Is there a link between Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety?
Does your child have Sensory Processing Disorder and anxiety? Have you ever wondered why?
My initial therapy sessions with parents often start out the same. I can almost guess what parents are going to say before they say it.
“He’s just so sensitive.”
“He’s always been a cautious kid.”
“Everything bothers him, even his clothes.”
“We have to lie down with her at night.”
“She is such a picky eater. Always has been.”
“She is terrified something bad is going to happen.”
I start to ask the usual questions.
Does he refuse to wear jeans?
Does she hate socks?
“Yes! Yes! How did you know?”
I know because I have had this conversation a thousand times before. I know because they are describing a sensitive child. A child who is sensitive to the core, both inside and out.
Time and time again parents come to therapy for anxiety and walk in with a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
Anxious kids are sensitive kids inside and out. It is not surprising then that a good portion of those anxious kids have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as well. Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety go hand in hand.
SPD is often missed. Anxiety is not. That is why I am often the initial introduction to the letters SPD and not an Occupational Therapist.
The connection between Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety
Parents struggle. Is it the SPD causing the anxiety? Feeling your world so deeply is sure to make anyone feel overwhelmed and anxious. Is it two separate issues? Who do they see? A Child Therapist? An Occupational Therapist?
Unfortunately, the answers are a bit blurred. Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety are simpatico. They are best buddies. They like to hang out and wreak havoc together. Not every child with Anxiety has SPD and not every child with SPD has anxiety, but a large proportion do.
SPD can cause a child to feel overwhelmed. They might have anxiety about situations that trigger their sensitivities, like crowds or new foods. They might wake up in a rage because they have to put on clothes. They might worry about fire drills because they are so loud.
But unfortunately, those same children might meet SPD’s cousin, anxiety. They might worry about bad guys. They might be consumed with their health. They might be paralyzed with fear around peers. They might strive to be so perfect, that they feel they can’t do anything right.
How to help kids with both Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety
These kids need help in both directions. They are equally important and they are equally destructive. Parents need support on how to navigate through the maze of sensory meltdowns, as well as how to help empower their children to face their anxieties.
Kids need help understanding their sensory “super powers” as well as how to boss back their anxiety bully.
The good news is both can get better. Much better. I know this professionally and I know this personally. I have watched kids develop an understanding of their own sensory needs. And I have watched kids crush their anxiety. Both are doable.
I have had shoes chucked at my head. I have spent hundreds of dollars on clothes that have never been worn. I have had moments when I just gave up. Like the time I brought my child to a wedding wearing a casual cotton dress and flip flops. An SPD uniform of sorts.
We had many anxiety rules at my house. The highway was off limits. Elevators, escalator and closed doors were a no-no. A small bit of food had to be left on the plate. We conquered these fears. We crushed these rules.
There is help
With help and support, these children can blossom. My oldest no longer chucks shoes at my head (bonus). But, I still see piles of rejected clothes on her closet floor every morning. She has learned to be more in tune with her skin. With all her sensitivities. She no longer takes her struggles out on the rest of us.
We go on highways. We use elevators and escalators. We face fears, we don’t avoid them anymore.
SPD and anxiety can bring any family to their knees. But with help, support and determination things can get better. Once small victory at a time.
Do you have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety? What tips do you have for other parents going through the same thing?
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