Understanding Sensory Processing Difficulties in Children and How It Impacts Their Adult Life

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is not caused due to illness or injury. It is a condition that exists from early childhood and, if left unaddressed, it can lead to a variety of problems. Some of these can include feeding difficulties, which can adversely affect their neurodevelopment, physical growth and health, toileting skills and other daily functions.

Childhood sensory difficulties are linked to many diagnoses, such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD, and other challenges with social-emotional and behavioural functioning. Many parents wonder if their child will simply outgrow these issues, however, there is no evidence that suggests a child will outgrow SPD if it is left untreated.

Rather, studies suggest that there is a strong connection between SPD symptoms in childhood and SPD symptoms in adulthood. If SPD is not addressed early, it can continue to develop and affect an individual well into adulthood. When a child experiences consistent difficulties in regulating their own body's needs and emotions, it impacts their ability to function normally, develop socially, perform well in school, and affects their family's overall quality of life.

How our brain interprets sensory information affects our emotional and social reactions. When there are problems with this processing, it can lead to negative reactions and unhealthy behaviours. How we behave and how others react to us can also impact our self-perception.

Research has shown that experiencing significant stress or negative events during childhood is linked to depression, anxiety, poor self-image, inattention, and emotional dysregulation later in life. Patients with various types of mental health disorders may exhibit increased levels of low registration, sensory sensitivity, sensory avoidance, and decreased sensory seeking behaviour.

Studies have found that individuals with mental health conditions have different sensory processing preferences compared to the general population. This indicates SPD may be a common trait across a range of mental health conditions and that future studies exploring the extent and impact of SPD on these disorders could lead to better non-medication treatments and outcomes. This information can be used to create targeted interventions that address an individual's specific sensory needs in relation to their daily activities.

Even though the use of sensory equipment is common, it is different for older individuals. Instead of focusing on play and imagination, like with children, occupational therapists (OTs) focus on actively engaging adolescent and adult clients at a cognitive level. The OT uses strength-based and interest-based strategies to increase confidence and purpose in life. They aim to help clients understand SPD, their own sensory profile, and how different sensory experiences affect them emotionally and physiologically.

Adolescent and adult clients will learn to identify activities that comfort them and those that cause discomfort. With the help of an OT, they develop strategies and plans to deal with these sensory experiences during their daily activities. The frequency of treatment depends on the client's needs and could be weekly or consultative.

Sensory-trained therapists who specialise in adolescents and adults are becoming more prevalent due to their unique needs. The number of sensory specialists with a focus on adolescents and adults is increasing, but is still significantly lower than those who work with children. However, mental health providers and paediatricians are starting to understand the relationship between sensory processing disorders and emotional well-being, and are seeking guidance from sensory-based OTs.

For those living with SPD, feeling happy, peaceful, and positive is not necessarily linked to a certain age or phase of life. Instead, it comes to those who have taken control of their SPD, by gaining knowledge and taking action.

Parents and adults managing SPD should take control of their condition by seeking help from a qualified OT, who can provide individualised assessments and interventions to identify the underlying causes of sensory issues and develop strategies to manage them. Working with a specialist like us helps individuals to better understand their sensory system, develop the tools to cope and manage difficult situations, and gain confidence in their own problem-solving abilities.

Taking control today can help your child live a happier life tomorrow!

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