So does my kid have some sensory processing issues?
August 31, 2018 2:52 PM   Subscribe

It’s been suggested and maybe I was in denial. Details inside.

KidPeeps is 3yo, very bright and verbal, loves LEGO, monster trucks and so on. Cuddly, loves to read and can identify how he’s feeling, showing rudimentary empathy, has started asking me and dad questions about ourselves like how was our day and what flavour of ice cream do we like and give me a kiss when I’m hurt.

Since he was a baby he haaated loud sounds, and to this day is easily scared by even background music of a Pixar movie. Whenever we go to a new park or mall or science center it takes him like 45min to warm up, until then he clings to me, and any kind of play destination place is like that too. He’s definitely inhibited - doesn’t run out and play freely. Even as a baby he looked very overwhelmed and uncomfortable at the mall, only seemed relaxed when in the quiet nursing room. Has an amazing sense of hearing, notices things I never would. Loves music! But He also hates water - won’t play in the pool or splash pad and Freaks out bawling and demanding to change his shirt if he spills a little bit of water on himself. Hates bath time and I can only wash his hair by promising to pour the water super slow. Freaks out about sunscreen but finally now lets us put on zinc stick. Loses his mind if it’s creamy sunscreen. He’s ok with tags and clothes except one pair of scratchy pants (I agree they were scratchy) and any grippy socks. He gets a little fixated on things and asks the same question over and over again (“why did the teachers cat run away?”) Easily fearful in new situations but often can be bribed out of it with a lollipop eg going to the dr or for a haircut which he also hates. Also not potty trained yet, he’s holding poop in and has a massive poo panic / screaming cry fest with each poop. Treating with miralax.

I mentioned it to the pediatrician and he said there might be some sensory stuff going on there but it is getting exacerbated by fear, so to work on building his confidence and exposure and he suspects the rest will go away or be very manageable. He was encouraged that my son was able to be brought out of a shut down fairly easily - a few quiet moments or a joke. I have seen him become Much braver since turning three. And the other day he calmly asked me for a cloth and when I asked why he said “because I’m wet” and sure enough his pants were all wet and I was stunned that he wasn’t screaming crying. He’s also been much braver trying new things like kitchen experiments.

I guess I was in denial until today when even though he really wanted to climb on the coin cars at the mall, and all the other kids were crawling all over them, but even after 15 minutes he couldn’t bring himself to get into one, he just stood there staring and i suddenly just felt overwhelming sad for him. I finally admitted maybe this is not normal that he’s so reluctant.

Mom and dad are both engineers fwiw. I used to get overwhelmed with sounds and a little panicky at the mall as a teenager but I got over it I don’t know how.

If you have a kid with SPD, does this sound familiar? What should I read? We want a second - will that kid have it too, or worse? Can I get a hug?
posted by St. Peepsburg to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you had an evaluation by an occupational therapist? They are typically free, covered by insurance or a school district's early intervention program. You may not even need a referral though it sounds like you could get one easily.

My daughter doesn't have SPD but was at high risk (micropreemie) and we had several years of occupational therapy support. They gave me lots of sensory exercises for her that are easy to do. They also gave me lots of perspective and tips for myself to keep me calm when she was upset.

Basically - get an official evaluation. Personalized support is better than generalized resources or anecdotes.

(also, hugs - having a kid who's having a hard time is no fun)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Uhh IANAD, just have SPD.
What you're saying sounds familiar, and I agree with the pediatrician. Sometimes with SPD, some input (for example, light, repeated touching is triggering for me) can be processed as pain. So I would continue with the bribing tactic and giving him lots of positive feedback, and not force him to do anything he doesn't want to do. Many good wishes for the kid because it's hard being that young and having the world around you be a smorgasbord of Bad Feels. And the fact that he very calmly asked for a cloth the other day is very cool (tearing up a little at work, I have many feelings about kids).
posted by typify at 3:19 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, there are genetic factors with SPD, but it is unlikely that your second child will have SPD (though likelier than the general population).
posted by typify at 3:22 PM on August 31, 2018

Your kiddo seems awesome and fine and well within normal range to me!

Beware the corporate interest in treating normal kids like they are diseased. As in all things, ask ‘to whose benefit?’
Because most of the voices that want to catastrophize the kid’s livelihood also stand to profit, be it from drugs or classes or whatever, YMMV.

