Explaining Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) to family members, teachers and children

by Tamara on October 17, 2012

In honor of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) month, I put together some helpful resources and tips for families who are having trouble explaining their child to others.

Many families that I work with who have children affected by Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) often struggle with how to explain their child’s “behaviors” to family members, friends, teachers, and other children. SPD, like many, developmental differences is “hidden.” Kids don’t wear signs that they have it and often how children communicate their challenges is read as a “behavior problem.”

Have you ever been in a loud restaurant or been overly stimulated and just wanted to turn everything off? That is how many children with SPD feel! Parents often feel judged in the grocery store, on the playground, and most public spaces because their children often have unexplainable tantrums due to sensory overload.

Families need support in their community, not judgement. I encourage family members and friends to ask parents to tell them about their child and what they need to be successfully included in an activity. Often, a few small adjustments can be made to have a fun filled playdate or family gathering!

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

In her bookSensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children With Sensory Processing DisorderDr. Lucy Jane Miller describes Sensory Processing Disorder as a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults.

In short, SPD affects the way individuals process information from the five senses, as well as sense of balance, movement and position in space.

SPD is more common than you might think, affecting as many as one in 20 people, in varying degrees of severity. You may have elements of sensory issues, such as being particularly sensitive to certain noises or textures, like a tag on the back of a shirt.

Kids with SPD aren’t necessarily sensitive. Some don’t sense pain or textures the way others do, and might seek out sensory input. Many parents report children frequently spinning, crashing into furniture or mouthing on objects. Other children might flat out refuse to eat certain textures or temperatures. The difference between a finicky child and a child with SPD is that the child with SPD will often react in what you would consider a highly over the top manner, such as prolonged screaming and crying.

Does my child have SPD and what should I do if I suspect she/he does?

There are several red flags for SPD  that you can share with those that you feel may be doubting your concerns about your child. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is often misdiagnosed as ADHD, Autism and other developmental disorders. Pediatricians and teachers are still being educated about how to recognize the signs of SPD.

If you have concerns that your child may have SPD, please contact me for a developmental screening and a list of referrals for an OT (Occupational Therapist) evaluation.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) aka Sensory Integration Disorder?

Check out the SPD Foundation’s website for helpful info! It was founded by Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, one of the leading researchers and experts on SPD

Blog posts worth sharing with family members and for great resources!

A mom’s explanation of Sensory Processing Disorder and how she educates others!

Hartley’s Life with 3Boys top blog posts about SPD: incredibly helpful info and resources for families!

A wonderful post by a mom about what it is REALLY like to parent a child with SPD

The first SPD focused store! Located right here in Chicago in the Lincoln Square neighborhood! Families outside of Chicago can order online and call to discuss items they are interested in learning more about!

Sensory Kids Store

Founded by a mom and staffed with folks who are knowledgeable! Talk to your OT before going for suggestions about items that might support your child at home and in school. Kids are encouraged to come play and try out items before purchasing. The wonderful owner, Ellen, consulted and tested products with kids and therapists. She has stocked everything you can think of and more: clothing, fidgets, items for the classroom, toys, furniture, and even…hair products!


I encourage families to share some of these with your child’s teacher and school library! Read-a-loud time is a wonderful time to help talk about SPD in a classroom with peers.

This is Gabriel Making Sense of School: A Book About Sensory Processing Disorder


Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success


Squirmy Wormy: How I Learned to Help Myself


Sensitive Sam: Sam’s Sensory Adventure Has a Happy Ending!


Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload


Answers to Questions Teachers Ask about Sensory Integration: Forms, Checklists, and Practical Tools for Teachers and Parents


The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition


Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder




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