What Parents Should Know About Sensory Processing Disorders

Information and Resources for Parents


Published:

"Why on earth would you put your brother's dirty shoe in your mouth?" I asked my 4-year-old son.

"I want to feel it with the inside of my mouth," he explained.

My son is a sensation seeker. He loves tight bear hugs, anything wet and messy, Texas Pete on his eggs, and the louder the music, the better. Most of the time, he is a delight. These sensory preferences become a problem, however, when he hugs his friends at school too tight or refuses to put his clothing on in the morning, because he would rather go without.

We all have sensory issues at times. Some of us are distracted by noise and need absolute quiet to work. Others find leftover food on dishes repugnant and wear dishwashing gloves to avoid touching it.

You probably also know your children's sensory quirks, such as refusing to eat mushy foods or not falling asleep without a silk-bordered blanket in hand. Most children are able to find acceptable ways to handle these sensory challenges. For some children, however, sensory issues interfere with their daily lives in consistent and considerable ways. These children would be diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Barbara Chandler, Ph.D., a registered and licensed occupational therapist (OTR/L) specializing in pediatrics and associate professor at Winston-Salem State University, gives the example of a child who cannot pay attention in class because of a preoccupation with how the waistband on his pants feels against his skin. "We usually habituate to those kind of irritations, but kids who have sensory processing disorder get stuck," Chandler says.

SPD can affect any combination of the seven sensory systems. These systems are sight; hearing; smell; taste; and touch; the vestibular sense, which gives information about movement and balance; and the proprioceptive sense, which through muscles and joints gives information about the body's position in space. Sensory processing involves organizing this flow of sensory information to produce an adaptive response, e.g., the stove is hot, pull your hand away.

When sensory information is misinterpreted or jumbled somewhere along the way, problems with learning, paying attention and behavior result.

SPD causes a broad array of symptoms more comparable to allergies than to a broken bone. Allergies can cause people to sneeze when exposed to pollen, break out in a rash after touching an animal or get a stomach ache when eating certain foods. Likewise, the symptoms of SPD appear in different patterns, and children with sensory issues can look very different from one another.

Several categories of SPD have been identified, and a child's symptoms will often fall into a combination of these.

Sensory Modulation Disorder: Reactions to sensory messages are not typical because of difficult organizing sensory information

Over-responsive children react too quickly to relatively slight intensity.

Under-responsive children need sensory messages of greater intensity to become aware of them.

Sensory seeking children crave and excessively seek sensory input.

Take for example an alarm clock. An over-responsive child may wake to this sound startled and cover his ears, while the under-responsive child may not wake at all. A sensory-seeking child may seek out this intense sound by setting off the alarm repeatedly.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder: Motor skills are affected by sensory difficulties.

Dyspraxic children have trouble planning movement and may appear clumsy and uncoordinated.

Children with Postural Disorder have problems stabilizing themselves and may be appear sluggish and unmotivated.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Difficulty figuring out what is being perceived, such as the source of a siren or the temperature of food.

Pamela Smith* first learned about SPD when her daughter began preschool last year at age 3. Midway through the year, her daughter's teachers gave Smith a copy of Carol Stock Kranowitz's popular book "The Out-of-Sync Child." The teachers described behaviors such as chewing furniture, making excessive messes and crashing into classmates. Smith had observed these behaviors at home, but had not seen them as a problem until they were happening in the context of school.

Smith's daughter has since been evaluated for sensory issues, and the family is working with an occupational therapist to learn to meet their daughter's sensory needs in ways that are more adaptive to school and other social environments.

If sensory issues seem to be causing problems for your child, Chandler suggests starting with your pediatrician to rule out a medical basis for the behaviors. A pediatrician can make a referral for an OT evaluation

Inattention, clumsiness, aggressive behavior, withdrawal, and increased or decreased activity level are the most common reasons that children are referred for a sensory-processing evaluation, Chandler said.

Most experts emphasize the importance of early intervention. For children under the age of 3, North Carolina provides free evaluations through the state's early intervention program. After age 3, local school systems provide OT evaluations as part of a multidisciplinary approach to developmental delays.

Once a child has been diagnosed with SPD, occupational therapy will be recommended to correct or compensate for sensory issues. Pediatric therapy offices have sensory gyms that include equipment and toys designed to give appropriate sensory experiences. The OT will also work with family members and teachers to design a sensory diet. This personalized schedule of sensory activities gives the child beneficial sensory input at regular intervals throughout each day.

Smith was initially concerned about getting occupational therapy services for her daughter. A friend whose own children had received therapy for sensory issues compared the experience to getting a tutor for a child who needs extra help in math. "Addressing these issues early can only increase her successes later," Smith says.

"We build a program around the child's strengths in occupational therapy," Chandler says. She advises parents to make sure children know what they are good at doing.