I say love the kid and keep an open mind and look to the future before making any big changes.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:27 PM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

IANAD, sounds like sensory issues to me. It seems premature to settle on SPD when it might well be another condition, or a phase that goes away on its own. I feel like everyone I know who had sensory issues into adolescence has a mental health diagnosis. For your kid though, adolescence is a long way off.

For now, you might want to look into earplugs/earmuffs for loud environments and earplugs for swimming and offer them to him.
posted by bagel at 4:56 PM on August 31, 2018

Best answer: So, I'm an audiologist who works at a major university disability center and sees tons and tons of kiddos with all sorts of sensory stuff going on. I can't speak to everything, though I do work on an interdisciplinary team that works with complicated cases across many modalities, including all varieties of sensory processing.

First, it is absolutely not recommended in any circumstance to give your child earplugs due to a sound sensitivity. Not only will this inhibit their habituation to normal sound levels, you risk impeding speech language and learning development. 3 is a critical age where some phonemes are still being perfected and kids learn tons through incidental learning via hearing. Do not put earplugs on your kid. No.

Sensory Processing Disorder is very poorly understood and even more poorly defined, and is really rarely seen as a modality specific conditions outside of some more global diagnosis such as ASD, at least how we practice it here. We see TONS of kiddos who hate loud sounds or having their ears touched who really don't any type of pathology, typically conceived. Often they end up sort of growing out of it, particularly with exposure practice. But in the cases where it persists, it is often almost always in a constellation of a larger diagnosis, such as ASD, Global Developmental Delay, or similar. Also, Sensory Processing Disorder is usually more than simply being sensitive to certain stimuli - there is usually some effect seen on things such as language, learning, motor skills, etc. To me, based on this description, this does not sound like your child.

I agree with your pediatrician. That said, your general pediatrician is probably not equipped to address this particular issue in depth, so if you have lingering concerns and for peace of mind I would certainly recommend either a psychologist assessment or a team assessment.

Having worked with many parents of children such as yours, I am very familiar how much of a struggle these kinds of things can be. Hang in there.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:42 PM on August 31, 2018 [14 favorites]

My kids are like that. They are surely more sensitive than the average, but never seemed pathological to me (eg preschool/school/social lives are ok overall and they progress according to milestones). But by all means, if you feel you could benefit from help/intervention, have them screened.
posted by The Toad at 5:43 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it is hard to say what is going on with your kiddo- they are still very little and figuring out the world. I can say this as the mother of a formerly very intense 3 year old, who is now 17, and who still at times has a hard time with the world, but never was diagnosed with anything. Having said that, I echo what peanut_mcgillicuty said. Occupational Therapists can work wonders with children. I have worked in schools with very good OTs, and they are pretty amazing at supporting kids in a way that does not pathologize them. Three is totally an age where an OT could work wonders, and not only that, but also help you to understand what is developmentally normal. Ask your pediatrician for a referral- which maybe with an Early Intervention program, or may be with the school district depending on the laws in your area. In Boston, where I live and work, Early Intervention goes until 3, and after that kids are sent to schools for evaluations.

As for the second kid, you will be amazed at how different your kids will be- my 20 year old is a lot more mellow than their sister, and did not have as many specific needs as my 17 year old.

I can also tell you, that from observing students, as well as neighborhood kiddos, some of the kids who presents as the quirkiest, grow up to be the most mind blowing adults.
posted by momochan at 6:07 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sounds similar to our 3 year old as well, and it was super helpful just to realize that she wasn't just being stubborn or trying to get out of things she didn't want to do, and approach things with a different mindset.

This book was super helpful to reframe everything and give some examples of what to do.

Started trying some different approaches within the last year and it has been significantly better - both for her and us.

I agree with Lutoslawski re:a diagnosis. We will mention it to her pediatrician at her next check up to see if they have any recommendations, but without any official diagnosis, applying some of the strategies to mitigate the negative responses has worked very well for us. I'm sure you have seen that there is a correlation between autism and SPD, but if your doctor wasn't concerned about his development, you probably shouldn't be either.

I think there is a fair amount of natural introversion/shyness/fear/etc. at play with our kid, but some behaviors and reactions are atypical. Understanding that both under- and overstimulation can cause reactions was also super helpful. It was confusing that she didn't like loud sounds, but at other times would make tons of noise herself. Or that her nearly smothering her baby sister wasn't that she was trying to play rough, but that she needed vestibular stimulation. And finally, as soon as we started addressing these behaviors in a more positive way, everything started getting a lot easier. (Her reactions to clothing is still the only really tricky thing, but that also getting better.)

