My Journey to Understanding

I began this journey to understand sensory processing disorder as a grandmother and mother. My grandson has what he calls sensory issues.  I am a clinical therapist who specializes in children’s therapy. Most of my clients are on the spectrum, have attachment disorders, and/ or complex trauma. What I have seen in all these children is a need for sensory diets, large motor activities, and coping skills for meltdowns. While advancing in my career I choose certification in Theraplay. Theraplay focuses on attachment therapy with a mixture of sensory processing therapy to address a need for a sensory diet.

Making a sensory diet is the ability to combine activities for children who struggle with sensory processing disorder. It is giving the child what he needs to be successful and productive without meltdowns or extreme sensory behaviors. These behaviors could include avoiding taste, sound, or touch. The other extreme is the child who thrives on sensory seeking. This could include messy play, running into walls, or jumping and falling.

When my grandson started to have daily meltdowns at school, he was referred to an Occupational Therapist for an assessment.  He was quickly diagnosed with Sensory Processing disorder with Auditory Processing Disorder. With this diagnosis and the understanding of his need I began to delve into understanding sensory processing with a new zeal and vigilance.

After he was diagnosed, he was referred to an Occupational Therapist for exercises and gym time. This was to teach him understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. He was told once he understands his needs and works on his program his meltdowns would decrease.

Adding a sensory diet can be daunting or frightening. The idea of a sensory diet is foreign to many as Sensory Process is. It seems everyone wants it linked with Autism. Armed with new understanding I have added Sensory integration to my client’s individual therapy.  This has been helpful as I have noticed quite a few of my children in residential care have sensory issues that have been misdiagnosed as rule out ASD or RAD.  Once I developed a sensory plan or diet for these children, I noticed a huge change in behaviors, attitudes, and abilities.

Working with my grandson has shown me how important his sensory exercises are for his daily success.  We discussed the sensory needs and how proprioceptive exercises are vital to a good day.  We also focused on vestibular exercises as it is related to his delayed speech. This same principle in sensory needs has been carried into my daily work with clients.

Working with my grandson and clients I have learned the limitation of insurance, the need for testing, and lack of support most families have in their school and community.  As I was working with children in a residential facility, private practice, and with individual families I notices a gap between what is available and what they can afford. Children who are struggling with meltdowns and tantrums need a safe place to learn how to cope with everyday life and events. 

When my son asked if I would work with my grandson I reported “I am not an O.T I am a Clinical therapist. However, I began researching O.T. and it’s use in Theraplay which led me to understand my fundamental certification in the therapy modality would also allow me Occupational Therapy knowledge while addressing vestibular and proprioceptive needs in clinical therapy sessions. These added activities may be why this modality works so well with children on the Autism Spectrum and Sensory Processing Disorder.

My grandson is very open with his struggles with Sensory Processing as he understands it is just who he is and what he has to live with. He is not Autistic, not on the spectrum, and not ADHD. He has auditory and sensory processing issues that hinder his everyday life in multiple settings. He is a sensory seeker and is a sensory avoider when related to taste or touch. Due to his delayed speech with an understanding of communication, he was referred to a speech therapist at the age of 2 1/2.

 At age 3 he began to speak; however, it was still hard for anyone except family and close friends to understand. He would become frustrated when others who did not understand what he was saying. He would use books, puppets, and movements to explain what he was trying to say. His auditory needs continued as he called suit -soup with other word confusion. Once in kindergarten and 1st grade he struggled with spelling as he would spell what he heard which was not always being said.  This concerned his teachers. The school would ask if he had a diagnosis as they knew something was wrong but could not put their finger on it. (remember Sensory Processing is difficult to diagnose as an O.T. must diagnose it and it mimics other diagnosis)

A diagnosis is a tricky thing, you need it to get help for your children; but did you get the correct diagnosis? Most doctors or therapists tend to slap ADHD or ODD on children without looking into other options or needs. This is not because they are neglectful; however, most children will go to a primary doctor or a therapist- a psychologist who can diagnosis and possible medicate.

 Having a sensory or auditory processing diagnosis is a huge ordeal to obtain. It has to come from an Occupational Therapist and your insurance will probably not pay for it. The auditory testing comes from an audiologist and is very expensive. I have been informed by many insurances and the auditory examiner that insurances do not pay for it.  This one test was over $1000.00 out of pocket. Not many of us have that kind of money for a test the school may not use or is not qualified to address as it is not an education diagnosis.

This dilemma always annoys me as a therapist as it labels our children with letters while it does not address or take into consideration personality, sensory needs, or comorbidity. It does not address the need for billing or payment for services. If the child has a neurological or developmental disability it is difficult to bill insurances unless we add in ADHD, Anxiety, or attachment.

As a therapist, I understand getting paid is important.  Having the correct diagnosis for your child and working toward successful days with a happy home is the main objective. To obtain this success within the family for their child may require help outside the home. A clinical counselor/therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, and occupational therapist may be necessary to achieve the optimal level of success a child needs.  So, the question is when we cannot pay for it when our insurance will not pay for it when our ability or time is limited how do we get the care our children need?

I began by listening to the needs of my children. I also worked closely with an Occupational Therapist for a year. I incorporated what I know from Theraplay. I studied and read up on all I could to understand a sensory diet and what was the best mixture for each client. My grandson needs a different diet than many of my clients.  This blog addresses questions other people have for me as a therapist. I also touch on what has worked for some of my clients which may work for you and your family.

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