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Working towards inclusion. Understanding SPD
Sometimes it just happens. Everything in class looked as usual. You really can’t understand what happened out of the ordinary. Yet, you still have to deal with that child that started putting up a “tantrum.”
Maybe its not the first time and their behavior is starting to get to your nerves as much as those of the other students. Through time you might even recognize some mocking statements, from the peers, addressing the unusual behavior of the kid. You might feel the situation is strange. The kids might find that class mate strange. And the fella will probably start feeling strange as well! Resorting, eventually, to a more avoidant behavior toward the class and your activities.
Time passes and you really feel to have lost that student… And the worst thing? You probably can’t really figure out why!
SPD is an acronym that stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. It is a native condition or acquired (neuro developmental disorder), that consists in the inability to process sensory stimuli in the same way most other people do. Almost anyone can develop and suffer from SPD, yet there are a few cases in which it really stands out like: ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper activity Disorder), Fibromyalgia, PTSD/c PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex variant) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
As you can see SPD might regard both Neuro divergent students as much as Neuro Typical with a difficult back ground (family violence, emotional neglect, coming from a foreign country, being displaced due to war etc.) Thus, making them eligible for Special Needs Education and requiring a different approach to foster class inclusion.
SPD may be further distinguished in Hypersensitivity (an enhanced sensorial stimulation regarding a variety of triggers with consequent overreaction to the environment) or Hyposensitivity (a reduced ability to feel sensory stimuli and consequent underreaction to the environment.)
But what are the risks of SPD and why isn’t that difficult kid’s reaction just a “tantrum?”
Frequent triggers to Hypersensitivity
Visual triggers: When a lot is happening visually, like in a crowded mall or videos with fast moving images and interactions. Harsh, flickering or bright lights.
Auditory triggers: Loud noises or multiple sounds going on at the same time. Most people might not be able to hear or pay attention to the specific sound causing problems to the person with SPD, making it harder to understand what is going on.
Smell triggers: Specific smells or a particular intensity might be unbearable to the SPD person. Just like sound triggers, most people, might not even feel the smell.
Taste triggers: Particular flavors or temperature of foods might be cause of great discomfort.
Touch triggers: Clothes, particular textures and foods can result in a feeling of pain.
What are the consequences of triggering Hypersensitivity?
Sensory overload: Being exposed to overstimulating triggers all day may result to be extremely taxing both physically and emotionally leaving the person too exhausted to do other important things. Prologued exposure would lead to intense feelings of anxiety, attempts to avoid or escape the situation, difficulty communicating and finally Burn-out.
This happens as a result of the brain putting all the effort into sensory processing and having to shut down other functions like speech, information processing and decision making.
A complete list of Symptoms include - Anxiety
-Anger and irritability
-Difficulty with sleep
-Inability to ignore the stimuli causing discomfort
-Increased heart rate
-Not wanting to be touched or approached
Shutdown: Difficulty communicating or responding as the brain shifts resources to deal with sensory input
Meltdown: Escalating, overwhelming emotions or need to escape a situation
Covering ears and or closing eyes as an attempt to reduce stimulation.
What are the consequences of Hyposensitivity?
Difficulty recognizing hunger or the need to go to the toilet
Not feeling pain when accidentally cut by a sharp object
Not feeling when an injury like a broken bone occurs
Increased movement, such as jumping, spinning or crashing into things
Talking faster and louder
Frequent chewing on non-food items
Frequent touching of others or playing rough
In both cases Stimming may occur as a way to soothe the sensory issue and it may look like a variety of repetitive actions:
Hand flapping and fingers entangling
Making repetitive noises
Rocking back and forth
Sitting on the floor swirling around
Or the person might engage in other behaviors like
Sensory-seeking: Such as sniffing objects, staring intently at moving or rotating objects
Sensory-avoidance: The continuous attempt, through out the day to avoid lights, sounds, particular textures and interactions associated as triggers to the experience of overload.
Distraction: Engaging intensely with a favorite sensation such as eating sweets, touching a favorite texture, pressing a button.
From all of this we can understand that…
The problems our SPD students face are real, hard to detect and incredibly crippling. Persistence might lead to important health complications impairing our student’s ability to progress. Shut-down, stimming, sensory-seeking, sensory-avoidance and distraction are not our student misbehaving but immediate strategies in the attempt to cope with the sensory issue. Not understanding the underlying difficulties behind SPD may result in the student’s isolation, persistence of the most common coping mechanisms and inability to find new strategies and solutions to accommodate.
It is very important to encourage such students to verbalize their difficulty and point out the trigger.
Examples of accommodations for hypersensitivity:
Using light covers, sunglasses or a hat under fluorescent lights
Wearing ear plugs or headphones in noisy environments
Working in spaces with a closed door or high walls
Avoiding strongly scented products
Choosing foods that avoid aversions to textures, temperatures or spices
Wearing soft, comfortable clothing
Adjusting schedules to avoid crowds
Examples of accommodations for hyposensitivity:
Visual supports for those who have difficulty processing spoken information
Using fidget toys, chewies and other sensory tools
Arranging furniture to provide safe, open spaces
Taking frequent movement breaks throughout the day
Eating foods with strong flavors or mixed textures
Weighted blankets, lap pads or clothing that provides deep pressure
To learn more and discuss SEN and Inclusion Jump with us! And enroll in our courses
SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS - Practices and policies in the European context
Let's make Inclusion at school. Non-Formal Education is the answer
Green S.A. et al. Am. J. Psychiatry Epub ahead of print (2019) PubMed
Integrated Treatment Services / Sensory Processing Disorder In Autism:
The National Autistic Society / Sensory issues:
van der Kolk, Bessel A. “The Body Keeps The Score: Memory And The Evolving Psychobiology Of Posttraumatic Stress”. (2021) Harvard Review Of Psychiatry.
Hypersensitivity: Could it be sensory processing disorder? (2018).
Lane SJ and Reynolds S. (2019). Sensory over-responsivity as an added dimension in ADHD.
Owen JP, et al. (2013). Abnormal white matter microstructure in children with sensory processing disorders.
Giuseppe Perrotti, JUMP Trainer