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Sensory Processing Disorder and the Overresponsive Child

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Sensory Processing Disorder and the Overresponsive Child

Copyright © 2009 Salt Lake City SPD & Parenting Examiner
Reprinted with the express permission of the author as originally published on her website.

By: Amy Spalding
Salt Lake City SPD & Parenting Examiner


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), is broken down into three disorders: Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Discrimination Disorder, and Sensory-Based Motor Disorder. The three sub-types of Sensory Modulation Disorder are: Sensory Overresponsivity, Sensory Underresponsivity, and Sensory Seeking.

According to Carol Stock Kranowitz, the author of "The Out-of-Sync Child", Sensory Overresponsivity is the most common type of sensory modulation problem. Overresponsivity to touch and sound are often referred to as "tactile defensiveness" and "auditory defensiveness".

When a child has Sensory Overresponsivity they are often overwhelmed by all the sensory stimuli coming at them because they take it all in, even if it isn't useful. They respond by defending themselves because they find the stimuli irritating, annoying, and sometimes even threatening. All of us are aware of different or out of place sensory experiences, like an twisted sock or a light touch as someone walks by. Most people can shrug these sensory experiences off, but a child with Sensory Overresponsivity can't let the experience go. Instead of responding with a slight acknowledgment of discomfort, they may respond as if being threatened. According to Kranowitz, they often have a fight, flight, freeze, or fright response.

If fight is a child's response, he will respond with a lot of resistance or hostility. He may be defiant and lash out.

If flight is the response, he may withdraw, flee, run away, or jump back. He may even climb furniture, or try to claw his way out, desperate to get away from the perceived threat.

He may flee by avoiding the people and places that distress him. He will avoid getting close, and will often walk away. Adults may think he is avoiding certain things because they just aren't what he likes, but often a child may want to participate, or do what other children are doing, but they just can't.

If freeze is his response, he may stop in his tracks and be unable to move, breathe or even speak.

Children who respond with fright find the world a very scary place. Everything may make him crumple and cry. Or he may be very cautious and fearful, closing out unfamiliar people and situations.

Whenever possible the child with Sensory Overresponsivity will avoid touch and movement experiences. Often he misinterprets a casual touch as a life-threatening blow, and is distressed by changes in routine, loud noises, and crowded settings. For these children meltdowns are common. They may happen several times a day and may be very intense, emotional and loud. Some meltdowns may last for hours and go far beyond other children's responses to the same situation.

Children with Sensory Overresponsivity may also have a hard time understanding gestural communication. They may overreact to nonverbal cues and respond with anxiety or hostility. They may also be very sensitive to someone else's displeasure, even if the displeasure is not directed toward them. For example, they may hear their mom or dad scold a sibling and respond by coming to that child's rescue, or by becoming upset and emotional.

It is important that parents inform teachers, coaches, and other adults about their child's overresponsivity to certain sensory stimuli. When adults in a child's life aren't aware of the issue it can result in punishments, or scoldings that are not only unnecessary, but in all likelihood, unfair. A child with SPD struggles to regulate his responses and is often unable to do so.


Featured Author/Blogger: Amy Spalding of the Salt Lake City SPD & Parenting Examiner

my is the mother of four boys and is expecting her first girl in a few months. She has a BA in English and has written for several newspapers. Amy was also a broadcast news archivist for seven years. In 2004, her second son was diagnosed as developmentally delayed and in the years since has been tested for Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. She can be contacted at [email protected]

We thank Amy for allowing us to reprint her copyrighted article. Please visit her blog site at Salt Lake City SPD & Parenting Examiner

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