It is very hard to identify when your child is just being a child and when your child might have some sensory needs. Parents have approached me asking if this is just a phase their child will outgrow. Other parents will notice differences between siblings and realize that there is an issue.
When a child is young, it is very difficult to understand what is going on inside their heads as they have limited speech. They can’t say “I am feeling frustrated” or “I don’t like the way the sock is sitting over my toes.” We as parents must learn our children’s unspoken language to understand their needs. I remember people telling me you will learn what your baby wants by their cries. I thought this was silly. How can you hear the difference in a cry between “I am hungry” and “I need a diaper change”?? After a few weeks of hearing my baby cry, I quickly deciphered what they needed. This allowed a strong bond to form as my child learned that I would assist them in whatever they needed.
But what happens when there is a cry and your child is not soothed by your actions??? This causes stress and anxiety in both parent and child. There are signs you can look out for to see if your child’s sensory processing skills are impacting their behaviors. Here are a few tips to help you identify if your child has Sensory Processing Disorders early on.
If your baby is having a particularly difficult time eating from a nipple or a bottle, this could indicate difficulty with textures. Gagging is another sign of sensory processing disorders. If your baby doesn’t want to touch certain foods or textures or even does not tolerate the smell of food those are all indicative of your baby having sensory concerns.
Low Muscle Tone
Babies with low muscle tone also tend to have Sensory Processing Disorders. Their low tone makes it harder for them to suck during feeding resulting in fatigue. I have noticed that babies and toddlers with low muscle tone limit their food intake to easily digestible foods as chewing makes requires tone and coordination in the mouth.
Don’t Like Being Swaddled or Thrown in the Air
Most babies with SPD don’t like to be swaddled or thrown in the air. Textures will also make them feel uncomfortable such as the type of clothing or blanket used. Babies with a hyper response will overreact to movement such as swings or being tossed into the air.
No Messy Play
Babies love to get dirty while eating and playing. Children with SPD will not want to get dirty. They will avoid finger painting, playdoh and dislike the feeling of grass and sand.
Limited Play Skills
Children with SPD will avoid right, messy, and noisy areas. They will limit their play skills to the toys they like and won’t explore outside of them.
Delays in Motor Development
Babies might limit movement and play impacting their developmental milestones. If a baby doesn’t roll or tolerate tummy time then they won’t have the strength to push up onto their arms. This will limit their ability to crawl. Crawling is crucial for motor planning and crossing their midline. These skills are required for more advanced coordinated movements later in life.
The good news is once your child is identified as having SPD, there are many ways you can help. Your baby can receive Early Intervention. Early Intervention is a great system to help babies through the age of three to get therapy and other services to help your child advance in their skills.
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.