Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Explanation of SPD and How it Affects My Daughter

(Note: I am not a doctor. I am not an OT. I am a former teacher of kiddos with Autism and other sensory processing & social skill delays. I was so fortunate to have worked with some AWESOME sensory integrating OT's in my career. I am the Mama of a sweet, sweet girl who was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder prior to her first birthday. I am not an qualified expert but I do live in this world. This is my understanding.)

(Also Note: This was written about a year ago. Obviously, Meghan does not still jump in a jumperoo, etc. This was what life was like when she was much smaller!)

People actually have 7 senses: hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, proprioception, and vestibular. Sensory processing disorder can effect any of these senses, and to a degree most people have some sensory processing differences from each other: whether you can/can't handle spicy food, how bright of light you can tolerate/prefer, how loud you like noises/whether loud noises freak you out, etc. Sensory processing disorder is when the way your body processes one or more of these senses is outside of the normal range of behaviors and planned interventions would be helpful in allowing your brain (subconsciously) to feel more calm.

Back to the 7 senses - Proprioception and vestibular senses are basically controlled subconsciously. Proprioception is messages sent between muscles/joints and the brain basically assuring the brain that all of the body parts are in their place and doing well. If you stub your toe your brain is fully aware of your toe because of pain; proprioception is what makes the brain aware of your toe when it's not in pain. If your proprioceptive system isn't working quite right it's like when you have a problem in your personal life and you are trying to focus on work - your brain, while trying to engage in your work, is just a bit distracted. If the proprioceptive system isn't sending enough information, part of the brain is (subconsciously) just a bit distracted. 

So for Meghan (and for me, because I am this way as well) subconsciously our brains are not always completely aware of where all of our body parts are compared to the world around us. It's not that we can't feel them or that we couldn't move them if we want to move them - it's just that the joints and muscles need to send more messages, more often to the brain. So, we subconsciously or through planned experiences (more on that in a bit) do things to give our brains more input than is typically needed by most people. This is why some kids will rock in their chairs, tap their feet, tap their pencil, wiggle, etc....they are just giving their brain more information about where their body is (and this is all done without the child actively needing to think about it). 

What can be done to prevent some of these less than ideal situations (ie. wiggling in chair at school) would be to plan in experiences that give the brain extra input without being disruptive. What we do is called deep pressure or heavy work. So, I wear a tight tank top almost everyday. It gives the core of my body just the slightest bit of pressure which then allows that part of my brain to not have to work any harder than any other persons brain to "know" where my body is. What we've noticed about Meghan since she was super little, and have worked to help her with already before her diagnosis, was that she seeks movement - particularly any movement that puts more "pressure" on her joints and muscles. Being swaddled as a newborn gave her muscles just the slightest bit of "deep pressure" that allowed her brain to know exactly where her body was. Bouncing on a ball put more pressure on her joints while she was bounced, jumping in her jumperoo gives great pressure through her legs, crawling and laying on her tummy put slight pressure on her core muscles that sends messages to her brain. Again, this is all completely subconscious. 

So, having sensory processing disorder doesn't mean that Meghan actively doesn't know where her body is or that she is delayed in gross or fine motor skills). It just means that (for her) she needs extra input for her brain to be at the neutral state of knowing what's going on with all of the parts of her body. The cool thing about this (while it's hard to wrap your mind around this all, working with these kiddos is so fascinating - working with sensory systems of kiddos was one of my favorite parts of my job!) is that we can do things that help give Meghan's body extra input for a short period of time that will then put her brain into a calm place - where it knows exactly what is going on in her whole body - so that she does not need to constantly seek input in ways like a student who taps his foot or wiggles in the chair. We can create whats called a "sensory diet" which is a plan for activities throughout the day that give her body extra input - and that extra burst of input will "last" for several minutes to several hours. 

Things we can do to help her include: bouncing in her jumperoo, bouncing/rolling on an exercise ball, laying under a heavy blanket or a blanket with the slightest bit of weight added to it, pulling on stretchy ropes/lycra (when she's older), being swung in a swing that cradles her body - all of these things give her body a little bit of pressure or weight and the results from a few minutes of intense extra input from her muscles will calm that part of her brain for an extended period of time. It's so cool to watch a kid experience that shift! 

More Links About Meghan: 

For the complete story of Meghan's struggles in her first months, read here. 

For a full overview of Meghan's entire sensory system, read here.

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