Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how people perceive and interact with their environment. For some people, SPD can make everyday tasks such as getting dressed or eating difficult. Sensory processing refers to the way in which we take in information through our senses, and those with SPD may struggle to process certain sensations correctly. Speech therapy can be beneficial for individuals with SPD, as it can help improve communication and interaction skills. Here, we'll be covering what SPD is and how speech therapy can help manage its symptoms below. Read more!
In this article we will discuss:
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how the brain processes sensory stimulation. Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses. SPD usually means you are either overly sensitive or under-sensitive to one or more stimulation.
Children with sensory issues can be hyposensitive or hypersensitive to sensory stimulation. Hyposensitive kids are under-responsive to stimulation. This means they need more sensory stimulation. They often love to move around and crash into things. However, hypersensitive kids are overly responsive to certain stimulation. They avoid strong sensory stimulation and get overwhelmed easily.
We all have eight sensory systems.
This includes five basic external senses namely the visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and tactile. Moreover, we also have three internal senses namely proprioception, vestibular, and interoception. Let’s talk about them one by one.
Speech therapy can help kids with a sensory processing disorder
Visual Sense (sight)
Visual processing is the brain’s ability to process the information the eyes take in. Children with difficulties processing visual information may appear to be sensitive or enjoy bright lights.
Children with difficulties processing visual information may benefit from speech toys such as:
Zig Zag water maze
Liquid motion water toy
Light and movement projectors
These calming and visually pleasing toys can control a child from being visually overloaded to maximize learning opportunities.
Auditory Sense (hear)
Auditory processing is the ability of the brain to process the information the ears take in. Children with difficulties processing auditory information may appear to be sensitive or enjoy loud music. Children may either like sensory processing disorder toys such as :
White noise machines
Drums of all shapes and sizes
Music for mindfulness/YOGA/meditation to calm
Children might be sensitive to or under-sensitive to these sensory processing disorder toys. It is up to your occupational therapist to choose what specific sound your child prefers.
Olfactory Sense (smell)
Processing different smells travel to the limbic system where emotions are processed. This is why you remember grandma if you smell an apple pie on the streets of London! Children with difficulties processing olfactory may not tolerate different scents. They can either want sensory processing disorder toys such as:
Shaving crème play
Messy food play
Depending on what a child needs, they can be either worn on the body, integrated into play, infused into everyday items, or diffused into a room.
Gustatory Sense (taste)
Children with a well-regulated gustatory sense can tolerate and welcome the introduction of new food. However, others may or may not like the texture or taste of different food.
Tactile Sense (touch)
The tactile sense is the largest sensory system because the skin is the largest organ in the body. The skin contains sensory receptors for touch, temperature, pressure, and vibration. If you have difficulties processing tactile input, you may not like tight-fitting clothes or lack awareness of being touched or bumped. Depending on what the child needs, they can either benefit from tactile toys such as:
Weighted lap pads
Weighted Compression Vest
Under Armor or snug-fitting t-shirts and undergarments
Tactile toys such as ball Pits
Massagers that vibrate
Rolling massage tools
Tactile toys such as roll tennis ball on the back and all over the body
Cozy-knit of seamless clothing
Generally, deep massage can lighten the mood because it releases serotonin or the “happy” hormone. However, using these tactile toys can highly improve learning opportunities.
Proprioceptive Sense (Body position and awareness sense)
Sensory information comes through receptors in the muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. This sense allows you to know where your body is without having to look. Problems with proprioception include seeking out constant input to muscles and joints, craving for high-impact jumping, or flapping hands or arms excessively. They can benefit from playing speech toys such as:
Air cushion seats/Move-n-sit Cushion
Wall and chair push-ups
Pool noodles (when cut in half can serve as a balance beam)
Satisfying the child’s needs and wants can improve learning outcomes during therapy and overall well-being.
The vestibular sense is the most powerful sensory system. Its main job is to regulate our sense of balance. Kids with vestibular problems may have difficulty choosing a dominant hand due to difficulty with bilateral integration.
The interceptors are internal sensors that tell you about the physiological condition of your body related to pain/Sickness, itch, thirst, hunger, need to use the bathroom, fatigue, breathlessness, heart rate, and subjective feelings of one’s emotions.
Children might act differently from others in public places. These behaviors happen because the child is having trouble processing the information they receive from these eight senses. Some individuals with SPD experience speech and language delays or difficulties in communication skills.
Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder is treated by an experienced occupational therapist. However, all educators, speech therapists, pediatric therapists, and school administrators need to have a basic understanding of sensory processing and be equipped with strategies on ways to support children who struggle with self-regulation.
The speech and language therapist will carry out an initial assessment that will highlight any problems the individual has with their speech, language or communication. An initial assessment will also determine the type and severity of the individual’s difficulties.
Following a thorough speech and language therapy assessment an intervention plan will be formulated. Each intervention plan will be individualized and tailored to the specific needs and abilities of the patient.
Sensory processing disorder during speech therapy
Sensory processing disorders are most common in children with the autism disorder spectrum. Since speech-language pathologists handle patients with sensory processing disorders, it is vital for them to understand how to handle them when it comes. In doing so, we can understand the root of the behavior, avoid meltdowns, and make progress in intervention.
Speech-language therapists work with feeding skills. Children who are over-responsive to tactile input can also affect the tactile receptors in the mouth. Some children may be defensive to new textures, transitioning from a liquid (milk) to solid (fruits) diet. They might also be aversive to certain utensils such as plastic or silver spoon or even certain types of cups. If children are aversive to sensory input to the mouth, it can also affect their ability to produce different speech sound since these speech sounds need rapid and accurate alternating movements of the articulators.
Learning new skills such as gestures, pointing, and writing are tasks that need body awareness. Children with difficulties in proprioception may have a hard time developing these skills and other skills requiring movement. The same can be said about speech therapy for teens with sensory processing disorder. Many of the same goals will apply, especially depending on where an older child or teen is in their treatment progress.
The vestibular and auditory systems work hand in hand as both systems process sensations of movement and sound. These senses are closely connected since both begin to be processed in the receptors of the ears. The vestibular sense is tied to speech and language development, as it is the integration of the vestibular and auditory senses that allows for the processing of auditory information. It also influences motor control and motor planning needed for speech production.
Best speech toys and activities for sensory processing disorder
Before each session, it is better to know what type of sensory processing disorder a child has. The speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist work hand in hand to ensure the potential of each child. Aligning therapy activities with an occupational therapist can help maximize learning opportunities.
Some sensory processing disorder toys or sensory strategies include:
Stretching such as yoga poses
Heavy activities such as bouncing on a ball
Listening to calming or loud music
Taking deep breaths and resting quietly
Working on a puzzle
Reading a book
Taking a walk
Getting a drink
For speech therapists, patience is key. It is important to understand that these children are not overreacting! Tantrums or meltdowns can be a symptom of sensory processing difficulties. Visit an occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist. At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.
About the Author
I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.
I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.