Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder, or synesthesia, describes the way the nervous system responds to sensory stimulus. Under normal circumstances, your brain is able to identify and interpret inputs from a variety of sources at the same time.

For example: eating dinner in a restaurant, on the patio, with a band playing, you will be absorbing sensory input from a variety of sources such as:

  • The flavor, temperature, and aroma of the food and beverages
  • Conversations from other diners
  • The music from the band
  • The sound of insects, or the breeze, or the smell of flowers out on the patio.

A person with good sensory processing can easily tell the difference between all of those sensory inputs, and even ignore some of them. However, a person with sensory processing disorder may have a lot more trouble dealing with conflicting sensations that are all happening at the same time. Some, like the feel of clothing on the skin, could be annoying and distracting, others could be confusing or even terrifying.

Sensory processing disorder can affect one or more senses. That means it’s possible for someone to have difficulty processing bright colors, but not loud noises; or complex textures, including the textures of foods, but not flavors.

People with sensory processing disorder might be clumsy or uncoordinated, because they have difficulty with proprioception, or body awareness.

What Causes Sensory Processing Disorder?

Currently, doctors don’t know what causes sensory processing disorder, but they do know that it’s common among children who are also somewhere on the autism spectrum. Overall, synesthesia is more commonly diagnosed in children, but adults can also be affected, especially if they went untreated in childhood. Adults with the disorder could have difficulty performing or focusing on routine tasks, and their symptoms could be misdiagnosed as Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Although the condition is potentially debilitating, with the proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals can lead normal and productive lives.

Treatment generally involves a combination occupational therapy with a focus on sensory integration, which can be done at home or at a facility, and family therapy, to get parents and siblings involved in the process.

In addition to therapy, families also learn coping techniques, such as the use of compression garments.

How Compression Garments Help Sensory Processing Disorder

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You might be familiar with compression garments for adults. Typically, they’re used to improve blood flow, which can enhance athletic performance and speed up recovery time after exercise. Doctors also prescribe compression therapy products to prevent the foot and leg swelling that can be caused by anything from long airline flights to venous insufficiency (a condition that causes poor circulation in the legs).

With children with sensory processing disorder, compression garments have a very different effect. They typically work in several major ways:

  • They can provide a barrier against clothing that might cause sensory overload
  • They can take the place of clothing that might cause discomfort
  • Then can creating a gentle hugging sensation, which many people with SPD find calming.

For example, regular socks might droop, sag, or have seams across the toes and around the heel, which some people with SPD find unbearable. Compression socks are designed to fit snuggly around the ankles and calves, so they don’t droop. They also tend to be smoother than traditional socks, and come may come without seams.

Compression pants and tops fit snugly around the limbs and torso to create a hugging sensation. When worn under clothing, they prevent the clothes from rubbing directly against the skin. Although the compression clothing is generally used on children with SPD, adults with the disordermight also find them effective.

If you suspect that your child has SPD, contact your pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a pediatric psychiatrist or psychologist. If you are interested in purchasing compression clothing for your children, there are several retailers that specialize in compression and weighted clothing for special needs children.