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Sensory Processing Disorder: Joshua’s Story and the STAR Center’s Treament

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Joshua’s Story

 “I felt helpless because I couldn’t tell other people (including the school) what to do to help Joshua because I didn’t know myself. It is heartbreaking to find out that your child has SPD and not have any idea what to do about it.  Very quickly I went from wondering if I was just a bad parent to knowing that I was completely inadequate to deal with the new reality and not knowing where to look to find the answers.”

                      –Joshua’s Mom

Joshua was withdrawn, prone to outbursts of anger, reluctant to try new things and had communication challenges. Joshua’s mom searched online and found the STAR Center whose therapy program was pioneered as an intensive model… so kids progress faster.    

 What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory Processing Disorder affects 1 in 20 children, which is approximately one child in every classroom. Sadly, misdiagnosis is common because many health care professionals are not trained to recognize sensory issues.

 The symptoms of SPD vary greatly depending upon the sense that is affected, how that sense is affected, and the severity of the condition. People with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound, and movement. They may feel bombarded by information, they may seek out intense sensory experiences, or they may be unaware of sensations that others feel. They may have feeding and weight/growth difficulties. They may also have sensory-motor symptoms such as a weak body, clumsiness or awkwardness or delayed motor skills.

Joshua’s Therapy

The therapist at the STAR Center spent a lot of time pushing Joshua’s social limits. She engaged him in a lot of play that forced him to learn to negotiate, listen to other people’s ideas and compromise. She also worked on helping him translate his thoughts into more articulate language so that he would be able to communicate better with others. She didn’t punish Joshua for his misbehavior. She mentored him and tried to help him analytically understand the different outcomes of his behavior.  This usually led him to self-correction and it was amazing to watch him grow through this process.  

“I have seen Joshua emerge socially in his awareness of his surroundings (no more talking in front of him because he actually listens and responds now).  It seems like his intellect has also been unlocked and he is chatty and interested in everything. He seems confident about going to school.  He is more articulate in his speech (ie. he is able to tell me what he wants or thinks) and doesn’t seem so reluctant to try new things.  And he is fun!!!  He hasn’t been that in a while. Before therapy, I would have never known what to do and I certainly would have gone to bed feeling like a complete failure as a parent.  Thank you for giving me the tools to overcome all of that. It was an absolutely incredible experience! ” 

 starcenterSTAR Center, a Colorado 501(c)(3), is the premier treatment center for children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder, feeding disorders, and other sensory issues associated with other conditions such as ADHD, autism, and a wide variety of additional developmental disorders. Mile High Mamas has partnered with Star Center on this promotion. | 303.221.7827

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  • comment avatar Marta May 21, 2014

    I’m here to tell you therapy helps. I for one have seen my son go from having extreme “sensory processing” issues to being a normal child after an intensive two years of so-called “sensory therapy”. At the age of 3, Jethro was unable/unwilling to go near the beach, touch dirt, touch sponges, be anywhere near bubbles, creams, powder, shaving foam etc. He would vomit on sight if you showed him a bowl of cream, ice-cream, yoghurt, custard or even jelly. Meal times were a nightmare because he would begin to cry if he got any food on his clothes or hands. He would get extreme frights from even vaguely loud noises like vacuum cleaners. He would not eat any kind of sweet, jelly beans/candies, marshmallows etc- he wouldn’t even touch them, and he would get sick just watching someone else eat them.

    So for him, life was an unpleasant experience because he was unable to input sensory stimuli in an appropriate way.

    After just under 24 months of 1-2 times a week therapy focusing on these issues, he is now able to function SO much better- for him the world is now a fun, safe place. He still doesn’t eat sweets, but he can run on the beach, and eat ice-cream by the bowl-full. He has learned if his hands are dirty, he must say “may I have a cloth please.” If offered jello or custard, he can say, “no thanks I don’t like that.” So I think for me what has been helpful is to not think of SPD as a “diagnosis” in a sense, but rather to see it in a similar light to fine/gross motor skill delays- some children will just need a bit of outside help to develop in a so-called “typical” fashion, and some things will just come less “naturally” to some than others. I think because he has been in multiple therapies (also speech and fine motor skill delays, as well as the spd, and some visual/spacial perception difficulties) I have found it easier to accept this as another of his “challenges”.

