Category Archives: Sensory Processing Disorder

Tips for Helping Your Child with Sensory Problems

Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues is one of Theraconcepts’ favorite books on sensory processing. You can preview the contents of the book by visiting Quoted below are some sensory smart parenting tips by Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske.


  • To desensitize gums, provide tactile input. Wear a rubber finger cot, swipe with a washcloth, or use an Infadent finger cot or Toothettes (both available from Achievement Products for Children (800-373-4699)

  • If your child can’t tolerate foamy toothpaste, try Orajel toddler toothpaste, which does not foam.

  • Develop a predictable routine for when and how to brush. Help your child choose the brushing pattern which will always be used. For example, she could decide to always start with the top teeth and to brush from left to right, front to back. A consistent brushing pattern will help your child motor plan this complex activity, learn to predict when and where she will feel various sensations (rather than be a “victim” of horrible sensations), and help your child feel proud about keeping her mouth and teeth nice and clean.


  • If your child doesn’t like “slimy” soap or shampoo, try foamy soap (also good for tactile play—unlike shaving cream, it doesn’t have a strong smell).

  • Try using a large container of water for rinsing since the extra weight of the water might feel soothing. Alternately, your child might be more comfortable if he simply feels in control of the water. In this case, provide a sprinkling can (beach or garden toy) or a hand-held shower attachment. Count down together to rinsing: “1, 2, 3, rinse.”

  • Use a foam visor or a washrag held over the face when rinsing. This is good for a child who hates water on his face or who hates tilting his head back for rinsing. You might also have him dry his face immediately after washing it even if he’s still in the shower or bath.

  • If toweling dry is a problem, experiment with softer (or harder) towel textures. You can also try pre-warming the towel in the dryer for a few minutes.

Going to Bed

  • Make sure the room is dark enough (or light enough) for your child to sleep. A small amount of light might comfort one child, while light creeping in through the curtains or under the door might disturb another.

  • Try a white noise machine, fan, aquarium, or even a radio set on static to create white noise to block out sleep-disturbing sounds. Some children fall asleep more easily listening to gentle music such as Mozart or CDs specifically designed to promote sleep. Check out Baby Go to Sleep (800-841-4248) or Hemi-Sync sleep CDs available at Hemi-Sync (800-541-2488). Select “Sleep” from the dropdown list.

  • Give calming deep pressure input via a backrub or massage using long, firm strokes. Even just squeezing feet, legs, hands, and arms, can be very soothing at bedtime. You can also try using a weighted blanket (available from companies such as Southpaw Enterprises and Abilitations.

Getting a Haircut

  • Use the word “trim” instead of “cut.”

  • Visit the hair salon to simply check it out and watch other children get their hair trimmed. Familiar places are less scary.

  • Massage your child’s scalp before a haircut using your hands, handheld vibrator, or vibrating hairbrush (available from Abilitations).

  • Many children dislike the plastic cape with its scratchy closure. Instead use a soft towel and clip or an oversized shirt.

  • Go to a child-friendly haircutting salon or create your own at home with candy and an absorbing video to watch.

  • Have the barber or stylist give the child a big soft brush or a dry washrag with baby powder on it to brush off stray hair as it is cut. Use baby powder on irritated skin afterward.


  • Some tactile-defensive kids insist on supersoft, all-cotton clothing. Many parents swear by the all-cotton clothing made by Land’s End and Hanna Andersson (Check their overstocks, check ebay for auctions on used children’s clothing, and visit your local consignment stores and thrift shops (think: pre-worn = pre-softened).

  • Some children are more comfortable wearing snug clothing or tight clothing worn beneath their other clothes. Try bicycle shorts, tights, “too small” t-shirts, etc.

  • When buying clothes for a tactile-sensitive child, avoid scratchy nylon threads and items made of polyester blends which can pill and cause discomfort.

  • Buy seamless socks from places like


  • Avoid shopping during peak hours when stores are most crowded and noisy.

  • Let your child push the grocery cart for sensory input. Many grocery stores have junior carts for smaller children. Also, pushing a stroller can help a toddler or preschooler get calming input. Add packages for extra weight.

  • Give your child some control and a sense of predictability. Young children can help find groceries on the shelf, match groceries to a picture list, or follow a picture list of chores you will be doing that day. Older kids can help you write lists, find items, pull out coupons, or check items off your to-do list.

Potty Training

  • Some children are disturbed by the size and feel of a large toilet seat. Bring your child to the store and help her to pick out a potty chair or a small, cushioned vinyl ring that fits onto an adult toilet seat.

  • Some children are frightening by the sound of flushing. A sense of control might help: together, count off to the flush, for example: “1, 2, 3, FLUSH!” Make lots of noise as the toilet is flushing, shouting “hooray!”

  • Sometimes, tight clothes provide sensory input that distracts a child from the sensation of needing to use the potty. Loose clothing such as boxer shorts may help him recognize when he has the urge to go

Related article: Ouch! Sensory Integration and Haircuts

Sensory Processing Disorder

Research by the SPD Foundation indicates that 1 in every 20 children experiences symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder that are significant enough to affect their ability to participate fully in everyday life. What then is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”

Sensory Processing Disorder(SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.

Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, the executive director of SPD Foundation (formerly Kid Foundation) has written a book titled “Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder” which offers parents, teachers, and caregivers essential information on SPD including symptoms and warning signs. The Sensational Kids website provides a preview of this valuable book.

The following red flags were adapted from the SPD Foundation website.

Red flags for Sensory Processing Disorder

If more than a few of the symptoms listed below fit your child, refer to the complete SPD Checklist.

Infants and toddlers
____ Problems eating or sleeping
____ Refuses to go to anyone but me
____ Irritable when being dressed; uncomfortable in clothes
____ Rarely plays with toys
____ Resists cuddling, arches away when held
____ Cannot calm self
____ Floppy or stiff body, motor delays

____ Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, other people
____ Difficulty making friends
____ Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and/or toilet training
____ Clumsy; poor motor skills; weak
____ In constant motion; in everyone else’s face and space
____ Frequent or long temper tantrums

Grade schoolers
___ Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, other people
___ Easily distracted, fidgety, craves movement; aggressive
___ Easily overwhelmed
___ Difficulty with handwriting or motor activities
___ Difficulty making friends
___ Unaware of pain and/or other people

Adolescents and adults
___ Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, and other people
___ Poor self-esteem; afraid of failing at new tasks
___ Lethargic and slow
___ Always on the go; impulsive; distractible
___ Leaves tasks uncompleted
___ Clumsy, slow, poor motor skills or handwriting
___ Difficulty staying focused
___ Difficulty staying focused at work and in meetings

Source: SPD Foundation