10 Things Nannies Should Know About Sensory Processing Disorder


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The term “sensory processing” is used to describe the way that the brain interprets and organizes the information it receives through sensory input. Everything you hear, see, taste, smell and feel is processed by your brain before your body responds to that stimuli. Children with sensory processing disorders organize the things they sense in different ways, and may learn in different ways as a result. For childcare providers with limited experience caring for children with sensory processing disorders, figuring out the best way to meet their charge’s needs isn’t always easy. If you’re faced with the prospect of caring for a charge with a sensory processing disorder, here are 10 of the things you’ll need to know.

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder Versus Sensory Integration Dysfunction – Over the course of your research, you may find references to both “Sensory Processing Disorder” and “Sensory Integration Dysfunction.” That’s because the medical community can’t quite seem to agree on the proper term for the condition. “Sensory Integration Dysfunction” was the original term coined to describe the experience of these children, but modern specialists have started to move towards the term “Sensory Processing Disorder.” Whenever you see these two terms, they’re essentially referring to the same condition.
  2. Sensory Modulation Disorders – Sensory processing problems that fall under the blanket of sensory modulation disorders have difficulty matching their behavior to the intensity of things they’re experiencing. They may be over-responsive to stimuli, under-responsive or seeking/craving. Over-responsive kids may experience sensory input more intensely than kids without SPD, causing them to be irritated by sounds, tactile sensations and other stimuli. Under-responsive kids may not be able to maintain a normal seated position without a strong effort and may have difficulty hearing her name when it’s being called. Seeking/craving kids seek out sensory input, trying to experience their senses to the fullest.
  3. Sensory Discrimination Disorder – There are a variety of ways that sensory discrimination disorder can manifest in a child. Trouble hearing words spoken directly at her when there’s minimal background noise, struggling to identify one object by touch alone when there are several items and having trouble distinguishing between being still or in motion are all examples of sensory discrimination disorder.
  4. Sensory-Based Motor Disorders – Some behaviors that appear to mimic a motor disorder can have roots in sensory disorders. Kids may appear abnormally clumsy, have exceptionally poor posture and have difficulty determining how much force should be exerted for a particular movement.
  5. Tactile Sense – Tactile sense is the sense of touch, which can be heightened for kids with sensory processing disorders. Some tactile feelings can activate the “fight or flight” instinct in kids with SPD, which is why it’s important to know how and when your charge should be touched.
  6. Proprioception – Proprioception is essentially the sense of your body parts in relation to one another. A developed sense of proprioception allows you to bring the tip of your finger to the tip of your nose with your eyes closed, to instinctively understand where your limbs are and how much effort you should expend to move in a certain way. Kids with sensory processing disorders may have underdeveloped sense of proprioception.
  7. Vestibular Sense – The vestibular sense largely governs balance and movement, along with spatial orientations. Depending on the type of sensory processing problems a child has and what his needs are, he may express his frustration through slow, rhythmic movements or erratic, unpredictable and rapid gestures.
  8. Understanding Behavior – Because sensory processing disorder affects almost every aspect of the way a child experiences the world around him, he may act very differently than children with typical senses. Acting out is not uncommon, especially when a child feels overwhelmed or incapable of organizing his own body.
  9. Creating the Best Possible Environment – Because every child with SPD will react to stimuli in different ways, it’s important to have a basic idea of your charge’s individual needs so that you can maintain the best possible environment. Noisy places filled with bright colors and harsh lighting, for instance, may be problematic choices for an outing when a child under your care has SPD.
  10. Disciplining the Child with Sensory Processing Disorder – Acknowledging undesirable behavior in clear, unemotional terms can help a child with SPD understand that certain things are unacceptable. Helping an upset child soothe himself by redirecting his energy can stave off an emotional episode.

While this information can help you care for a child with sensory processing disorder more effectively, it is by no means an exhaustive report on the subject. Every child with SPD manages their symptoms differently, meaning you will almost always have to tailor your approach to SPD-specific care in a unique way with each charge that deals with the disorder. A long conversation with your employers about the needs of their child as an individual in relation to her disorder is the most effective way to make a personalized and customized plan for care.

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