Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a complex condition, typically diagnosed during childhood, that involves the mind struggling to interpret and respond to sensory information. It can involve over- or under-experiencing certain stimuli, including touch, sound, smell, vision, and can be a source of serious discomfort and isolation particularly for young children of school age.
Because the mind is so complex, sensory processing disorder can be experienced in a variety of different ways depending on the specifics of the individual. In this summary, we’re going to particularly emphasise auditory processing disorders, or the way our hearing sense may be affected by SPD.
Some common symptoms of auditory processing disorders include:
- Issues with focus or concentration, particularly at school.
- Panic or distress when faced with certain noises, such as breaking glass, vacuum cleaners, or cries.
- Trouble remembering verbal instructions.
While these are only the specific auditory features, SPD typically can affect multiple forms of sensory input. You should also be aware of other signs affecting other sensory inputs, including but not limited to:
- Awkwardness around touch, particularly not liking being dirty or certain textures (sticky hands, etc).
- Strong aversion to certain smells or foods, particularly smells that others can’t seem to recognise.
Is sensory processing the same as autism?
Short answer: no. While some individuals with autism spectrum disorders may also present with behaviours that overlap with SPD, one does not necessarily indicate the other.
Sensory processing disorder can be isolating, particularly for its ability to impede a child’s verbal communication with their friends or their participation in school. Managing auditory triggers can be a crucial step in allowing your child to feel safe and comfortable in their environment, allowing them to benefit from all the academic and emotional growth that accompanies school.
There are a few management approaches: for auditory processing particularly, it’s important to speak to your GP to ensure that the school is adequately managing your child’s condition. Some solutions include:
- Seating your child towards the front of the class, away from fans, heaters, windows, or anything that might cause disruptive noise.
- Organising for your teacher to speak through a small microphone, direct into your child’s ears, to ensure they’re able to hear and learn.
- Using hearing protection to help drown out distracting or triggering noises to prevent discomfort.
Particularly if your child’s auditory processing disorder overlaps with other sensitivities, a good set of ear plugs can be a significant quality of life improvement. A great choice is the Alpine Pluggies which is a multifunction plug appropriate for school, swimming lessons, music lessons, flying, and just generally reducing triggering noises.
By keeping water out of the ear, the Pluggies can prevent painful ear infections, while also protecting your child against discomforting sensations. With up to 30dB of sound protection, it takes the edge of triggering noises, allowing your child to play and roam happily without fear for their auditory sensitivities. Alpine’s filters allow them to hear conversation, though for children whose processing is severe it’s best to check their level of hearing to ensure they’re not missing out in class.
Many sensory processing disorders improve with age, though to ensure your child’s ears are protected as they enter adolescence, it’s worth also considering the Flare Calmer. The Calmer’s sizing fits better for adults and teens, and it works by softening the entrance of sound waves into the ear, mitigating the distortion that can contribute to the triggering feeling that individuals experience with auditory processing disorders. They don’t block any sound, but rather change how it is interpreted by the brain, with many users reporting significant improvement in their sound vulnerabilities when worn.
Sensory processing disorders are complex and initially difficult to diagnose, but they are absolutely possible to manage. Diagnosis is key to improving your child’s quality of life, with a variety of therapies and interventions available to ensure your child remains happy and healthy through their early years. A good set of hearing protection can be the difference maker in mitigating trigger noises and avoiding pain and discomfort.