She also suggests giving children "words to help them explain themselves to others" so they are better able to advocate for their unique preferences and needs.

My own son will not convince me to let him chew his brother's shoe, but he can ask for an acceptable substitute. Chewy fruit ropes or soft pretzels give him what he needs, without the dirt.

* We used a different name to protect the family's privacy.

SPD Resources

STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder
Information about SPD including a list of red flags, advice on evaluation and treatment.

North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education
919-527-6335 | 1-800-859-0829 (In State Only)
Information about early intervention programs offered by the state of North Carolina.

Sensory Planet
Personal stories of SPD children and their families, networking and support.

Jan Campbell Wharton is a freelance writer from Winston-Salem.

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Cost: Free

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View map »


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Cost: Free

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Cost: $10-$53

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Where:
SciWorks
400 W. Hanes Mill Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Website »

More information

Classic meets cutting edge. Members of the Taylor II company, in residence at UNCSA, will join School of Dance students in the ebullient Esplanade, one of Paul Taylor’s most popular works....

Cost: $18 Regular/$15 Student with valid ID

Where:
Stevens Center of the UNC School of the Arts
405 W 4th St
Winston Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 133-672-11945
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

In celebration of Black History month, St. Philips Heritage Center will host a fun daily quest for kids to learn about enslaved and free African Americans who worked and lived in Salem. Complete...

Cost: $

Where:
St. Philips Heritage Center at Old Salem
900 Old Salem Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 336-721-7300
Website »

More information

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Home has personal significance and meaning.  Home may be a place, landscape, object, journey or relationship. Through contemporary art and ethnographic artifacts, home is envisioned as a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
W-S, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

The video game franchise Pokémon is one of the most popular cultural products to ever come out of Japan. Now more than 20 years old, it is still enjoyed by children and adults throughout the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

Stay at home moms, get out of the house and get fit! Enjoy a variety of fitness activities that will help get your blood pumping and calories burning. Parents are encouraged to bring their kids...

Cost: Free

Where:
Southside Recreation Center
401 Taylor Avenue
High Point, NC  27260
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Website »

More information

Wake Forest first-year students in museum studies curated this exhibit exploring the “object biographies” of intriguing specimens in MOA’s collections. The exhibit traces objects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
W-S, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

Babies from birth to toddlers are welcome with their parents/caregivers. We sing songs, repeat chants and rhymes, and have a great time! Please join us. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Reynolda Manor Branch Library
2839 Fairlawn Drive NW
Winston-Salem, NC  27106
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Website »

More information

Enjoy story time with your preschooler and make a craft. Included with admission.

Cost: $7

Where:
Children's Museum of Winston-Salem
390 S. Liberty St.
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
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Website »

More information

Story time especially for preschoolers and their caregivers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carver School Road Branch Library
4915 Lansing Drive
W-S, NC  27105
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Website »

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Come on out and build with Legos. All children are welcome. Duplo Legos provided for small children. Space is limited, so large groups are asked to call ahead 336-703-2910.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carver School Road Branch Library
4915 Lansing Drive
W-S, NC  27105
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Website »

More information

Enjoy $4 admission per person after 5 p.m.

Cost: $4

Where:
Greensboro Children's Museum
220 N. Church St.
Greensboro, NC  27401
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Sponsor: Greensboro Children's Museum
Telephone: 336-574-2898
Website »

More information

Meet with a park ranger at the start of the Jomeokee Trail to experience our most popular trail as the sun begins to go down and our nocturnal animals emerge. We will try to listen and find some of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pilot Mountain State Park
1792 Pilot Knob Park Road
Pinnacle, NC  27043
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Website »

More information

For ages 12-15. Learn to make fresh pasta dough and create classic shapes by hand and machine. We'll enjoy the pasta with a homemade sauce. On the menu: farfalle pasta and roasted vegetable...

Cost: $30 for members/$30 for non-members

Where:
Greensboro Children's Museum
220 N. Church St.
Greensboro, NC  27401
View map »


Website »

More information

Following sell-out shows in the Northeast, Rockin' Road to Dublin is coming to Greensboro on their 2017 national tour. Rockin' Road to Dublin combines the art of an Irish dance show,...

Cost: $20-$40

Where:
The Carolina Theatre
310 S Greene St.
Greensboro, NC  27401
View map »


Website »

More information

What an amazing couple of ladies Sadie and Bessie Delaney are. Bound together by more than 100 years of life, love and laughter, they’re sharing their stories of an American century. From...

Cost: $10-$53

Where:
Hanesbrands Theatre
209 N. Spruce St.
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 336-747-1414
Contact Name: Triad Stage Box Office
Website »

More information

Join the quest! Learn about energy – what it is, where it comes from, how we use it and why it’s so important to use it wisely. Conservation Quest® delivers important conservation...

