How To Explain SPD To Your Child: Different Parent Perspectives
And Words Of Wisdom
My son Michael was four when he realized not everyone has SPD issues.
He began to ask questions and I needed to give him answers.
I explained that we all know why people jog and exercise to strengthen their
muscles, and that some kids and grown ups need to also exercise their senses,
to make them stronger and work better. The medicine to make their senses work
better is a different kind of exercising. We spin, jump, swing, chew, play,
and listen to special CD's on headphones to exercise our senses, and it helps
the whole body and brain work ever so much better.
I also needed to explain to my son how his senses could work better than the
usual person's. With Michael it was several issues, including sight, which
was and still is amazing in it's clarity and ability to notice things no one
else ever sees.
His hearing was better than normal. As a result sound hurt him, so it wasn't
pleasant for him, to be able to hear so well. Although he can hear a bee hive
from quite a distance away. His sense of smell was acute. It's a good thing
to be able to smell when some food product is GOING to go bad soon, but has
not yet. He can smell animals in the forest, water nearby, all kinds of
surprising things. And then again, that same wonderful sense of smell, made
him sick and nauseous around crowds, or in buildings that
have used certain cleaning products, perfume, shampoos, etc. These senses were
SO good they caused him grief.
The issues that were not pleasant caused him much distress, and couldn't be
explained so easily. When touch hurt him, and I said he feels touches more
than others might, he wanted it to go away. His balance, timing and
coordination was so off he couldn't possibly ride a bike no matter how hard he
tried. He was so upset by that.
In the beginning, he thought OT was a great fun place where he had his own
playmates who adored him totally. As time passed he realized that they worked
on issues ("Everybody's got issues, Mom," Michael says,) that were challenging
to him. He knew when he progressed in the Interactive Metronome program a few
months back, that his sequential timing was becoming absolutely amazing, and
reveled in it.
His OT friends were called therapists by other people, and he wanted to know
I think the most dramatic realization came for my son when he was five and
started Kindergarten. He knew by then, that many of these issues were much
better. His hearing, sight, and smell was still extraordinarily good, but no
longer caused him pain. He now could feel when he needed to urinate, and did
not wet his pants.
He could finally ride a bike, scooter and rollerblade. He no longer got hurt
running into walls. We could go on trips, eat out at restaurants, and go
bowling. He knew touch did not bother him much at all anymore.
And then he saw kids who have had no therapy, and it hit him. He could pick
out an SPD kid from a mile away, and he could see when a child was having
trouble, and thought their parents should take them to the "Fun House" (OT)
He could remember how he once was, and didn't understand why other parents
weren't running to OT. Kids were covering their ears and crying in the
lunchroom. Kids who fidgeted and got in trouble all day long. Kids who just
couldn't play on the playground, and would stand alone.
In our case, he was too full of the question WHY, and how does this work, and
what's happening with my body, for me to NOT give him more of an explanation,
kid style, of the workings of the brain and central nervous system. He is two
curriculum years ahead of his grade in Science, loves biology and anatomy,
dissects everything he can (or I will let him) and takes apart any and all
appliances that break down and I hand over to him, minus the electric cords.
He wanted, eventually, the real scientific explanation of "what was going on,
really"? He knows now, that senses can work so good, too good, and cause
problems. Or not work good enough, and cause problems. He understands what
brushing does to his central nervous system, and why we do it.
We celebrate his gifts and are happy he no longer has the down side of it. Not
often, anyway. But still, the focus is on abilities, never disabilities.
You know, I listen in on some Gifted children groups, and I see a lot of talk
about why many parents think these over/under sensitivities should not be
subjected to therapy. The overwhelming reason the parents state, is that they
believe it is precisely the over
sensitivities that enable giftedness. I agree, and disagree.
Yes, there seems to be a link between these children and giftedness.
But, when we can help these children "reign in" the extreme side of it, to the
point of leading happy, healthy, well adjusted lives, they still retain their
special ness, and their gifts. The gifts don't disappear, only the painful
parts of it.
A child who cannot bear to be touched? Who matures to an adult that cannot
bear to be touched? How can that person ever be loved, or give love, if they
involuntarily jerk away, and hate that they can't help but jerk away from
their own children or spouses?
How can a child ever appreciate all that life offers, if they can't stand
lights, sounds, motion? I think we do children a disservice by refusing
therapy based on the fear that their special gifts will somehow be reduced.
What good are special gifts if their lives are condemned to fear, pain, and
distress every single day?
Living this, watching my own and so many other people's children go through
this process of SPD OT therapy has convinced me that we have not lost
anything, but rather opened the doors of possibilities for these children,
that would have remained steadfastly locked forever without therapy. Their
lives are enhanced, and set free to be anything they want to be.
So, in a different way, I hope my son understands that, where there was once
disabilities, there is now only hope, potential, excitement, and
possibilities. Yesterday he wanted to become a scientist, and work for Dr.
