there developmental delays or behavioral issues at work?  Kids are complicated little people, and it’s important to remember that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.  It’s really beneficial for a group of therapists to explore what lies beneath the surface to give the child the most effective strategies to thrive academically, socially, and mentally.

Perhaps the short term goals for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder are maintaining eye contact and increased vocabulary, and the long term goals are independence and integration into a typical classroom.  The speech pathologist will develop activities that increase vocabulary, while the occupational therapist creates drills for promoting eye contact, and the psychologist may make social stories that build confidence and promote more appropriate social behavior.  Just having one therapist would not be the most advantageous for the child and family in this case.  The parents are also part of the multidisciplinary team.  They must be on board with practicing what the therapists are working on and provide a supportive environment for the child to thrive under this team approach.

At Connecting Dots, all of the therapists are registered health care professionals with Master’s level education.  They all work together and share ideas on how to set a child up for success by using each of their expertise.  If a child is exhibiting disfluent speech or a stutter, and therefore struggling socially at school, of course we want to promote smooth speech, but there may be other issues to address.  The child may have motor planning deficits which result in disfluent speech.  The speech pathologist can work on an action plan for smooth speech, while the occupational therapist develops a plan to promote increased ability for the muscles to make the correct movements for speech.  Psychologists are also a key part of this multidisciplinary approach.  Communication is not just the words that we speak, but also our ability to interact with those around us.  Any disability can be stressful for a child, and may result in anxiety and social isolation.  A psychologist can identify activities and games that will help a child excel socially.

As an aide at Connecting Dots, I have been fortunate to work with speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and psychologists and have seen the gains my clients are making by working on each piece of their puzzle.   Every child’s background and needs are so diverse, and an individualized plan with input from different types of therapists allows the team to work on gains for the child in a holistic manner.  It is truly a team approach between the therapists, aides, and family members.