I would definitely recommend reading up on strategies you can use and see if those help "unlock" some of the problem areas.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 6:38 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like it's hard to say from here. Your pediatrician didn't sound very certain, so a bunch of internet folks certainly can't give you a diagnosis. It sounds quite possible, though?

What's the harm in getting him properly evaluated for this? Talk to your pediatrician about a referral to an appropriate specialist who can help you explore this issue. Once you've done that you'll know a lot more and will be in a better position to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:43 PM on August 31, 2018

Best answer: KidPeeps sounds like a lovely boy. He may have a minor sensory processing, but it sounds like he is responsive to moving forward away from his fear, and perhaps going to slowly grow out of some of his issues.

Even though he doesn't like water, he trusts you enough to wash his hair, and that's a big plus. Perhaps it would be good to give him the autonomy to pour water over his own hair to rinse. Tell him straight up that you might have to do a final rinse because shampoo left on his scalp will itch, but he might be chuffed by being independent and in control of things that are an issue for him. The fact that he had wet pants, calmly addressed it, and was even willing to work with you to resolve it, is super promising. I hope you praised him to the skies for that one.

With the sunscreen, talk about why people wear it and address it in terms of health (don't want to burn and hurt.) Show him the different types at the store (sprays, creams, etc) Let him pick out a bottle that he thinks 'might' work. Suggest that you put just one little dab on a paper towel, and, if he wants, he can dip his finger in and just put one fingertip on the back of his hand and rub it in. Stress that if he doesn't want to, he doesn't have to, but he'll have to be completely covered up in pants, long sleeves, and a hat, and that's no fun, but he can maybe try some other time to put it on himself, if he wants.

As far as water, maybe you could get him a goldfish? Lots of dialog about the fish needing and loving his water home, how he breathes, how he poops and needs clean water (lots of giggles with pooping fish for a three year old.) It's fun to let a kid pick his little fish (get at least a gallon tank), and discuss whether to put in gravel (or marbles!!) Maybe even a house. Maybe he'd like YouTube videos of dogs and cats surfing and swimming. Birds are funny, because they like water, too. Discuss what that dog is doing and how would he train a dog to do that.

Ask him if he'd like to help you wash dishes or wipe the table and show him how to ring out the dish rag. You might get paint with water books. He might be interested to try floating small toy boats in shallow bowls or cookie sheets. Show him a You Tube of finger paints, and ask him if he'd be interested. He could even wear rubber gloves if he's interested, but doesn't want to get goopy. Give him plenty of rags to clean up with.

Show him two differently shaped cups and and ask him if they hold the same amount of water. How could he find out and test it? He might just get so involved in the experiment he doesn't mind the water and the clean up. How much water goes into a bottle with a funnel. Can you use a strainer to bail out a bowl? There's also using a slow hose to make mud. That's a great game. He doesn't even have to get wet or muddy (unless he wants to.)

Maybe he won't like any of the goopy stuff, but allowing him to approach it on his own might persuade him its fun.

Give him his space and the time to approach different issues. I'll bet he's a deep thinker and will be super smart when he finds his niche. I would also bet that he's quite verbal, and when you talk things over with him it gives him a space from which to approach the things that are causing him fear or distress.

If you stop and think about it, we live in a horribly noise world, and we usually just deal with it as background. I HATE the mall, and IMO any civilized person would refuse to go there. Movies at the theater are horribly loud, and my ears ring after. When I come out of the desert or the mountains from a weekend off, I just want to cover my ears and cower if I have to the grocery store and they do an announcement.

Maybe you can work with him to cut the warm up time when he goes to new play areas or places that take him a while to relax into by discussing it with him. Ask him, 'do you remember/think that it was (or might be) a bit busy and loud?' 'How did you feel about that?' Reassure him it was OK in the end. 'What the most fun that you did last time we were there/there is a ___ at the new place, do you think that would be interesting?' Don't push him to interact faster than he wants to, but you might talk with him about what he sees and thinks. I'll bet he's observant and talking might just relax him faster.

As far as the repetition of serious questions--I thought ALL three year olds were supposed to be like that! That's a pretty big thing to figure out: "Why did that cat run away? Is it coming back? Do all cats run away? Are they OK if they run away?" I'd engage him with my own questions: Where do you think the cat might have gone? How would you find a cat that was missing?