Lucy. Today, he says he wants to be President and bring back the trains. Last
week he wanted to be a pediatrician. Last month he wanted to become a sea
shell collector. *grin* I tell him, he can be anything he wants to be, but
please choose something he loves.
Sensory Integrative Occupational Therapy brought us possibilities, choices and
hope for the future. A future that is now as wide as it is bright.
When my daughter was just
turning 7 she had been going to occupational therapy for a couple of weeks. We
just told her at the time that she was going to play. Well she’s my child of
‘1000’ questions and that explanation didn’t last long. We sat down and I told
her that we had just found out why she was feeling so mad and sad all of the
time. That she had something called Sensory Processing Disorder. This was
followed by a confused look of course.
7 year old daughter is sensory-defensive so I told her that her body is fine
and her brain is fine--they just don't talk well together. So when someone
brushes against her, her body sends the message that she has been hit so her
brain tells her to be angry or hurt. I told her that brushing, jumping,
swinging, etc helps her body to talk to her brain better.
I read the book called
"The Goodenoughs Get in Sync: 5 Family Members Overcome their Special Sensory Issues" to her and my 3 year old. It's a story about a
whole family that has SPD. Each person in the family has a different form. I had
to improvise on some of the technical stuff but the story is good. As I read,
I would point out similarities between them and some of the characters. I think
it helped her to see that others go through this too. We also talked about our
own little issues with things that bothered us and what we do to make it better.
Her 3 year sister was too
young to understand everything so I just said, "Ella loves you but she doesn't
want hugs today so throw her a hug instead".
We had the whole family join in with some of the sensory diet activities,
everybody jumps or swings, etc, that way she didn’t feel singled out. My two
take turns jumping all the time : )
Most specialists and researchers agree that
kids benefit from
self-understanding. Thankfully, there are more and more books written for kids
that help them understand the range of learning and sensory differences. E.g.,
The Joey Pig Swallows the Key series is about a boy with ADHD.
Have you heard of the book "The Goodenoughs Get in Sync: 5 Family Members Overcome their Special Sensory Issues" It's by Carol Stock
Kranowitz and is a fictionalized account from a "family" about each of their
sensory issues and how they cope. It's educational as well as fun to read!
I haven't told my son in the form of a meeting or anything. When
motorcycles and covers his hears, I have told him, "Wow, your ears hear better
than other people. Maybe you could cover them with your hands when noises are
He will hear things that I don't and I will comment, "Wow, what else do you
hear. You got some great hearing there, tell me what else you hear."
When we were going through all the testing this year, I told him, "We want to
see how well your ears are working" ;or his eyes or whatever else he was being
tested for. After his hearing test, I said, "Yup the doctor said that God
made your ears to hear things better than the average bear!" (he loves pooh).
I often tell him lately, "The doctors told me that you are smarter than the
average bear"; because I was worried about his self esteem. He knows that people
can write and draw better than he can. He can spell words but has big fine motor
issues. He gets frustrated that he can't make his hands write the way he wants
to. I think that by telling him that he is smarter he can understand why he
KNOWS things but can't do them. It seems to work for now.
I don't tell him he has problems, I just say, "Keep working on it. Keep
You'll get it... we all have to learn to write by practicing".
I don't want him to see himself as disabled. I want him to build on his
strengths and find ways to overcome the obstacles that he faces. He can't write,
but he can type his name on the computer and navigate through the internet to
put on his Barney games.
I tell him that we go to the OT because she has cool swings.
When I cut his hair and he is screaming ballistically, I acknowledge that his
hair is sharp. I tell him, I know that it hurts him but I have to cut it
will hurt his eyes. Same with his nails. Giving him brushings first and a
sensory pillow to hold helps somewhat.
I don't make him ride any rides that make him uncomfortable. We went to the
amusement park and he asked, "Are you mad at me for not riding the motorcycles?"
I said, "no. you don't have to ride them if you don't want. We come here for you
to have fun. If it isn't fun, don't do it."
I guess if he asks me I would still find a way to tell him that he was created
the way he is in a positive way. I mean honestly, there are things that he can
do that "normal" children can't. You should see him on the gym rings and
swings. He is incredible! He pulls himself upside down so his feet are
to the ceiling and spins.... and spins... and spins... and spins.
It is my opinion that a child's perception of himself is what will help him
overcome the obstacles that he has. We are all given obstacles, some are
given the sensory obstacles. There are worse things and less difficult things.
see it as my job to teach him to look at his world as the glass that is half
full and not half empty.
You may see my son in the Olympics some day or the local circus... so who am I
decide that this is an obstacle that he can't overcome or shouldn't incorporate
into his life?
Do You Have Any Thoughts Or Opinions About This Topic?
Do you have a way that you feel is helpful in explaining SPD to a child? Share it with the readers of Sensory-Processing-Disorder.com
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