Four Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) Every Parent Should Know

We answer four common questions about parenting, from homeschooling and time-outs to sensory disorder and cyber-bullying


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sensory processing disorder
3. So many of my friends’ kids have been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. What should I be on the lookout for?

Lisa Bennett’s* concern about her son Aaron’s* sensitivity to noise hit a tipping point during one of their frequent road trips to Vermont. Each attempt to use the bathroom resulted in a complete meltdown. “It was just a bathroom. We didn’t know how to handle it when he was freaking out,” she recalls. The roar of automatic hand dryers and flushing toilets was too much for Aaron, as was any loud noise. Aaron would freeze if he heard a fire truck go by, and refused to play on his friend’s motorized Big Wheels. He was prone to tantrums, and had issues modulating his volume at school. “For a long time before he was two, I worried, ‘Am I imagining this? Is this just a phase?’ I thought, ‘Maybe he’s just a cautious kid.’ ” Bennett finally shared her concerns with her friend Pepper Franchina-Gallagher, a Cold Spring-based occupational therapist, who encouraged her to get Aaron evaluated through his school. At the age of three, Aaron was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and prescribed intensive physical and occupational therapy.             

Sensory Processing Disorder — formerly known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction — is the inability of the nervous system to process sensory information and respond functionally. As a spectrum disorder, it can involve any or all of the seven senses — sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, vestibular (movement), or proprioceptive, which tells us where our body is in space. Doctors use three subcategories to diagnose children: In the first, Sensory Modulation Disorder, children have difficulty regulating their response to stimuli. Sensory Discrimination Disorder occurs when the child has trouble recognizing and discerning input (i.e., determining the amount of force needed to throw a ball). Lastly, kids with Sensory Based Motor Disorder have difficulty with their postural and ocular control, causing them to appear clumsy. These children may have a lazy eye, or struggle to sit up straight or hold a pencil.

Sensory Processing Disorder is the inability of the nervous system to process sensory information and respond functionally

According to Franchina-Gallagher, signs of SPD can begin showing up as early as six to eight months. Red flags can include persistent crankiness in a baby; extreme pickiness with food or fabrics; compulsive touching; compulsive licking or tasting things (past the age of two); or fear of moving. “If you suspect something, you should see your pediatrician first, then touch base with an occupational therapist who has sensory integration experience,” she says. Because the neurological system develops so fast in the first few years of life, Franchina-Gallagher insists that even small red flags be addressed immediately. “The younger we get them in therapy, the better.”

This was certainly the case for Bennett and her son. Right after his diagnosis, Aaron began Integrated Listening System (ILS) therapy four times a week with Franchina-Gallagher. The combination of an auditory therapy like ILS and occupational treatment is ideal for SPD, as it helps kids integrate what they hear, see, and feel. “Within a couple of weeks we saw great improvement,” Bennett says of ILS. Today, a year since beginning therapy, Aaron will ride a four-wheeler with his uncle or climb on the jungle gym, things he’d never do before. And though he still gets scared, he’ll verbalize his fear and move beyond it. This fall Aaron will start kindergarten, and while Bennett expects challenges, she’s glad he will be more prepared to interact socially in school. “He just seems more comfortable in his own skin.”

* Names changed to protect privacy

(Continue for question #4)

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