My oldest daughter never slept. We tried everything but eventually after 3 years of trying, we gave up and accepted that she was just not going to sleep. The tantrums started shortly after she turned two. They weren’t the usual toddler tantrums, they were more intense and never ending. She could cry for up to an hour at a time. We would bribe, smack, give in, ignore, nothing would stop her. There were also issues with her clothes, she flat out refused to wear strap tops, polo necks, anything with a cuff – the list went on and on. I was a single mom at the time so put a lot of it down to the disruptions that come with a divorce but needed a solution and it was through my research that I discovered sensory issues, this changed the way I dealt with her and now how I deal with my youngest son.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a complex thing and it is very often misunderstood, children with SPD are very often labelled as trouble makers, hyper active or just plain down naughty. Children with SPD are not being naughty, they are simply overwhelmed with the world around them and need a little bit of help to process what they see, hear, feel and taste.
So how do you know if your child has Sensory Processing Disorder or is just a normal toddler going through the terrible twos?
Please note that a child with Sensory Processing Disorder may suffer from one of these, a few of them or all of them.
Tantrums are frequent, long and intense. My oldest child is a text book child. He had tantrums, I would walk away and within seconds he would snap out if. If I counted, I would never reach 3 and he would do what I ask. My daughter’s tantrums were nothing like this, they were loud, intense and seemed to never end. She would freak out because her toast was too brown, not brown enough, not cut right, no in the right plate and then she would scream and cry for up to an hour at a time. We would redo the bread, we offered sweets, toys, we held her, we smacked her – she would just scream. We called it her dark side, my best friend remembers those days clearly. We stopped going out because they could come at any time over anything and would last for ages. My youngest sons tantrums aren’t as long as hers were but they are intense and nothing will bring him out of them.
They react to noises and/or light. My son cannot handle loud noises. He freaks out when he hears an alarm, when his class gets too loud he puts his hand over his ears, he often asks me to put the radio down, even when it is not loud. We avoid taking him to air shows or places they are too loud because he simple cannot cope with it. My daughter struggles more with lots of people and gets over stimulated extremely quickly in places like shopping centres that are busy and very bright.
Eating is a challenge. This is more than being a fussy eater. Kids with SPD will gag when trying to eat certain foods, they physically cannot handle the texture in their mouth. They will avoid certain foods and refuse to try new things. My daughter will not try new things, there are certain textures she simple cannot handle and even now that she is 11, she still can’t bring herself to try new foods.
They don’t sleep well. My daughter slept through the night when she was 5 years old and was happy for us to turn her night light off a few weeks ago, she is now 11. There is a schedule 7 drug that paeds prescribe for children who don’t sleep, I tried this for her, it did nothing. She would wake 4/5 times a night, it took ages to get her to fall asleep. It was not a fun time for us. My son is not a peaceful sleeper and still wakes up 4 out of 7 nights.
They struggle with clothes and being touched. We are currently knee deep with this and my son. He will only wear a handful of clothes, we try to force clothes on him but you can see on his face that he is physically struggling with the feel of the fabric. There are children with SPD who battle being touched, they shy away from it and avoid all forms of physical contact.
SPD is a complex issue, there is a lot of literature out there about what it is, how to identify it and how to deal with it. If you suspect your child may have a sensory disorder then I suggest you find a good Occupational Therapist who can properly assess your child and find out how you can help your child deal with the world around them. Learning to deal with my children has been a challenge, both for them and for us, it is a daily struggle we all deal with.