8 Sensory Systems and 6 Subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder
Did you know that we ALL have 8 sensory systems?
Our system is made up of visual, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), & tactile (sense of touch) vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (muscle & joint sensations or movements) & interoception (refers to the internal organs) It’s never straight laced, black & white with this disorder. Usually it’s multiple systems & more than 1 subtype affecting a single child.
As I said in my previous post SPD, OCD, & Anxiety Disorder. Is there a connection?, a child who experiences SPD misenterprets every day sensory information. Often they feel abushed & overwhelmed by all of the information their little brains are trying to collect. Some may have sensory motor symptoms (weak body, clumsy, awkward, delay in motor skills, etc) Social, behavioral, emotional, attention, & motor problems can be a result from these symptoms, & that’s one of the main things we have struggled with in my family. All of these things can take different forms & look completely opposite from another, this all depends on the individual child & what systems are being affected.
I was completely lost & clueless in the beginning & that’s why I had to share this with you. For myself & so many other parents & children, spreading this awareness is so important. Who knows, it could help someone else who’s feeling lost & alone like I did.
- What I can do to help
As far as symptoms go, that depends on several different factors. Which senses are affected, how those senses are affected, the severity of the condition, & the subtypes. In my research, I’ve learned that symptoms can happen in 1 or more sensory systems, even all of the systems. Can you imagine?
For example, some kids may crave intense sensory input like my son, & be completely unaware of the things that others feel. On the other hand, some completely avoid sensory input. The fact of the whole matter though, is that no one child or their disorder is the same, therefore, treatment will look different based on the child. What your kiddo may be experiencing on a daily basis may be the total opposite of what mine does & what helps yours may not help mine.
Subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder:
A child can have 1 or up to 8 systems involved along with 1 or up to 6 different subtypes. That right there blew my mind, thinking about how many different ways it could look or be in general. I had no idea. Now, I knew about the sensory systems to an extent but I didn’t know there were all of these subtypes & patterns (there are 3 different patterns on top of this!) So, now can you start to understand how it can be so complicated to diagnose?
- Sensory Over Responsive
- Sensory Under Responsive
- Sensory Craver
- Postural Disorder
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Some symptoms of the different Subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder
As I’ve stated before, symptoms vary based on the person. But, what I can do is give you a few examples, along with the symptoms I’ve noticed in my own son along this journey of ours.
- Sensory Over Responsivity – most likely to be emotional, have meltdowns, hit others, more sensitive to stimulation, feel like typical rooms/places are too much; too noisy, too bright, too hot, too cluttered, too busy, too many people, too much too look at, etc. Tend to show a dramatic response to sensory input & may even avoid messy play. Falling asleep, being rocked or held, may be difficult for them as well. Aggression or withdraw (depending on their coping strategy) can be a response when they are struggling or having a difficult time with too much sensory input. Stimuli that most would find tolerable, they have a hard time tolerating whatsoever. Like I said above, everything is just too much. Too much, too soon, too long. They feel attacked by the information coming at their brain & as a result, they turn to fight or flight response to sensations. For example, loud sounds, unexpected touch, bright lights, sudden change, etc. Sometimes they will avoid sensations altogether, withdraw from being touched by others, cover ears to avoid sounds, & so on. Another name that you may hear this called: Sensory Defensiveness.
- Sensory Under Responsivity – Quiet, self contained, likes solitary activities, sometimes choose to not play at all, usually don’t complain of being bored, react with indifference, don’t notice when someone is trying to get their attention, limit their social interaction, unmotivated to play, may not feel pain, unaware of sensory stimuli, have a delay before they respond, may be muted or less intense of a response compared to the “average” person.
- Sensory Craving – Uncontrollable need for sensory input, actively searches for sensations (sometimes in ways that would be considered socially unacceptable) appear restless & fidgety, hyperactive, dysfunctional, extremely unorganized, constantly seeking sensory stimulation, become demanding when their search for input is happening, climb on people/things, invade others space, etc. With sensory cravers, the things that someone may view as “bad” behavior are actually sensory symptoms. But the part we struggle with most & the thing that made my head spin when I learned is that they’re driven to obtain the sensory stimulation BUT when they get the stimulation, it results in disorganization & it actually doesn’t satisfy the drive for more. For example, my son can’t rough house, spin around, run around, etc. because when he does, he doesn’t wear out, he never tires, the search gets stronger & symptoms become more extreme instead of it wearing him out & making him want to rest like a typical kid. That need for sensory stimulation never seems to be met.