  • comment avatar Farah May 21, 2014

    I’ve heard statistics as high as one in six children have Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD, but it is often un diagnosed or misdiagnosed, because many children who are Autistic or have ADHD, also have SPD and probably just like me, parents brush off symptoms as nothing, or something they will grow out of, or personality.

  • comment avatar Sabrina May 21, 2014

    I think it definitely can exist on it’s own. I’m an adult who lives with it every day. It’s so hard to explain to people who don’t understand things like I can’t wear a shirt that goes higher than my collar bone because it feels like I’m choking. Or that I almost always wear t-shits because long sleeves make my arms feel trapped. That socks make me want to claw my feet off because they feel wrong. Or that as much as I love the taste of peas the texture makes me want to throw up. Any mushy food does. I drive my husband nuts because if there is a single crumb in the bed I have to wipe down the whole bed. It just doesn’t “feel” right.

    I’ve never been diagnosed with any other disorder, and heck as a kid I wasn’t diagnosed with SPD either, I was just considered odd. But 35 years ago they didn’t diagnose it. I think I would have benefited greatly from this therapy.

  • comment avatar Tammie May 21, 2014

    Both of my kids are highly sensitive to different stimuli. At first, I worried about my daughter. As a toddler, I took her to a special clinic where they did OT b/c she tended to tip-toe (especially when barefoot on grass or carpet) and didn’t like to get her hands gooey or sticky. She would run and hide when the vacuum or lawnmower came out, feared the drive-through car was, etc. However, after two or three visits, I quit. There were so many kids with *major* sensory issues (like head-banging), that my finicky little two-year-old seemed quite normal, and I actually felt foolish taking up the therapist’s time. For the toe-walking, I bought her some ankle-high, lace-up boots that forced her foot into a flexed position and made it almost impossible to tip-toe. For the other stuff, she just outgrew it as she got older and easier to reason with. She is now a pretty carefree eight-year-old, though she is still tightly wound, but she gets that from me. 🙂

    Now I’m going through a similar thing w/my two-year-old boy. He, too, is terrified of the car wash and won’t walk on grass barefoot, though I think this summer he might conquer that fear, since he loves to chase balls around the yard. The biggest annoyance is his resistance to getting his hair combed or his head squirted with water, which was never an issue for my daughter. He was fine with it (whimpered slightly) until about 28 months. Now he screams the minute he sees you come toward him with a comb. Consequently, he hasn’t had a haircut in four months. He is also very shy and, since about 12 months, has shut his eyes around strangers so he won’t have to look at them, despite having been one of the smiliest, friendliest infants who waved to everybody.

    My kids don’t exhibit any of the other more severe signs of SPD that would cause me to worry about them eventually reaching a “normal” state of sensory processing by kindergarten. So, for me, clinically diagnosing them and getting therapy would just be overkill. Plus, it would stress me out terribly by adding one more thing I’m supposed to try to do each week. (The clinic is a half-hour drive from my house, which would kill two hours of my day, once you figure in driving there and back, plus an appointment.) So we’ve just decided to work through their quirks at home and try to avoid certain activities that will cause a meltdown if they are already in a tired, cranky mood. However, sometimes we purposely introduce stimuli (like when I bought my daughter her own battery-operated, toy vacuum) to help them overcome their fears. I think for most toddlers, some amount of SPD or sensitivity is probably a normal thing and many, outgrow it. Therapy is also important.

  • comment avatar Sarah May 21, 2014

    As a mental health therapist specializing in birth to five, I worked closely with OTs and PTs on a daily basis. This new policy statement is upsetting to me on many levels (I just read it at the AAP site also). In my experience, most children with other “disorders” do have sensory processing challenges. But sensory-processing can also exist on its own. Many children would not fit well into another diagnosis, resulting in inappropriate treatment. I wonder how many pediatric developmental therapists were consulted, and why pediatricians who aren’t trained in the complex sensory system would be diagnosing SPD anyway.

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