Cost: Included with museum admission

Where:
SciWorks
400 W. Hanes Mill Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Website »

More information

On $4 Fun Fridays starting at 5, the usual $8 per person admission fee is cut in half. Come enjoy the museum at this amazing discounted cost 5-8 p.m. 

Where:
Greensboro Children's Museum
220 N. Church St.
GSO, NC
View map »


Telephone: 336-574-2898
Website »

More information

In celebration of Black History month, St. Philips Heritage Center will host a fun daily quest for kids to learn about enslaved and free African Americans who worked and lived in Salem. Complete...

Cost: $

Where:
St. Philips Heritage Center at Old Salem
900 Old Salem Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 336-721-7300
Website »

More information

Mowgli, bounds through the jungle and learns what it means to be human. Specially adapted from the classic Disney animated film, the play features a host of colorful characters and your favorite...

Cost: $5-9

Where:
Starr Theatre
520 S. Elm St.
Greensboro, NC  27406
View map »


Sponsor: Community Theatre of Greensboro
Telephone: 336-333-7470 x202
Contact Name: Victoria Ball
Website »

More information

Classic meets cutting edge. Members of the Taylor II company, in residence at UNCSA, will join School of Dance students in the ebullient Esplanade, one of Paul Taylor’s most popular works....

Cost: $18 Regular/$15 Student with valid ID

Where:
Stevens Center of the UNC School of the Arts
405 W 4th St
Winston Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 133-672-11945
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

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Join staff of Horne Creek Living Historical Farm and a park ranger to make a bird feeder in a fun craft for kids and all ages. Then join a park ranger to walk the grounds of the historical farm and...

Cost: $10

Where:
Horne Creek Living Historical Farm
308 Horne Creek Farm Road
Pinnacle, NC  27043
View map »


Website »

More information

Home has personal significance and meaning.  Home may be a place, landscape, object, journey or relationship. Through contemporary art and ethnographic artifacts, home is envisioned as a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
W-S, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

Wake Forest first-year students in museum studies curated this exhibit exploring the “object biographies” of intriguing specimens in MOA’s collections. The exhibit traces objects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
W-S, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

The video game franchise Pokémon is one of the most popular cultural products to ever come out of Japan. Now more than 20 years old, it is still enjoyed by children and adults throughout the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27106
View map »


Sponsor: Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
Telephone: 336-758-5282
Contact Name: Sara Cromwell
Website »

More information

Come watch our costumed blacksmith in action as he crafts various iron pieces. All ages welcome. Free. Drop-in.

Cost: Free

Where:
High Point Museum
1859 E. Lexington Ave.
High Point, NC
View map »


Sponsor: High Point Museum
Telephone: 885-1859
Website »

More information

10 a.m.: Day-of registration begins Noon: Parade of Plungers 12:30 p.m.: Kids’ Polar Splash 1 p.m.: Plunge begins Take a wintry leap for a great cause! Gather your friends, dress...

Cost: $50

Where:
Wet'n Wild Emerald Pointe
3910 S. Holden Road
Greensboro, NC  27406
View map »


Website »

More information

They make; you shop! Kids 3 and up can enjoy a fun project. Sign up online or just drop in. $2 per project, supplies included. Parent or guardian must remain on premises during the event.

Cost: $2

Where:
Michael's
1050 Hanes Mall Blvd.
Winston-Salem, NC  27103
View map »


Website »

More information

Parents will complete arts and crafts projects with their toddlers. Participants will work as a pair to complete a new arts and crafts activity each week. For ages 1-5.

Cost: $7

Where:
Morehead Recreation Center
101 Price Street
High Point, NC  27260
View map »


Website »

More information

Parents, students and youth are welcome to attend weekly ‘Saturday Children’s Story Hour.’ Guests are invited to meet at the museum every Saturday at 11 a.m. to hear dynamic...

Cost: Free

Where:
International Civil Rights Center & Museum
134 S. Elm St.
Greensboro, NC  27401
View map »


Sponsor: International Civil Rights Center & Museum
Telephone: (336) 274-9199
Contact Name: Nakia Hoskins
Website »

More information

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! In celebration of the beloved author's birthday on March 2, we will host a special story time featuring coloring, activities and more. Don't miss out on this...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble Friendly Center
3102 Northline Ave.
Greensboro, NC  27408
View map »


Telephone: 336-854-4200
Website »

More information

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! In celebration of the beloved author's birthday on March 2, we will host a special story time featuring coloring, activities and more. Don't miss out on this...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble
1925 Hampton Inn Court
Winston-Salem, NC  27103
View map »


Telephone: 336-774-0800
Website »

More information

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! In celebration of the beloved author's birthday on March 2, we will host a special story time featuring coloring, activities and more. Don't miss out on this...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble Alamance Crossing Shopping Center
3125 Waltham Blvd
Burlington, NC  27215
View map »


Telephone: 336-584-0869
Website »

More information

Join us in the park every Saturday for free children's and family activities. Weather permitting.

