This post has advice and information for parents of children with sensory issues from an expert in the field of sensory integration! Kelly Beins is an Occupational Therapist certified in sensory integration, and owner of a private practice, Occupational Therapy Consulting, LLC. Ms. Beins is the author of Ovis Has Trouble with School. She hopes children with sensory challenges will be able to relate with Ovis. Ovis is her main character and is a lovable sheep that has sensory processing issues; therefore, he misbehaves. He isn’t BAD he’s just bothered!
Ms. Beins took part in our Author Interview Series on our Special Needs Book Review site. Her responses are perfect for parents, educators, and other caregivers that read our Special Needs Blog posts; therefore, we are posting some of her answers below. Find links at the end of this post to her complete interview and to the review of her book.
Lorna: Congratulations on your adorable book, Ovis Has Trouble with School! It is written for children with sensory issues, ages 4-8. I love your sentence, “He isn’t BAD he’s just bothered!” Explain to our readers some ways that show how “bothered” a child with sensory processing disorder can be and how it can make him act as if he is misbehaving.
<<Kelly Beins: Thank you Lorna! Yes, kids with sensory challenges often seem to be misbehaving because they are not in control of their bodies and sensory issues are internal meaning they aren’t always obvious to outside observers, like a physical disability might be.
Children with SPD are often over-responding or under-responding to the sights, sounds, movements and other various sensations that are an inherent part of simply “being” in the world as a child. Some things you might see a child with sensory challenges do are things we’ve hi-lighted in our Ovis stories…they might seek lots of movement and not be able to sit still, they might make noises like humming or lack volume control so they seem to be yelling, they may play really rough or use too much force on toys or with people because they don’t have as much control over how they respond or they need more input than a typical child so they squeeze or pull really hard.
Alternately though, some children with sensory issues, avoid. They may refuse to do things and seem oppositional or rigid; they may require things to be a certain way like sitting in the same chair, not standing or following in line because it’s too close to other children or avoiding hugs & kisses from relatives, or refusing to get dressed, wear certain fabrics or not eat certain foods. Because sensory processing is about how the brain and body are working together, the avoiding and/or seeking is an attempt by the nervous system to re-calibrate or re-set. These things are not done out of ill will or desire to misbehave.
Red Flags Indicating Sensory Issues
Lorna: What are some « red flags » that parents can notice that indicate their child has sensory issues? What would be the first steps parents should take to help their child with sensory challenges?
<<Kelly Beins: The decision to seek help for SPD is something unique to each family. What is a problem for one child and family is not a problem for another and vice versa. So aside from offering a checklist for SPD Symptoms (I do have one on my website: www.otc-frederick.com or I always encourage parents to go to spdstar.org ), I also encourage parents to consider intensity, duration, and frequency.
- How often is the behavior or symptom happening?
- How long does it last?
- How intense is the upset?
If the answers are: “It happens frequently or all the time, in many places, and the upsets are lasting upwards of 45 minutes or more…” clearly that is a functional problem. We also always consider disruption to daily roles and tasks that a child is expected to perform. If the family stress level is becoming unmanageable, the child can’t go to school or struggles every day at home or school to do basic things like sleeping, eating, using the toilet, getting dressed, getting along with peers or siblings, completing homework etc. and the child can’t get through basic tasks or the family can’t get through their day without significant upset, then SPD could be a contributing or a primary factor to consider. Also, if the child is not progressing, for example a toddler who won’t get dressed is not atypical in and of itself. But if that same toddler continues to tantrum every day when it’s time to put on underwear, shirts, and socks and that child screams for an hour and is now 5 years old, it’s worth seeking an assessment.
The first step in getting help is to find an occupational therapist with training in sensory integration (SI) to complete an assessment. Like many health professions there are specializations and SI is a sub-specialty in pediatric occupational therapy. This advanced training can come in multiple forms and finding an OT with a background in sensory integration will be most helpful to families struggling with this set of challenges. There is a treatment directory on the STAR Center website (https://www.spdstar.org/treatment-directory) where families can locate OT’s in their state. An assessment will determine if SPD exists, and what type of intervention and/or home program is most suited to that child.
Sensory Challenges with Other Conditions
Lorna: We often hear that many children with autism also have sensory challenges. Dr. Temple Gradin explains in most of her books how difficult her sensory issues have made her life. I have a grandchild and daughter with Tourette syndrome and they have sensory issues also; therefore, your “Ovis Series” will be appreciated by many! How prevalent is sensory processing disorder (SPD)?
<<Kelly Beins: This is a great question and there is lots of misperception out there regarding sensory processing and autism as well as other diagnoses! Your example of your own grandchildren is a perfect example, and thank you! We hope Ovis will be helpful to many and we know there is a need!
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself (yet) but sensory symptoms do exist with other established medical diagnoses, including autism. The most recent version of the DSM (Physician’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), the DSM- 5th edition, was just revised in 2013. At that time, sensory symptoms became one of multiple primary diagnostic criteria indicating an autism diagnosis. Research suggests that anywhere from 69% to 93% of children with autism have sensory symptoms (McCormick et.al, 2016). There is some research that shows increased sensory symptoms in children who have ADHD, OCD, Tourettes and even anxiety but more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made about true incidence with these other diagnoses. There is definitive research that shows SPD occurs in anywhere from 5-16% of the general school-aged population (spdstar.org). I keep citing the STAR Center because they are the leading treatment and research center for SPD. Their website has a library of research articles and easy to read summaries if people want to understand more about SPD and how it’s connected to other conditions.
Follow Kelly Beins:
- Facebook Ovis Has Trouble
- Facebook Occupational Therapy Consulting, LLC
- Twitter: @OvisThe
- Website: www.ovisthesheep.com
- Interview Kelly Beins OTR/L: About Sensory Integration, Private Practice, Book Series
- Review of Ovis Has Trouble with School by Kelly Beins
- CHILDREN’S BOOK ON SENSORY CHALLENGES – OVIS HAS TROUBLE WITH SCHOOL BY KELLY BEINS, OTR/