- Dyspraxia “Developmental Coordination Disorder” (DCD is the official diagnosis, but many still use the term dyspraxia – I actually recall hearing it multiple times from my sons speech therapist) this can occur on it’s own OR along with other developmental disorders. Difficulty planning and/or executing skilled movements, trouble with movement, difficulty in fine & gross motor skills, motor planning & coordination difficulty. Often, they have other challenges as well. For example, ADHD, handwriting difficulty, sensory processing issues, mental health issues such as anxiety, slow processing speed, & autism.
- Postural Disorder – Poor core strength, decreased endurance, weak endurance, low endurance, poor balance, tend to move inefficiently & have poor body awareness. Tactile & proprioceptive systems are affected the most. They have slow, cautious movement, may even choose not to move at all, prefer sedentary activities, moving on uneven surfaces is very difficult for them, appear weak, need to concentrate to keep a stable position during simple acts like stepping off of a curb. Decreased stability, poor body control, so they tend to over compensate by increasing their base support. For example, widening their feet when they stand & leaning on things. Both for extra support. They often feel unstable, insecure, & unsafe, poor muscle contraction & they tire quickly. They may freeze if forced to move or go into fight or flight mode, sluggish & lethargic, poor self esteem & self confidence, & they can’t seem to keep up physically with others so they often just choose to play alone.
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder – Can occur in any combination. They have difficulty interpreting information, difficulty interpreting subtle qualities of objects or places or people or environments. It’s super important to make sure that the child is regulated BEFORE intervening with discrimination issues because they are much harder to see. This is frequently missed & can cause a lot of problems in school. Need sensory rich activities in the domain where the issue lies.
The 3 Primary Patterns of SPD
- Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)
- Sensory Motor Based Disorder (SMBD)
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)
Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder & the Subtypes?
Treatment looks different for every individual. They may all be in Occupational Therapy but they’re not all going to be learning or doing the same things since no disorder is alike on any 1 child.
Here’s a real life example for y’all…
When my son was around 4, I noticed he seemed to be having some difficulty with holding different utensils (forks, pencils, etc) & I also realized that he had started washing his hands a little more often than usual. I was concerned. I couldn’t get him to write or anything without him just giving up. I took him to see his pediatrician & they had given him a referral to occupational therapy / behavioral therapy. At the time, I didn’t know what this meant & I didn’t expect what would be to come in the future. When our journey with OT began, it started with working on certain fine motor skills (holding a pencil, writing, cutting things with scissorc, etc) & worked our way up to other things. We’ve started to integrate what I consider mental health work, finding ways to manage his emotions, playing games that require more patience & concentration than most (like jenga) trying to help him get used to changes in daily life, help to self regulate & ways to calm himself down on his own. Our goal is to cut down on the meltdowns & anxiety. Now, if my son were someone who was an under responder, we would be doing things a whole lot different. It’s a process, it’s a lot of repetitive work, but in the end it will be worth it.
Aside from Occupational Therapy, intervention & play are other ways that they help to manage SPD. Some kids may need Physical Therapy as well as Occupational therapy, some may only need one or the other. But with every individual, practicing at home has huge benefits. Repetition has been one thing that has personally always helped my son. We must remember, treatement doesn’t mean “cure” because there isn’t one. By treatment I mean learning to manage because that’s what it’s all about; teaching your child skills to manage their emotions on their own, is a huge step.
Is there anything that I can do?
I know how helpless it can feel at times, I know how it can feel heart wrenching, but there are things that you can do to try to help them some. Just keep in mind, this takes time, & a whole hell of a lot of patience at moments. But, I have good news! There are some things that you can do at home. But because treatment is different for everyone, please be sure to see or at least talk with a professional about the concerns you may have.
- Before all else, be supportive & understanding.
- Floor play time. Just sit on the floor & play. If you homeschool like we do, you can even do school right on the floor!
- Put yourself in his shoes. Observe & follow your kiddos behavior. Take note of things you notice.
- Practice communication skills.
- Work on thinking skills.
- Help them learn how to relate to others.
- Mental health is super important (just my personal opinion) because of the anxiety & other emotional/mental health struggles that can come along with SPD.
- Make everything into a game, make it fun! All kids love a little fun sometimes, right?
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