Is your child sensitive to smells or sounds? Does he have a hard time wearing certain types of clothes or dealing with the textures of foods? You might be concerned that sensory processing issues are causing your child’s difficulties. If so, it can be tough to know where to begin. Here are steps you can take to determine if your child has sensory processing issues, and where to go from there.
Learn more about sensory processing issues.
Understand the concept of co-occurrence.
Co-occurrence is when a child has more than just one condition. Sensory processing issues often come hand in hand with other learning and attention issues and conditions. For example, kids with ADHD and autism can be over- and undersensitive to sensory input. They may be bothered by sights, sounds, textures, flavors or smells. Or they might not respond to some sensory input, like being tapped on the shoulder.
Take note of your concerns.
Speak with your child’s doctor.
Bring your notes and talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns. You may want to schedule an appointment for a time when your child isn’t with you.
Keep in mind that there’s some disagreement about sensory processing issues in medical circles. It’s not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). That’s the manual that gives professionals the criteria needed to make a diagnosis. Most doctors agree that some kids have sensory challenges, but they don’t all agree that it’s a disorder on its own. If this is the case with your doctor, you may have to get a second opinion.
Rule out or confirm other learning and attention issues.
Your pediatrician may refer you to a developmental specialist and an occupational therapist (OT). A developmental specialist can take a close look at all of your child’s developmental skills to help identify or rule out other learning and attention issues. An OT can do specific tests to look at and get a sense of your child’s sensory skills. That’s sometimes referred to as a “sensory profile.”
Talk to your child’s teacher about sensory processing issues.
It’s important to talk with the teacher about how sensory processing issues could affect your child. Share what you’ve been seeing at home (and strategies that help). Knowing what these issues look like can help the teacher recognize your child’s struggles and find ways to help in the classroom.
Ask what’s been happening at school.
Keep in touch with your child’s teacher about signs she might be seeing at school. Is your child struggling to stay still or bumping into other kids in line? Does he get overwhelmed in gym class, in music class or during assemblies? Does he have trouble with balance or writing? You may also want to discuss using informal supports to help your child.
Discuss an evaluation for supports at school.
Think about requesting a free educational evaluation. Kids who have sensory processing issues may have other learning or attention issues, and it can be confused with ADHD. Getting your child evaluated can provide information that can help guide the type of support your child gets in school, such as accommodations or specialized instruction.
Learn about treatments and therapies.
Explore other ways to help your child.