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I’m Concerned My Child Might Have Sensory Processing Issues. Now What?

By Amanda Morin

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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.

1

Learn more about sensory processing issues.

Having a more in-depth understanding of what sensory processing issues are and what they aren’t can help you better frame your concerns about your child. Learn about signs of sensory processing issues. And find out how those signs can change over time.

2

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.

3

Take note of your concerns.

Observe your child and take notes about the things that stand out to you. Your child’s troubles with typical sensory input, such as clothing or food, might be easy to notice. They can even trigger meltdowns. But sensory processing issues can also cause trouble with motor skills. For instance, your child may struggle with climbing on the playground.

4

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.

5

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.”

6

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

Meet with the school.

Sit down with the school to discuss supports and services. You may want to consider providing the results of any outside evaluations you’ve had done to help support the information gathered in a school evaluation. Together they can help determine if your child is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan.

10

Learn about treatments and therapies.

Talk to your child’s school and specialist about treatment options for sensory processing issues, such as occupational therapy. It can also help to learn terms you may hear from professionals.

11

Explore other ways to help your child.

Find strategies to help your child with specific challenges at home. Explore ways to explain sensory issues to friends and family. And consider joining our community, where parents who’ve been there share tips and advice.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Vanessa Pastore

Vanessa Pastore, MA, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.

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