Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder

When my eldest son, now five, was born, I had very few expectations when it came to baby sleep, behaviour and developmental milestones.  He was a very alert baby, so much so that he hardly slept.  At three months, he began rolling and then quickly went on to the task of figuring out how to drag himself around on his stomach.  He had to move, he had to see things, he had to touch things.  He woke every 2-3 hours every night until he was 20 months and only cat-napped.

He continued worm clawing until he was 11 months, then crawled on hands and knees for a short while before walking at 14 months

As a toddler, he was happy and lively but we began to notice behaviours we didn’t see in other children.   He could speak in 5 word sentences at 18 months; he’d put his hand over his ears whenever I vacuumed; he screamed when we tried to wash his hair.

For the first 2.5 years, he put anything and everything in his mouth, far longer than most children.  To this day, he still bites his finger- and toenails. At three, he declared himself “afraid of heights” and would not even climb on the playground equipment.  He hated wearing jeans; scarves were intolerably itchy.

One day in the car we listened to the aria “O Mio Bambino Caro”.  When it finished, I turned to my son in the backseat. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he said “oh mama, that was so beautiful”.

For a long time we took all of these things to be part of our sensitive son’s personality.  He was a happy, chatty, creative little boy. It was when he started Montessori school and was in the daily company of other children his age that we started to things differently.  He found it hard to concentrate.  He spent a lot of time on sensorial and practical life jobs such as window cleaning, water pouring, orange juicing as well as drawing and painting and avoided everything else.  He was fidgety at group time and often wandered off. He loved crashing and bumping into other kids, jumping off things (low things, he wouldn’t climb).

We realised that he was having issues.  This wasn’t behavioural, nor was it personality quirks.  I knew already that he was a Highly Sensitive Child but it was more than that.

Then we discovered Sensory Processing Disorder.  It explained a lot.

We promptly booked a session with an Occupational Therapist who did some testing, confirmed SPD, gave us some information and after three sessions sent us on our way with a Therabrush.  It was a relief to have something we could give to the school and some therapies and strategies we could work on at home but as time went by, the therapy didn’t seem to be helping and daily life got in the way.

Fast forward almost two years and I decided we needed more knowledge.  He was approaching his first year of full-time school with a new teacher and while some things had improved with time, he still had obvious issues.  It was then I picked up the book, The Out of Sync Child.  This book was revelatory.  I saw my son’s behaviour in a whole new light.  It wasn’t just the obvious sensory issues, such as chewing everything and hating creamy foods, it was also social issues and behavioural issues.  My son was mostly lovely, kind and generous but struggling in certain areas.  This book addressed them all.


The book systematically covers each of the senses (including the vestibular and proprioceptive senses) and how SPD can affect them – what behaviours may occur depending on whether the child has a tendency to seek sensory input, avoid sensory input or be overwhelmed by sensory input for each sense.  It also has lots of suggestions on how to help to balance the child’s sensory system.

What was great for us was that we found my son was already receiving most of the “therapy” that was recommended, either at home or at school.

At home we know how to avoid overstimulation, we know how to satisfy his sensory cravings and we already had what he needs for sensory input such as a trampoline, mud, sand, fine motor toys, areas for relaxation, and so on.

At school, those sensorial and practical life materials that are such a core part of the Montessori 0-3 curriculum were exactly what he needed.  As time has passed, he uses them less often but comes back to them when he needs to.

Now that he is five, some of the issues remain: he still has some social issues; he still finds it hard to focus in group time; he still loves chewing and licking things; he still hates having his hair washed; he still loves jumping, crashing and bumping into things.

However, there have been some obvious improvements. He has found a love of the more academic side of the classroom, particularly the math materials, and will concentrate for long periods on maths jobs.  He is now having swimming lessons (but still refuses to put his head under) and slowly becoming more confident.  He sometimes pushes himself to climb at the playground, and other times is overcome with whatever it is that heights make him feel but he has also chosen to do gymnastics classes and loves them.

What is great is that we have more understanding of these behaviours and know where we can and can’t push him.  We are seeing his progress; some of his achievements may seem small but we know that are big because we know what holds him back.  We are very happy with his progress at school and he has a fantastic, understanding teacher.  He is becoming more confident, he has a great group of friends at school and loves playing with his brother.

Understanding SPD and our son’s unique flavour has been a real eye-opener but this knowledge has really helped to understand him and to help him flourish and accept him for who he is.