How To Help a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder

By Dr. Tony Ebel DC, CACCP, CCWP

As parents, there is nothing in the world we love more than our children. When they suffer, we suffer. So if you have a child that is easily overwhelmed in large crowds, is always touching everything, or doesn’t pick up on social cues or understand personal space, not only can it be frustrating, but absolutely heartbreaking to watch them struggle. 

You may have heard every excuse in the book for why your child acts like this or been told they’ll grow out of it. But deep down in your mom or dad gut, you know this is not how most children behave in these various situations. After searching, you finally got an answer, but now you are unsure how to help a child with sensory processing disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

There is not a “one size fits all” for sensory processing challenges, but SPD is a condition that affects how the brain and nervous system process stimuli. It can affect all five general senses (touch, smell, see, taste, and hearing) or just one of the five. Additionally, the two senses that are most important for pediatric brain and neurodevelopment, movement and balance, are most heavily affected in sensory children, along with oversensitivity to things in their environment.

There are two different kinds of sensory processing challenges – sensory avoiding (they do not want to be touched) and sensory seeking (always in need of more stimulation) children can most definitely have a mix of both. 

Many children with Sensory Processing Disorder start as fussy babies who become more anxious as they grow older.  These kids often don’t handle change well and may frequently throw tantrums or have meltdowns.

Sensory processing disorder is still not recognized as a medical diagnosis. It is usually blamed on genetics, but there is no concrete information to support this or any cause in the traditional medical world. Therapists tend to consider a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder when the symptoms become severe enough to affect normal functioning and disrupt daily life. 

What Are Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?

Signs and symptoms can be different depending on your child’s sensory challenges. It can also be hard for parents to recognize signs of SPD because children don’t always know how to communicate their needs, and they don’t understand why they feel this way.

Sensory seeking signs:

  • Can’t sit still and seeks thrills (loves jumping, heights, and spinning)
  • Can spin without getting dizzy
  • Don’t pick up on social cues
  • Don’t recognize personal space
  • Puts items in mouth and chews on things (including hands and clothing)
  • Seeks visual stimulation (like electronics)
  • Problems sleeping
  • High pain threshold
  • Constantly touching things 
  • Rocking or swaying

Sensory avoiding signs:

  • Low pain threshold
  • Appearing clumsy
  • Fleeing without regard to safety
  • Covering eyes or ears frequently
  • Picky food preferences or gagging when eating
  • Resisting hugs or sudden touches
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Difficulty focusing attention
  • Sensitive to bright light and loud sounds

How to Help a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder

A neurologically-focused pediatric chiropractor, or PX Doc, understands there are usually many factors involved with sensory processing disorder, which can be linked to what we call The Perfect Storm. These perfect storm challenges cause the nervous system to get overwhelmed and stressed, leading to what is known as dysautonomia. Dysautonomia is a term that most commonly means the autonomic (automatic) nervous system struggles to regulate its internal and external environments properly.

One of the very first things to develop in-utero is the brain and autonomic nervous system, so if our mothers are left in a constant state of distress and anxiety, this can greatly affect the developing infant’s brain and nervous system. 

Another trigger is birth intervention and trauma (forceps, vacuum extraction, induction, C-section, etc.), which can disrupt the function of the brainstem and upper cervical spinal cord regions, essential areas for processing and integrating sensory information before it reaches the brain. Think of the brainstem as “Air Traffic Control” and filtration system for all of your child’s seven (7) senses, where it’s responsible for not only organizing and processing the information but keeping out unwanted or annoying information. 

This unwanted and annoying information is known as nociception. Your child may be avoiding certain stimuli to prevent additional ‘noisy’ and stressful situations they can’t yet tolerate. Additionally, if they are constantly moving and seeking out physical touch and stimulation, they are doing so in order to bring about proprioception, which is the sense of movement. While it looks anything but on the outside for your sensory child, all of that movement and touching things is actually calming their brain down. 

Subluxation and Sensory Scans 

The average pediatrician and medical provider will still tell parents of fussy, colicky, constipated babies something to the tune of, “Don’t worry, they’ll grow out of it.” But deep down, parents have always known what plenty of research is showing us – they don’t grow out of it; they grow into more chronic neurological challenges like Sensory Processing Disorder. 

When a baby is stressed and subluxated at birth, dysautonomia sets in right away, which then leads to stressed, overstimulated toddlers and children struggling with sensory processing disorder and resultant frequent tantrums and meltdowns. Neurologically these challenges are one and the same, they just get a new name or diagnosis. 

In most cases, the first step is getting a child set up with different forms of movement-based therapy. This can be OT, PT, and speech therapy and while we absolutely support these ways of helping with sensory challenges, a lot of time, families go through months and years of therapy and continue to feel like something is missing, and more progress could be made somehow. 

A PX Doc knows you’ve got to dig back down to those root causes, where all the stress and subluxation began. The first thing a neurologically-focused pediatric chiropractor will do is take a deep dive into your child’s case history and use a tool that our PX trained chiropractors use called the INSiGHT Scanning Technology.  

In just 10-15 minutes, these safe, non-invasive scans can find, measure and locate subluxation in your child’s autonomic nervous system.  These scans will help your PX Doc create a customized care plan that fits your child’s exact needs and restore function and balance to the autonomic nervous system. This is the missing link to help your child with their sensory processing challenges!  

Once your child starts their care plan with gentle adjustments that will release the stress and subluxation on the nervous system, these other therapies will be so much more effective, a true win-win situation! 

In addition to OT, PT, and Speech Therapy, there is a ton you can do to help on your own. Things such as prioritizing sleep, getting frequent walks outside and free time to move and play, and informing your child know ahead of time about schedule and routine changes can help. 

For more ways, you can help your sensory child smooth their transitions and have fewer challenges throughout their day, download our free parent guide

Most often, when we meet with parents of children with Sensory Processing Disorder, they’ve tried quite a few things to help their child struggle less but are still searching for more answers and action steps. That is where neurologically-focused, pediatric chiropractic care truly does become that missing link! 

We know raising a sensory kiddo can be extremely challenging and heartbreaking, but our PX Docs can help make the journey so much easier for you and your child.  Visit our directory today to find a PX Doc near you and get your child scheduled right away to find out how chiropractic can help! 

Dr. Tony Ebel, DC, CACCP, CCWP

Certified Wellness + Pediatric Chiropractor

About the Author
Dr. Tony Ebel is the lead writer and educational guide for PX Docs. He is a Certified Pediatric + Wellness Chiropractor with 15 years of clinical experience. In addition, Dr. Tony has been teaching and training other Pediatric + Family Chiropractors for the past 10+ years, primarily teaching the clinical protocols he created for pediatric neurodevelopmental challenges such as Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Epilepsy, Anxiety, and more. This clinical program is now taught in collaboration with the Life University Postgraduate Department and has over 500 graduates. Dr. Tony’s passion is educating, empowering, and informing parents about the nervous system's role in natural, drug-free healing for all pediatric conditions and cases.


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