Toddlers and Sensory Processing Disorder

One thing that parents of toddlers and other small children may be reading or hearing a lot about lately is Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition that affects the brain’s ability to process sensory information. For a person with SPD, things that most of us do not even notice, like the tag on the neck of our shirt or the crinkling of a potato chip bag across the room can trigger a reaction ranging from discomfort enough to cause complaining to complete overwhelm, including tantrums.

When a child is a toddler, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between things that are typical toddler behavior, things that indicate that a toddler is simply spirited, and things that may indicate that a toddler has some form of sensory processing disorder. For example, almost all toddlers have tantrums. Also, both spirited toddlers and those with Sensory Processing Disorder exhibit the double trait of being easily overstimulated and difficult to calm down.

If you observe your toddler carefully and make notes of what you see over time, you will eventually be able to distinguish whether some of the things that you see are related to sensory processing disorder and whether some are more typical or spirited toddler behaviors. For example, if getting your toddler dressed in the morning is a very long battle each and every day because almost everything that you try to put on him does not feel right for one reason or another, he may be overly sensitive to touch. However, if the morning battles involve just one or two specific items that your child does not like, such as the brown pants or the blue shirt with buttons, it is more likely that he is just taking a stand and expressing a strong preference as opposed to actual, physical discomfort. It is important to note that Sensory Processing Disorder sometimes causes people to be undersensitive to stimuli. For example, your child steps on something sharp and does not feel pain.

Sensory Processing Disorder can be difficult to spot in toddlers. If you keep good notes of the things that you observe about your toddler that concern you, it can help you to determine whether they are persistent. More importantly, your observations can help you to pinpoint which types of sensory stimuli are problematic for your child so that you can devise solutions to help him.