Is Parenting a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder Different?

Is Parenting a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder Different?

Suzanne Fullerton's picture

If my child has SPD, how do I know what are behavioral problems and what are sensory issues?

This is a perplexing and challenging question, and not just for parents. Educators in schools, grandparents, and even some therapists struggle with this issue. It seems so often to have two polar opposite reactions:

One: the reaction built on unawareness or lack of acceptance of SPD being a real, physiological diagnosis, which results in the conclusion that the child misbehaves because the parents have no control or

Two: the reaction built on the awareness and acceptance of SPD as a real, physiological diagnosis resulting in the conclusion that there are now reasons why the child cannot behave, resulting in a more permissive parenting style, suggesting unrealistic school accommodations, and decreasing behavioral expectations for the child.

I prefer to meet in the middle somewhere, with case #3: SPD is a real diagnosis with underlying physiological causes. Children regardless of their diagnosis need clear and consistent boundaries, expectations, and consequences to their behaviors. Children with SPD almost always have difficulty coping and adjusting to the rapid moving world around them. If as a parent/caregiver you can buy into the fact that though tantrums and meltdowns are frequent in your child with SPD, the right mindset of knowing that the child with SPD is teachable will make a remarkable difference in hope for change.

Clear expectations (rules of the house, behaviors expected in the community), consistency and persistency with consequences to the child’s responses (behavioral or emotional) to situations, and clear boundaries (who is in charge and making the rules, parents or child?) are all part of the essesnce of disciplining a child that will eventually lead to healthier and more content parents and children.

These key components will lead to a day where the road is easier and more relaxed, and you find spending time with your child with SPD to be more enjoyable. It most likely takes a different type of behavioral approach as well as therapeutic guidance for children with SPD, however, the basic principles are the same: clear expectation, consistency and persistence with consequences of actions, establishing clear boundaries, and most importantly, knowing that this is a training process which takes time, patience and endurance.

I am in no way minimizing the difficulty of this process. The key is just that…it is a process. And parents for children with SPD are at all different levels of understanding such a necessity of the process. It is my hope that parents come to this understanding sooner than later in their child’s life. Routines at home become centered around the child with SPD often because the family is just trying to survive or in some cases just trying to get out the door in time to get to school. To change parenting in the middle of the road, seems too overwhelming, and quite frankly, as many parents have testified, it is just easier to give in to the demands of the child to have peace for a moment in the household (all understandable!).

Mostly though, I have come to realize that parents do want to make changes, but have not been given effective tools or support or even the right informaiton to do so. That is why therapeutic intervention cannot stop at the four walls of the treatment gym, but the life of the child has to be holistically treated. Parents should be part of the treatment and action plan. SPD cannot be treated without addressing the behaviors that come along with it and the key people involved with the child's growth and development.


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