Lots of hugs, and give one from me to the KidPeeps, too.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Based on what you have written I would get him evaluated by a pediatric occupational therapist ASAP. You will be amazed by the wonders OT can work.
posted by medusa at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi! Your youngster sounds a lot like me at that age. Even today, I can't follow two conversations at once (like, if I'm on the phone with my mother while my sister is in the room, my sister will be telling me all kinds of things she wants me to say to or ask Mom. I have to wave her away and cover my free ear). My BFF from school is an audiologist, and he's talked about a lot of the same things Lutoslawski mentions. It almost feels to me like having hearing that's too sensitive; I jokingly call it Roderick Usher syndrome.

IANY, IANAP, IANAD, EIEIO. But I think if it was my kid I'd try to include a thorough hearing test as part of the data I was basing decisions on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:58 PM on August 31, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you everyone these are wonderful answers. BlueHorse those were amazing ideas, in fact we have been doing kitchen science (mainly him playing with water in beakers and a few baking soda volcanoes) for the past couple weeks and now that you mention it, it’s helped him a lot in a number of ways. For that reason even if he has no diagnosis, ideas like that from an OT may be helpful for confidence and comfort building.

Just to note there aren’t any other presenting issues or delays, he climbs and plays normally, no indication of ASD, tons of imaginative play with his friends and even his little monster trucks talk to each other :) and language is great.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:58 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, your son sounds a lot like my recent 3-year-old and every other kid in his preschool class. Holding in poop and panicking? I sure heard that story this year. The socks and scratchy clothes? That too. Scared of loud sounds? Not wanting to join in fun? Afraid of water? Hates having his hair washed? Hates the doctor? Hates getting his hair cut? Asking the same question over and over and over and over again? You basically described my son's preschool class.

I realize a lot of people here are suggesting that you get your son evaluated, and don't let me stop you. If he is in preschool though, definitely talk to the teachers to see what they think. They see a lot and can put it into context for you.

Also, not sure if this would help, but it helped me: this AskMe.
posted by Toddles at 10:37 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Typical for my son at 3 yrs old. I’m here (I almost typed “hear,” ha ha) to report at 7.5 yrs old this is mostly ALL fine! We live near the beach and I will never forget toddler benben’s reaction to being on sand for the first time, just absolute terror. He wouldn’t go near the ocean until maybe 2 yrs ago? We had a lot of OT, PT, and we did the super cool kind things parents that care do - exposure to experiences without pushing... We started swim lessons at 3.5/4? For many years of near year-round swim lessons at a pool he did not significantly progress. Last week was the 2nd week in a row he totally submerged in the ocean, he’s graduated this season to level 3 in swim class. Last weekend he was happily taking waves on a boogie board in the Pacific. And I quote, “I’m like a dolphin!” Today we finally (since he was in a baby bjorn) went on a boat whale watching in the open ocean. We were sitting on floor of the boat deck for stability in the beginning, by the middle of the trip he was at the bow enjoying the ocean.

Get intervention via your health insurance and read up, talk to other parents. It’s worth the effort.
posted by jbenben at 12:43 AM on September 1, 2018

Best answer: Lots of great observations and suggestions here. Another thought--really general but I don't think I've seen it in the discussion--is that 3 years is an age of really heightened emotion anyway. A mom-friend of mine, back when our kids were that age, described it as like living in an opera. Happy is extra happy, sad is extra sad, and fear can be extra fear. So in reading your question and the discussion that followed, my thought was: it may well be that your kid is struggling a bit with how to deal with sensations that feel intense, and perhaps what is magnified for him is the feeling of struggling itself, you know?

The scenario about the coin cars is really poignant. It's never easy to watch your kid struggle, at any age. But they do, and will--every person has some things they need to confront and work through. I think you're totally reasonable to ask about the sensory issue just in case, but it may just end up being part of how he grows. Hang in there, mama!
posted by Sublimity at 5:26 AM on September 1, 2018

From the other end of the spectrum... I have 2 kids with ASD and both they and their otherwise-NT sister have sensory processing issues.

At 3 my daughter, who struggles with sound processing, would fall to the floor and void her bladder if in a public toilet someone operated the hand driers. It was as if someone turned her spine off. At 3 my son, who struggles with sound processing, was completely nonverbal. At 5.5 he has the language skills of a 24mo.

Your son sounds like he is defensive with certain sensations but able to move past that initial defensiveness and enjoy sensations he was initially unsure of. Keep up the good work, but i think he sounds on the OK end of things.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2018

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