Q&A: How Can I Tell if My Child Has a Sensory Processing Disorder?

Tamara GuoChild Development, Pre-Schoolers 36 - 60 Months

blockquote_bgI have a 4-year-old son who recently joined a program for kids to teach them basics of running, hitting & kicking a ball. He has attended twice with approximately 20 other 4/5 year olds. Each team is comprised of 5 children. In my observations my son and another ran, played, and acted silly during the duration of the 60 minute program. One boy in particular has consistently touched others by pulling hair, pushing, stealing the ball and generally disregarding his mother (the “coach”) during the game. Each time this child touched or pushed my son, my son told the “coach.” Finally on the third day, my son pushed this other little boy back. They did this back and forth during the session. My son did not respond to the “coach” pulling him by the arm. He resisted as he has been taught to do with a stranger by myself and his father as he is not familiar with her after (2) 40-60 minute sessions.
After the session, this “coach” came up to me and asked if my son had ever been tested for “OT”. I did not know what it was and she explained that her son has a Sensory Disorder. I have looked up the characteristics of this disorder and at best with all of the different sensory groups, my son MAY touch on 2 or 3 single characteristics, as does almost EVERY young child I know. This “coach” then also informed me that she was a teacher after self-diagnosing my son. My question would be, is it possible for a child to be diagnosed by someone who has had very limited exposure to the child? And how many characteristics are needed to be relative in order for a confirmed diagnosis to be made? Of the 7 sensory categories, each composes 6-10 characteristics…my son maybe had 2 from visual… that included lining blocks, cars up in a line, taking things apart and putting them back together, and attraction to street lights, and shiny things…spoons and metal shiny wrenches..holding them close and appearing to inspect them. He has outgrown the fascination with lights and shiny things, but still likes to pretend to have the cars lined up on a “highway” and likes to tinker with things like his father and grandfather.
His speech is above average, he can write his name, knows his address and phone number, all the letters of the alphabet, numbers and can use scissors and color in the lines. He does not shy away from touch (unless he’s in trouble), and does like to hold hands or hug girls. We are an affectionate family. Maybe I am wrong but I thought this was how children LEARNED about the environment around them. Any feedback or advice you can give would be appreciated as I was a bit offended by this “coach” who prior to this day had not said a simple “hello” to me.

Someone cannot diagnose a child on sight (teacher or not) with a sensory disorder simply by basing it on his play during a game which indeed requires some physical contact with other children. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is diagnosed by a trained clinician, based on clinical observation over a variety of settings, parent report and standardized testing. Many typically developing little boys in the 3-5 age group will have the tendency to want to rough house, push & tackle each other during physical play, especially if someone else is touching/grabbing them first. As you said, there are many typical children who might have several characteristics of a sensory disorder, we all do, but not actually have a problem with sensory integration.

Children with a true sensory processing disorder exhibit characteristics in visual, auditory, tactile, oral or vestibular/proprioceptive processing or a combination of these areas that affect their behavior and ability to complete every days tasks. After reading about SPD, if you are personally concerned that your son may have a sensory disorder, he should be seen by someone who specializes in sensory processing-typically an occupational therapist, who can determine if your son indeed has any difficulties which warrant therapy. You can read more about the disorder on our web page. This is a resource for testing in your area. Education For Handicapped Children’s Program (EHCP) Committee On Preschool Education (CPSE) (3-5) is a program is for children (age 3 through 5) with suspected or confirmed delays that will affect learning. This program is directed through the New York State Department of Education to transition identified children into the formal school system. The EHCP process will determine placement opportunities and services to benefit your child and your family at no cost to you.