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Differentiating Between Behavior and Sensory Problems

Differentiating Between Behavior and Sensory Problems

Now that more is understood about sensory processing disorder (SPD), parents are often faced with the difficult task of trying to determine whether their child is expressing normal behavior for their age or dealing with a deeper issue. Naturally, almost every child exhibits a symptom of SPD such as having a meltdown in the middle of a crowded store. Yet, you would need to use a different approach to calm a child with SPD than you might with one who is just having a typical toddler tantrum. While it takes a professional diagnosis to accurately identify a child with SPD, you can use this guide to help you differentiate between what is most likely normal childlike behavior and what might be a true sensory problem. 

Know What Is Normal for Your Child’s Age Level
Children exhibit specific behaviors that are common during each age level. For instance, toddlers are known for having tantrums if they cannot have something that they want. Alternatively, a preschool-aged child who lives in a quiet environment might cover their ears if they hear a loud truck drive by. While these are normal behaviors, you might be concerned if your child does something that is not typically age-appropriate. For instance, a seven-year-old should be able to sit and focus long enough for a teacher to read a story whereas a toddler wouldn’t be expected to hold their attention span for as long. 

Assess the Situation Surrounding the Behavior 
Behavioral issues often stem from a stimulus that does not always generate the same reaction. For example, a child who is overtired may throw a tantrum in a crowded store that they normally love to visit. Alternatively, a child with SPD may have the same negative reaction every time they go to the store due to being overwhelmed by the lights, noise, or general atmosphere. You may also notice that a child exhibiting normal behavioral issues will calm down when they get what they want. However, a child with SPD may not even know what they want, or they may still continue their meltdown even if you give in to their behavior. 

Understand the Overlap Between Behavior and Sensory Issues 
Just about every child has a few symptoms that are common in people with sensory problems. For instance, your child may hate wearing scratchy clothing, or they may prefer to avoid noisy environments such as a busy restaurant even if they do not have an actual disorder. On the same note, children with SPD are also capable of exhibiting normal child behaviors such as being anxious about a new experience or getting mad if they are not allowed to do something that they want. For this reason, you may find it best to utilize a variety of methods to control undesirable behaviors as you learn more about your child’s personality. 

Address Specific Symptoms and Behaviors 
Children with true SPD tend to need a combination of professional therapeutic services and at-home support to thrive. However, all children can benefit from specific strategies that you can use to help them get a handle on their behavior. Some methods include using seamless socks if your child detests wearing shoes or giving your child headphones to block out noise in a loud environment. Learning how to tap into what works with your child allows you to help them no matter what may be stimulating their behavior. 

The process of identifying SPD takes time. Until then, you must rely upon your best judgment as a parent to help your child feel comfortable as they learn how to control their emotions and behavior. Be willing to try new strategies to deal with challenging behaviors as they arise so that your child benefits from a well-rounded approach that supports their development.








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