Helping Your Teen With Sensory Processing Disorder
Teenagers have it tough today. Between hormonal changes, peer pressure, and all challenges of the pandemic, life can be tough. But it’s even more challenging for teens with sensory processing disorder (SPD).
If your child struggles with SPD, you can help him overcome these challenges. First, let’s learn more about this disorder.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
To understand SPD, you must understand how our senses work. When our senses experience input, data is sent to sensory receptors in our nervous system that cause us to react to things like sound or touch.
Normally, we only react to extreme stimuli such as pain, loud noises, or pungent odors. However, these sensors don’t work properly for people with SPD. For them, mild stimuli can be intense, like lukewarm water feeling scalding hot.
How SPD Impacts Your Teenager
SPD can be distracting or even dangerous. Noise, touch, or smells that don’t bother most people can feel painful. Your teen may struggle with wearing certain clothes or being exposed to fluorescent light. Large crowds may cause him anxiety.
Teens with SPD can overreact or under-react. For example, they may have a serious injury but not feel any pain. Or, your teen may not be aware of their own strength and hurt others without meaning it.
What’s it like being a teen with SPD? Katie Cicanese describes some of her challenges as a 16-year-old: “…Often little things like sitting in my kitchen can cause me to have extreme panicky feelings. I find sitting anywhere besides my room is difficult because the material and fabric hurt my skin.”
Katie goes on to describe her difficulties in places that most teens commonly frequent: food courts, shopping malls, grocery stores. Even her own home can cause agony.
This can be very stressful for teens. Living with SPD can lead to anxiety, panic disorder, depression, negative emotions, poor attention, poor self-image, and other mental health problems. For some young people, SPD makes them unaware of danger, putting their lives at risk as well.
Many people on the autism spectrum as well as teens with attention deficit disorder experience sensory issues. Today, the causes of this neurological disorder are still unclear. However, you can take steps to help your teenager.
Helping Your Teen Manage SPD
What can you do to help your child? With a formal diagnosis, therapy may alleviate sensory processing disorder challenges. Numerous options are available depending on what senses are affected:
- Sensory-based physical therapy
- Vision therapy
- Listening therapy
- Speech or language therapy
Therapy can be effective but it may not be covered by insurance. You can also help your teen by implementing some lifestyle changes.
Create a Safe Space at Home
Your teen needs to have a safe home that makes him feel comfortable. You should let him help you choose decor that is sensory-friendly.
- Warm, soft lighting throughout your home.
- The paint should be neutral or soothing, gentle colors.
- Disorganized homes can be very stressful so work on having everything neat and organized.
- Be aware of things like loud tile or hardwood floors and coarse, rough surfaces on couches and chairs. Comfort and quiet should be key!
- Window dressings. Make wise choices that block sound and harsh light.
It’s also smart to pay attention to sounds and smells that come into your home. Find ways to make your home calm, soothing, and odor-free.
Tips for Managing Stress
Teach your child good habits for managing stress. Simple strategies can make life less overwhelming for teens with SPD, such as creating a daily routine. This helps reduce anxiety as well.
Stress can also be alleviated with healthy habits. Teens may prefer junk food but a nutritious diet is better for both physical and mental health. Your child is old enough to plan family meals and participate in their preparation. This encourages both independence and good health.
Fitness, sleep, and relaxation are also necessary to reduce stress. Let your teen pick exercises that challenge him and do them regularly. Make sure he gets at least 8 hours of sleep. And help him to find downtime activities that help him to relax every day.
Managing School and Planning for the Future
Work with teachers to make your child’s school experience less difficult. If your child has a formal diagnosis, you can get a 504 Plan or IEP to make accommodations. For example, classrooms often have extremely harsh lighting that is uncomfortable for people with SPD. Request teachers to use soft lighting instead or cover the fluorescents.
Other accommodations that can help include:
- Frequent classroom breaks
- Classroom desk arrangement
- Cushion or special seat
- Stress balls to relieve tension
- Noise-reducing headphones
However, this may not work for your child. High school is your teenager’s introduction to preparing for work. Today, remote learning and work opportunities are far more common. These provide your child an opportunity to excel while remaining in a comfortable atmosphere that does not trigger his SPD.
For example, he can pursue work-from-home jobs, such as virtual accounting and train from the comfort of his home. Talk with your child’s guidance counselor about options that provide him with a successful remote career path.
Sensory processing disorder can be difficult for teenagers. However, your child can learn to manage it. With your help, your child can survive and even thrive in his teenage years!