The Sensory Spectrum

For SPD Kiddos and Their Parents

Parents Are the Best Advocates for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder


Parents know when their child has a sensory problem, but too often their observations are discounted because they are ‘just the parents.’

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects the way the brain receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. SPD affects more than one in twenty children– that’s one child in every classroom.

Symptoms of SPD evolve over time. In infants and toddlers, symptoms may include: problems eating or sleeping; rarely plays with toys; resists cuddling; cannot calm self; floppy or stiff body; and motor delays.

In preschoolers, symptoms may include: overly sensitive to touch, noises, smells, and other people; difficulty making friends; difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and toilet training; clumsy or weak; poor motor skills; in constant motion; in everyone else’s face and space; and frequent or long temper tantrums.

Parents may blame themselves for their children’s atypical behaviors, like lengthy public temper tantrums or refusal to wear clothes, until they understand the underlying neurological disorder. According to Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, founder and research director of the SPD Foundation, “Parents know when their child has a sensory problem, but too often their observations are discounted because they are ‘just the parents.’ If the family’s health care provider isn’t familiar with SPD, the clues that triggered the parents’ alarm may be overlooked, misinterpreted, or dismissed.”

Early diagnosis and treatment of SPD lays the groundwork for better school experiences. Many children and their families suffer needlessly for years because of unaddressed sensory issues. Children who receive treatment at younger ages – as infants or preschoolers – more quickly acquire the skills they need to succeed in school and usually have better experiences once they enter school.

Parents need to advocate for their children to ensure they receive accurate diagnoses. Federal law requires and funds the screening of children with suspected disabilities and, if indicated by the screening, multidisciplinary assessment of preschool-aged children. Although sensory assessments are not specifically included in the screening, in many cases a child’s sensory challenges will be identified. More than 75 percent of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders have significant symptoms of SPD. However the reverse is not true. Most children with SPD do not have an autism spectrum disorder.

Without treatment, children with SPD who perceive themselves as “failing” at everyday activities are at risk for other problems, such as social difficulties, academic under-achievement, and poor self-esteem and self-confidence. When children are diagnosed and treated at younger ages, they are more likely to escape this defeating cycle.

Treatment for SPD typically involves occupational therapy (OT), which resembles playtime to parents watching an OT session for the first time. OT enables children to participate in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping. Children with SPD who do not receive treatment often attract negative labels such as “aggressive,” “weird,” “hyper,” “withdrawn,” or “anti-social” from peers and adults.


Author: Jennifer

Jennifer is a mom evolving as she navigates the waters of parenthood as well as having two children with sensory processing disorder and sharing her knowledge. She writes Mommy Evolution and The Sensory Spectrum.

3 thoughts on “Parents Are the Best Advocates for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. I believe that this can be used as an excuse not to discipline children correctly. Telling these children that its okay to do that because its a sensory thing is giving them an excuse to act naughty. Stop trying to put this sickness on them and yes they will do naughty things all children do THERE CHILDREN!! there not angels everyday but they need to be properly disciplined so they can LEARN that it is not good to do that. Your making these kids have this disorder not them. Honestly makes me sick and I feel sorry for the kids.

    • I don’t think problems with eating, sleeping, and low self esteem have anything to do with being “naughty.” Sensory issues have nothing to do with a child being bad. Apparently, you’ve never had a child avoid ice cream because it’s sticky, swings because they’re scary, or restaurants because of the noises. These are normal activities that should be enjoyable for children. I just want my child to enjoy normal childhood activities without feeling overwhelmed. As parents, it is our responsibility to help our kids get through this. My child does get punished when he is “naughty,” such as not sharing, hitting, or saying mean things, but his sensory aversions are no need for punishment and punishment will only make them worse.

    • Hannah,
      I feel sorry that you would perceive children with processing disorders as not properly disciplined. I hope that for the sake of your children they do not have this issue as you are an extremely uneducated and uncaring person to say the things you said. A child with a sensory and processing disorder doesn’t have control over the way they input sounds, tastes, smells, etc. They are innocent and need to be guided and helped patiently and lovingly. This is not an excuse not to discipline. This isn’t something they are doing on purpose, they cannot control it. I hope you will do some research and educate yourself before making ridiculous comments in the future. I would like to say so much more to you but I am holding my tongue.

Make Your Voice Heard

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s