What You Need to Know About Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate behavioral or motor responses. It is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Sensory Processing Disorder exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Someone with Sensory Processing Disorder may find it difficult to process and act upon information that they receive from the senses, which can make it difficult to complete various every-day tasks.

What does Sensory Processing Disorder look like?

A child with SPD may exhibit clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, or have trouble in school. SPD can look very different from one person to another. One child may over-respond to sensation and find physical contact, clothing, light, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. On the other hand, one child might be under-responsive to sensory input and show little reaction to stimulation. Some “red flags” in preschoolers include:

  • Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, and other people.

  • Difficulty making friends.

  • Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and/or toilet training.

  • Clumsy; poor motor skills; weak.

  • In constant motion; in everyone else’s face and personal space.

  • Frequent or long temper-tantrums.

If you suspect your child may have difficulty with sensory processing, contact a pediatric occupational therapist at PlayWorks Therapy to complete an evaluation.

Caitlin Cassidy, OTR/L

Child Development in the Time of Technology

There’s no denying the conveniences that technology allows us, but are modern conveniences affecting child development? Televisions, smart phones, and tablet screens seem to be everywhere you turn, and shielding your young toddler from screens may feel impossible. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their recommendations for screen time to reflect the inevitable change our world is experiencing. Previously, they called for a “Screen-Free Environment” for children under 2 years. Now, with many apps and programs targeting young children, recommendations allow for limited amounts of screen time for children under 2.

How should we manage expectations with technology?

There are many key points to be mindful of when exposing your toddler to technology, but it is important to remember that setting limits and rules is up to you! Perhaps time on the iPad can be limited to 15 minutes, or the phone app can only be played after all the toys are picked up. Maybe you want to declare your child’s bedroom or the dinner table “screen-free zones”. The AAP outlines some screen time rules to guide parents through the difficult decisions. For example, interacting with technology alongside your child is a more beneficial way to introduce them to this modern world. The AAP states that “passive video presentations,” where kids sit and watch the screen alone, do not encourage language development. Try your best to watch videos alongside your toddler, or play along with the app! To this point, the AAP reiterates that content matters! Spend some time researching the best apps or video programs (see the list below!) to make better use of limited screen time.

But handing over the phone or iPad is the only way I can get time for work and chores!

Screen time can help us make it through the day, but it can’t replace the valuable growth that happens in good old-fashioned play time with caregivers! Cognitive and language development are optimized during unstructured play time, and when toddlers play with others. If you need 15 minutes to yourself, try encouraging your toddler to interact with toys and other real objects as opposed to the screen. If your household has determined that your toddler’s screen time will coincide with doing the dishes, try to find the most highly recommended apps and videos for them to use during this time.

What apps should I be using?

Try these apps to optimize your toddler’s screen time:

Busy Shapes
Moo, Baa, La La La
Peekaboo Barn or Peekaboo Wild
Eli Explorer
My Very Hungry Caterpillar
Tozzle – Toddler’s Favorite Puzzle
Baby’s Musical Hands

Sites like CommonSenseMedia.com, Parents.com, and TomsGuide.com are other great resources for technology recommendations.

Leanne Sherred, MS, SLP-CF