Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Johnny hates to wear jeans, Kelly seems to be 'on the go' all the time, Michael covers his ears when he hears the lawn mower, and Melissa cries when her mom puts her on a swing. We have all heard about and seen these children, and for those who are experienced in working with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) these are common statements. However, for many, especially parents it is very difficult for them to understand and grasp the concept of the sensory system and the role it plays in our day-to-day life.
Many people feel that we all have sensory concerns, which is true, but it is when it gets in the way of our "functional" living that it becomes an issue. Sensory processing is used to describe how the nervous system receives information from the body's senses and then turns that information into a response. When discussing SPD, individuals who are affected by this present with disorganized or inappropriate responses, often times being described as 'behavioral'. It is difficult for parents to truly discern what is sensory and what is age appropriate. For example, two-year-olds often try to gain control of situations, such as refusing to eat or dress when asked by a parent, but for a child with SPD, they often do not make the choice of how they respond. There is a reason they may not want to eat, whether it be texture or taste, and they may struggle with transitioning between short sleeve and long sleeve shirts due to tactile defensiveness.
Many children who exhibit sensory processing concerns often have another diagnosis as well, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or Down Syndrome, however for others, it is purely a stand alone diagnosis. It is these stand alone situations that are often the most difficult to identify, and for parents to understand. Children appear to be 'typical' but there is some reason that life is not going smoothly at home or school, or situations just seen too difficult for a child to cope with.
As professionals we often become frustrated when we feel parents are not "pulling their weight" at home, or that they are not taking the time to help carryout suggestions, however we need to realize that most parents are tired, overworked, and often just don't understand. In addition, we say we work as a "team" but then feel it is better not to have the parents be part of the therapy session or the activities in the classroom. How could we expect them to be "team" players when we are not educating, including, or encouraging them. And it does not go with out saying that it is known that not all parents strive to be participants. However, this does not mean they do not want the best for the child, we just need to find out at which level we need to interact and connect with them.
Therefore, using strategies such as pulling parents in for portions of sessions, using video, or even teaching sessions will help the parents to become more comfortable, have a better understanding, as well as see how things are performed in the school or therapy setting. Today's technology with smart phones, make it easy to take video and send snippets to parents. In addition, communication is key. So having some regular way of communicating whether at the end of session, via email, or log is very important. Once the parents are on board to be a team player, they will help with the facilitation of strategies at home and the child will make progress as a faster pace. Making it a win-win situation for everyone.