Sensory Processing Disorder can create some pretty interesting choices and behaviours in children! Some of those choices can seem like they don’t make sense but when you have a better understanding of the “why” behind them, they begin to become more clear.
When our daughter Miss Optimism was younger, I used to get frustrated because I would get all the kids dressed and ready to go out and when I went to get them in the van, I would turn around and she had taken off her clothes and put on a bathing suit. It would be a cold winter day with two feet of snow on the ground and my little girl wanted to wear her bathing suit to the mall!
This happened day after day and my frustration grew. When I hid the bathing suits, she wore gymnastics suits! I had five kids under the age of 10 at the time and it was a lot of work to try to get anywhere on time, let alone when I had one child who was seemingly working against me!
I asked her why she wanted to wear a bathing suit in the winter instead of the lovely clothes she and I had picked out for the day and she couldn’t articulate an answer. I tried giving her choices “would you like to wear the green dress or the blue dress today?”, but inevitably, it ended in her wearing something as tight fitting as she could find.
It wasn’t until after her diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) when we were working with an Occupational Therapist that I finally began to understand why she wanted to wear bathing suits in the winter (and summer, spring and fall!). What had previously seemed like a behaviour issue actually turned out to be a sensory need of hers that wasn’t being met.
We were able to easily fix the issue by purchasing several tight gymnastics leotards* and suggesting that she wear them UNDER her clothing every day. This one tiny change enabled us to finally get out to the vehicle with her wearing clothing suitable for the weather! She wore the suits underneath her other clothing for a number of years and can now wear “regular” clothing most of the time. At times of stress though, she does still prefer to wear things that are tight.
*tip: buy the leotard a size or two too small to create that snugness your child is seeking
The reason for Miss Optimism’s choice in clothing and my subsequent frustration can be explained in one word that you may not be overly familiar with: proprioception. (Try saying that ten times fast!)
What is proprioception?
Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space. For most of us, it is as natural as breathing, but when there are sensory issues, it can require additional input (or less input) to keep that person regulated and keep that sensory system functioning in the way that it should.
Whereas some children with Sensory Processing Disorder avoid hugs, tight fitting clothing or being wrapped in a blanket, others seek out snug fitting garments and love to be wrapped like a sausage in a blanket or hugged tightly. When it comes to proprioception, I have some children who are seekers (like Miss Optimism) and some who are avoiders. It makes for an interesting household!
I am thankful that there is so much more information now than there was back when my daughter was first diagnosed with SPD. All children have sensory needs, whether diagnosed with a sensory issue or not. If you suspect that your child may have Sensory Processing Disorder, you may want to read more about the signs of SPD.
Proprioception seeking behaviours:
- prefers tight fitting clothing
- likes weighted blankets
- enjoys wearing weighted vests
- unknowingly uses too much force
- mistakenly breaks things
- stomps or walks loudly
- difficulty with body awareness
- bumps into objects, walls or people
- kicks, bites, hits
- chews on objects such as pencils or clothing
- gets into others’ personal space
- excessively physically affectionate
- does not realize their own strength
Looking for real answers to your sensory questions? Sensory Processing Explained: a Handbook for Parents and Educators offers real strategies and practical solutions.
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