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Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment Starts at Home

This picture may look like a silly Saturday morning pillow fight, but it's actually a great treatment I've discovered for my son's sensory processing issues. Miles just turned 7, and the older he gets the more concerned I've become about his developmental problems. I can't get any help from his school or our insurance company, so I've had to do my own research and give him the best help I can at home. Let me start from the beginning, and hopefully my story will help other moms who are having the same problems.

Miles has always been a "quirky" kid. He sees the world through a lens that none of us can even comprehend. He is extremely imaginative and intelligent. He asks questions like, "At night is the sky black or just dark blue?" When I told him his friend Matthew was good at math, he said, "Oh, I get it...MATH-ew!" And sometimes he gets contemplative and says things like, "Life is kinda boring."

Not all of his quirky traits are cute, however. When he gets excited, he acts just like a puppy. He jumps on people, grabs them, pulls their hair, and even licks them sometimes! He is 7 years old, yet he eats like a 2-year-old. He stuffs food in his mouth and prefers his fingers to utensils. He makes a huge mess! And when he gets overstimulated, particularly after playing video games, he throws tantrums like you wouldn't believe. He screams, throws objects, punches the floor, kicks and stomps.

One of his most unusual traits is his gag reflex. If Miles sees a wet napkin, he will gag and sometimes vomit. He has had this problem since he was a baby, and none of us could understand it. He has thrown up at both Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Wendy's after seeing a torn or wet napkin! It's bizarre!

I had always just assumed he was being "Miles." That's who our quirky little kid was. But then I started doing some research on sensory processing disorder, and I realized that he wasn't just a weird kid. He has a real problem that can actually be treated.

For those who aren't familiar with sensory processing disorder, it is a condition in which a person doesn't process sensory input properly. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, "A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively."

There are different characteristics of SPD. Some kids are "hypersensitive," meaning they are extra sensitive to sensory input. These kids hate loud noises and can feel every seam in every piece of clothing. Other kids are "hyposensitive," meaning they don't get enough sensory input. These kids crave certain textures and are very touchy-feely. They are messy eaters and often have crumpled clothing. It's common for kids to have a combination of characteristics. Miles is hypersensitive to loud noises, and he gags when he sees a wet napkin. But he is mostly hyposensitive because he likes to feel different textures and is a very messy eater.

The most common treatment for SPD is occupational therapy. So when I realized that Miles likely has SPD, I got a referral from his doctor to get OT services. He was evaluated and recommended for services, but our insurance company would not cover it. (This will be the subject of future blog posts.)

So I tried to get him some OT services through his school. They held a child study committee meeting, but they found that he was doing too well in school to qualify for special education services. He's reading way above grade level, and he brings home 100% on almost every assignment. They just couldn't justify putting him in special ed.

At this point I had already diagnosed my son's SPD myself, and it looked like I was on my own to treat it as well. So I went to library and checked out every book on SPD I could get my hands on. I now have some tools to help Miles with his sensory issues. Here are some things I have found that work:

Punchy pillow: When Miles plays video games, he gets overstimulated very easily. When things don't go his way, he stomps and screams and rages. We have tried punishing him for this behavior by taking away the games and sending him to his room, but it doesn't calm him down. Once he gets angry, he seems to have no control over his body. So I came up with the "punchy pillow." When he plays video games, he keeps a pillow nearby. When things don't go his way, he is allowed to punch the pillow all he wants. This gets out his anger in a safe way, and he is able to calm himself and focus on the game once again. It has worked wonders on his tantrums!

Karate chops: To prevent Miles from getting overwhelmed at school, I give him a rough massage in the mornings at the bus stop. I give him light "karate chops" on his head, shoulders, and back. He really enjoys it, and it seems to calm him down and allow him to focus at school.

Massage: Miles' favorite therapy technique is the vibrating massager. We have a little battery-powered massager that I rub on his head and back on a regular basis, and he loves it. It helps to relax him.

Since I have started using these techniques, I've noticed a big reduction in tantrums at home. I know they don't replace weekly occupational therapy treatment, and I am still fighting with the insurance company to get services, but for now they have worked wonders for him. Feel free to share your SPD advice as well. I'd love to hear from other moms in the same boat.

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