During Carol Kranowitz’s 25 years as a preschool teacher, she realized there were certain children in her classes that seemed “out-of-sync.”
“They refused to participate in art projects or music projects,” she said, explaining these kids often didn’t like touching gooey or sticky things like paint. “I really wanted every child to have fun at school.”
Kranowitz began looking into reasons why these children experienced things differently than others. That’s when she discovered Sensory Processing Disorder — a disorder where the nervous system receives sensory signals but does not organize them into appropriate responses, often resulting in motor and behavioral problems.
Kranowitz will discuss SPD and ways to recognize and diagnose it, as well as easy activities to incorporate into daily life to treat the disorder during UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids Witwer Children’s Therapy’s conference, The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder. The conference is April 14-15 at the Cedar Rapids Marriott.
Researchers disagree on the prevalence of SPD, according to the SPD Foundation, a Colorado-based organization that focuses on education, research and advocacy. One study suggests that one in 20 children are affected by SPD, while another found that one in six deal with sensory problems significant enough to affect aspects of their lives.
But the disorder is often misdiagnosed, Kranowitz said, as ADHD or a behavioral problem. And if SPD is not properly treated it can result in anxiety, depression or problems at school, according to the SPD Foundation.
“Often they’ll get thing mixed up or jumbled,” Kranowitz said. “They’ll have problems reading and writing, they’ll hear sounds incorrectly ... information will come in but they can’t make sense of it.”
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Children with SPD tend to be clumsy, have posture problems or motor problems, she added, but they also are often very bright.
“They’re smart and will want to discuss things that interest them very much,” she said. “But they aren’t generalists, they find things they like or want to do and stick with it.”
Parents should ask themselves two questions, Kranowitz said: What sensation is my child trying to get away from and conversely, is my child trying to get toward a sensation?
“Sometimes kids can do both,” she said. “For instance, a child doesn’t like messy things, things that are slimy or gooey but the child craves movement.”
That’s because there are three main “buckets” of Sensory Processing Disorder, she said.
• Over-responsivity: This is when a sensation — light, sound, touch — comes in through various sensors including the skin, inner ear or nose, very intensely, she said. For instance, Sounds are too loud or sharp. “There was a little girl who wanted to take dance lessons, and when she put on the leotard she wanted to rip it off because it burned her skin,” Kranowitz said.
• Under-responsivity: This is when an individual does not respond or seems unengaged. These children may require more intense sensations before they respond. “You need to a stick of dynamite to get this kid up,” she explained.
• The Craver: These are children who are always seeking “more, more, more,” Kranowitz said. They have an intense craving for sensory experiences.
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Children with SPD can participate in occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach to work on developing and enhancing their sensory processing, Kranowitz said. Additionally, parents and teachers can have children do specific activities that also will help, such as putting an obstacle in the doorway that the child will have to walk around or having the child do a “heavy work activity” such carrying heavier grocery bags into the house.
“By introducing children very gently to these things, it can greatly expand a child’s tolerance,” she said.
To register for the conference
Go to unitypoint.org/witwer
Stop at one of the Witwer Children’s Center locations in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha to pick up a brochure
Day of event registration is available (as space allows) for an additional $5 over the conference cost