Cost: Free

Where:
LeBauer Park
208 N. Davie St.
Greensboro, NC  27401
View map »


Website »

More information

Parents, students and youth are welcomed to attend this weekly event. Guests are invited to hear dynamic leaders and educators from the community narrate stories and interact...

Cost: Free

Where:
International Civil Rights Center & Museum
134 S. Elm St.
GSO, NC  27401
View map »


Sponsor: International Civil Rights Center & Museum
Telephone: 336-274-9199
Contact Name: Nakia Hoskins
Website »

More information

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! In celebration of the beloved author's birthday on March 2, we will host a special story time featuring coloring, activities and more. Don't miss out on this...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble
906 Mall Loop Road
High Point, NC  27262
View map »


Telephone: 336-886-1331
Website »

More information

We continue our three-month series of events celebrating The LEGO Batman Movie. Kids will be called to put their detective skills to the test with themed activities as well as make & play...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble
1925 Hampton Inn Court
Winston-Salem, NC  27103
View map »


Telephone: 336-774-0800
Website »

More information

We continue our three-month series of events celebrating The LEGO Batman Movie. Kids will be called to put their detective skills to the test with themed activities as well as make & play...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble Friendly Center
3102 Northline Avenue
Greensboro, NC  27408
View map »


Website »

More information

We continue our three-month series of events celebrating The LEGO Batman Movie. Kids will be called to put their detective skills to the test with themed activities as well as make & play...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes and Noble Alamance Crossing Shopping Center
3125 Waltham Blvd
Burlington, NC  27215
View map »


Telephone: 336-774-0800
Website »

More information

Joins us as we watch Muscle Shoals, a documentary that celebrates Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the signature sound he developed in songs such as...

Cost: Free

Where:
Glenn McNairy Branch Library
4860 Lake Jeanette Road
Greensboro, NC  27455
View map »


Website »

More information

The new stage play on the life of Nelson Mandela. Part of the Stokes County Arts Council's Winter Dessert Series. Desserts are available one hour before production.

Cost: $5-$12

Where:
The Arts Place of Stokes
502 N. Main St.
Danbury, NC  27016
View map »


Website »

More information

What an amazing couple of ladies Sadie and Bessie Delaney are. Bound together by more than 100 years of life, love and laughter, they’re sharing their stories of an American century. From...

Cost: $10-$53

Where:
Hanesbrands Theatre
209 N. Spruce St.
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 336-747-1414
Contact Name: Triad Stage Box Office
Website »

More information

Chrysalis Chamber Music Institute students showcase their talents playing side-by-side with their teachers in compositions by Györgi Ligeti, Felix Mendelssohn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Cost: $18 Regular/$15 Student with valid ID

Where:
Waston Hall - UNCSA
1533 S Main St
Winston Salem, NC  27127
View map »


Sponsor: UNC School of the Arts
Telephone: 133-672-11945
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

Classic meets cutting edge. Members of the Taylor II company, in residence at UNCSA, will join School of Dance students in the ebullient Esplanade, one of Paul Taylor’s most popular works....

Cost: $18 Regular/$15 Student with valid ID

Where:
Stevens Center of the UNC School of the Arts
405 W 4th St
Winston Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 133-672-11945
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

Join the quest! Learn about energy – what it is, where it comes from, how we use it and why it’s so important to use it wisely. Conservation Quest® delivers important conservation...

Cost: Included with museum admission

Where:
SciWorks
400 W. Hanes Mill Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Website »

More information

Mowgli, bounds through the jungle and learns what it means to be human. Specially adapted from the classic Disney animated film, the play features a host of colorful characters and your favorite...

Cost: $5-9

Where:
Starr Theatre
520 S. Elm St.
Greensboro, NC  27406
View map »


Sponsor: Community Theatre of Greensboro
Telephone: 336-333-7470 x202
Contact Name: Victoria Ball
Website »

More information

In celebration of Black History month, St. Philips Heritage Center will host a fun daily quest for kids to learn about enslaved and free African Americans who worked and lived in Salem. Complete...

Cost: $

Where:
St. Philips Heritage Center at Old Salem
900 Old Salem Road
Winston-Salem, NC  27101
View map »


Telephone: 336-721-7300
Website »

More information

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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The all-new 2015-2016 Education Guide is packed with everything parents need to know to navigate more than 500 education options and resources in the Triad, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

It's your complete family guide to Triad living. Parents are busy and on the go. Use this guide to help you explore all this great area offers for families in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point and surrounding communities.

Exceptional Child

For parents of kids with special needs, finding help and support can be challenging. We've compiled valuable resources for Triad parents in our latest annual publication, Exceptional Child, which is also available as a digital guide.