How Can Occupational Therapy Help With Sensory Processing Disorder?

If you’re starting to notice that your toddler is throwing tantrums or having meltdowns, but your not sure why, they could have a sensory processing disorder.

A sensory processing disorder can manifest in many different ways, depending on which sense is affected.

For your child, a smell could be too strong, the lights too bright, or they might not be getting enough sensory information from touching or moving.

It can be tricky to navigate on your own, but the good news is that sensory processing disorder therapy can help your child learn to regulate their senses.

Here at Little Feet Pediatric Therapy, we’re an occupational therapy clinic for kids with experience working with sensory processing disorders.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

A sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition where your brain processes sensory information differently.

If your child has a sensory processing disorder, they might be extra sensitive to sensory input, or they might not react at all.

If your child is overstimulated by a particular sensation, you might see that they avoid it because being overstimulated is uncomfortable for them.

You might also see that they seek out extra sensation if they are under stimulated.

The different types of sensory input usually include:

  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Light
  • Taste

Sensory processing disorder is a relatively new diagnosis.

As a result, there is still much research required in order to learn more about the different ways it can affect your child’s development.

We do know, however, that kids with neurodevelopmental conditions and developmental disabilities are more likely to have sensory processing challenges.

This includes kids with conditions and symptoms like:

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How To Tell If Your Child Has Sensory Processing Disorder

Each child’s sensory processing disorder manifests differently, so it depends on the way they process sensations.

But, there are three main groups you can divide symptoms into: hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, and mixed.

Let’s take a closer look at these.

Hypersensitive Sensory Processing Disorder

If your child has hypersensitive sensory processing disorder, then the sense that is affected by the disorder will be overwhelming.

This can manifest itself at events, celebrations, or other situations where sensory inputs tend to be bigger than usual.

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If your child has sensory hypersensitivity, they may also:

  • Have a low pain threshold
  • Cover their ears or eyes often
  • Find touch or hugs uncomfortable
  • Find certain clothing items uncomfortable
  • Have difficulty controlling their emotions
  • Have difficulty managing their attention and focus
  • Behave poorly
  • Be a picky eater

Hyposensitive Sensory Processing Disorder

Your child has hyposensitive sensory processing disorder if they experience reduced sensation from particular senses.

This often results in them craving more interaction or sensitivity, which means they will engage more with their surroundings in order to get more interaction.

It can be easy to view their engagement as hyperactive, but in fact they are trying to engage their senses due to the decreased sensation they are experiencing.

If your child has hyposensitivity, they may also:

  • Have a high pain threshold
  • Bump and touch walls or objects frequently
  • Frequently put items in their mouth
  • Give deep hugs
  • Ignore personal space
  • Rock and sway often
  • Enjoy swinging and jumping

Mixed Sensory Processing Disorder

While not a category directly, mixed sensory processing disorder is actually the most common version of it.

That means that your child has a mix of sensory processing symptoms that fall both into hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

For example, they might need to touch objects and put them in their mouth because their sense of touch is hyposensitive.

But they also find noises too loud because their hearing is hypersensitive.

How Can A Pediatric Occupational Therapist Help?

Pediatric occupational therapy is a great resource to consider if you think your child has a sensory processing disorder.

To help, your pediatric occupational therapist will start with an occupational therapy evaluation to understand your child’s specific sensory challenges.

Then, they will create a tailored treatment plan designed to address their sensory triggers.

This plan will engage your child in activities that will help them learn to regulate their sensory input, and teach them to feel focused, secure, and comfortable.

Examples may include gross motor activities like bouncing on large exercise balls, jumping in a ball pit, rolling, or jumping on a trampoline.

To extend the treatment plan beyond therapy sessions, they will design a plan to alter or add activities into your daily routine at home with your child.

The goal here is to increase their feeling of stability within all environments and situations.

Some examples of what could be included are:

  • Providing a fidget toy or chewy
  • Changing seating positions
  • Adjusting daily grooming habits (bathing, brushing hair/teeth, etc.)
  • Pushing a stroller or grocery cart
  • Eating both chewy and crunchy foods

Your pediatric occupational therapist may also work with your child’s teacher to continue their therapy outside of sessions so that your child can get the most out of their time spent at school.

Our pediatric therapy team includes therapists with a wide range of specialties and training.

This includes pediatric sensory integration therapy, an approach geared toward managing sensory processing disorder.

We are not, however, trying to desensitize or build tolerance.

With neurodiversity affirming therapy, we find ways for a child to still fully participate in daily activities with added supports or alterations.

This way, they can fully access the opportunities to learn and partake with their environment.

Ultimately, the goal of pediatric occupational therapy is to help your child feel calmer, and function better because they’ve learned to regulate their sensory input.

How Can You Support Your Sensory Processing Disorder Child?

We mentioned above that you will be an integral part of your child’s treatment plan.

This is because the more education on triggers and opportunities your child has to sensory inputs, the better they will learn to regulate themselves.

Let’s find out more about some of the ways your pediatric occupational therapist will have you support your child depending on their sensory processing disorder.

If They Have Auditory Processing Difficulties

If your child has auditory processing difficulties, there are some strategies you can use to help your child regulate their auditory sensitivity.

You could try earmuffs or noise cancelling headphones to help reduce the distraction of external noises that are acceptable to your child.

You may also be given a therapeutic listening program from your pediatric occupational therapist that you can continue to use at home.

This is a program designed to work on the inner ear and how it processes sounds and vestibular movement.

It’s frequently used with children who have sound sensitivities and ones who seek proprioceptive input.

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor to check your child for hyperacusis, which is an increased sensitivity to sound frequencies and ranges.

If They Have Tactile Processing Difficulties

Your take home program for a tactile processing disorder will focus on adjusting the environment in order for your child to better interact with their day to day activities.

If your child has difficulty sitting still, you might get fidget toys to keep their hands busy and help with their focus.

You might also be prescribed a therapeutic listening program as discussed above.

Another option for this is keeping chewing gum or a chewy nearby as another sensory input.

You might also try exploring different seating options, such as an inflated disc, bean bag chair, or wobble stool.

If they are hypersensitive to touch, you might give them seamless socks and tagless clothes if they are bothered by their clothes.

You might also have to alter the way you wash or brush their hair or teeth. The goal is to keep good hygiene while still keeping your child comfortable.

If They Have Visual Processing Difficulties

If your child has visual processing difficulties, you might consider changing their environment in order to make them more comfortable.

If there are any fluorescent lights, it’s a good idea to remove or dim them because they are often overwhelming to visual sensitivities.

It’s also helpful to reduce the clutter in your home and simplify work areas to eliminate visual distractions.

Book Your Appointment With Little Feet Pediatric Therapy Today

Sensory processing disorders can be a challenge for your child to overcome.

But, working with an experienced pediatric occupational therapist can help you execute a plan designed especially to improve your child’s sensory regulation.

If you think your child might have a sensory processing disorder, book your appointment with Little Feet Therapy today.

Little Feet Therapy
3535 Randolph Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211
1331 H St NW Ste 200, Washington, DC 20005
St. Louis, MO
Raleigh, NC

Founded in 2019, Little Feet Therapy offers on site pediatric physical and occupational therapy treatments for children from 2 months to 18 years old with physical and developmental concerns. Our clinics focus on providing therapy in a child’s natural setting where your child is in familiar surroundings, it puts their mind at ease and helps them focus more on the work they’re doing with their pediatric therapist. Our therapists will work with your child at your home, at school, at daycare, or another place in the community where they feel most comfortable.