Temperamental or Fussy Child? Therapy Can Help!


All parents have heard of the “Terrible Twos.” But, what happens when this type of behavior starts just a few months after birth or never seems to end?

Do you know a child who has temperament issues? Is the child very fussy about what they wear, eat, or do? If so, therapy can help. A large percentage of children who exhibit this type of behavior have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – a condition that exists when sensory signals in the brain don’t get organized into appropriate responses.

SPD is likened 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, thus creating challenges in performing everyday tasks. Clumsiness, emotional meltdowns, disobedience, attention craving, tactile or temperature intolerance, anxiety, depression, school failure, among other problems, may occur if the disorder is not treated effectively.

Sensory Processing Disorder can affect just one sense or multiple senses can be involved. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find some clothing, physical contact, light, sound or food to be very troubling or even unbearable. Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. They crash into things or often touch people or objects as they move about. Often these children are called “klutzy” or at the other end, diagnosed with ADHD.

The cause of SPD is a pressing question for every parent of a child with the disorder. Often, they think it was caused by something they did or could have prevented. Research suggests that SPD is often inherited; if so, the causes of SPD are coded into the child’s genetic material. Prenatal and birth complications have also been implicated, and environmental factors may be involved. Most children with SPD are just as intelligent as their peers or may appear intellectually gifted; their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to the way they process information, and they need leisure activities that fit their own sensory processing needs.

Once SPD has been accurately diagnosed, children benefit from a treatment program of Occupational Therapy (OT) with sensory integration (SI) techniques. When appropriate and applied by a well-trained clinician, music therapy or other complementary therapies may be combined effectively with OT-SI. During OT sessions, the therapist guides the child through fun activities that are structured so that the child is constantly challenged, but always successful. The goal of OT is to stimulate appropriate responses to sensation in an active, meaningful and fun way, so that the child is able to behave in a more functional manner. Over time, the appropriate responses carry over to home, school, and during all activities. Effective OT enables kids with SPD to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing and sleeping.

For more information, consult an occupational therapist with sensory integration training.

Most children with SPD are just as intelligent as their peers or may appear intellectually gifted; their brains are simply wired differently.


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