Can Babies Have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?



Did you know that about 16.5% of school-age #children are estimated to have #sensory processing difficulties? This affects their ability to have a learning brain, #socialize, and thrive in their environment.


Did you also know that a lot could have been done to #prevent these problems for them in their #earlychildhood? YEP! That's what we will talk about today. Let's get on it!


So what is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? Here is the #textbook definition: "A disorder characterized by the inability to accurately process information coming to the brain from the senses, which results in inaccurate judgement of sensory information such as touch, sight, movement, tase and sound." What this essentially means is that our #brain and #body are not in sync with one another. It means that our brain may respond slower (or faster) than our body and it creates difficulties for us in our everyday functioning. Unfortunately SPD can not be prevented as research has not shown us yet what causes it. However, it is believed to be a genetic trait that may be passed down and there are a few other precursors that may contribute to the development of SPD. The good news is that although SPD can not be prevented, early intervention CAN and WILL prevent problems for little ones in their later childhood and adulthood! 💪


There are seven senses, and they are the following:

  1. Proprioceptive sense - the sense of body position 👶

  2. Vestibular sense - the sense of balance🦶

  3. Tactile sense - the sense of touch ✋

  4. Visual sense - the sense of sight 👀

  5. Auditory sense - the sense of hearing👂

  6. Olfactory sense - the sense of smell 👃

  7. Gustatory sense - the sense of taste 👅

These senses provide our brain with all the input it needs to function. When the input or processes are "faulty" SPD may be present.


There are predispositions a baby can have that will make it more likely for the baby to develop or have SPD. (oh, hey mama before you read these I want you to know that some of these items listed SUCK! I hate that they are present because well - mom guilt. We tend to overanalyze everything and anything about our pregnancy anyway so this list here is not really helpful in that sense. What I hope this list does for us is to bring awareness and maybe answers to some of us who may have a baby with SPD. It may be an "aha" moment for you or a moment of clarity - but definitely not something you need to feel guilty about - because again - the root cause of SPD is unknown).


These include, but are not limited to:

  • Having an older sibling with SPD

  • Being born #premature (actually premature infants have a high risk of developing SPD because the last few weeks of gestation are when the babies sensory processes fully develop).

  • Diagnosed brain damage at birth

  • Diagnosis of #autismspectrumdisorder

  • Diagnosis of #fetalalcoholspectrumdisorder

  • If the mom abused drugs or alcohol during #pregnancy

  • If the baby is exposed to in-utero or #earlychildhoodtrauma (death of a parent, abuse, neglect, physical abuse, abandonment, exposure to drugs or alcohol by parents, exposure to domestic violence, #parents untreated mental health problems, sexual abuse, etc.)

  • If the mom was exposed to chronic stress while pregnant

  • NICU or longer hospitalization

  • Sensory depravation due to abuse and neglect (not being held, fed, cared for, etc)

Because I love to simplify things for myself, here is a picture you can use or share with anyone to help remember the above easier:

Unfortunately, a lot of times babies are not screened for SPD and no one seems to bring this issue up until the child starts having problems at a daycare or in their social development. I think there is generally a lack of education about babies mental health so this does not surprise me. However, as parents and/or practitioners who work with babies on any level - it is imperative that we become familiar with what SPD may look like in babies.


Please remember that this list is not all inclusive and that an evaluation by a licensed #occupational therapist is necessary to determine a #diagnosis. We will get into that in just a little bit - but for now let's talk about what some of the behaviors of a baby who struggles with SPD may may look like.


A baby may...

  • be extra fussy or "colicky"

  • appear to be very hyper or lethargic in body movements

  • have extreme reactions to loud noises and sounds

  • rock back and forth with a lot of force for a prolonged period of time

  • not respond to pain, cold or discomfort

  • appear more clumsy than their peers

  • avoid hugs, cuddles, touch or may like VERY HARD touch or hugs

  • cry uncontrollably when exposed to bight or colorful lights

  • crave strong, sharp, sour flavors

  • have extreme reaction to the way clothes feel on their body and may be bothered by certain textures

  • not like to have their feet off the floor

  • not like to be tipped backwards and may have a strong reaction to this sensation

Here is another picture you can keep or share with others to help remember these points.

I often work with families who have never even received a screening to help them determine if their little one struggles with SPD. I send a lot of referrals out to occupational therapist for official evaluations and diagnosis. If a diagnosis is received it allows for immediate work to begin helping parents help their little ones integrate their senses with their #neuropathways (aka their brain). If a diagnosis is not received then we can rule out SPD and focus on regulating the brain in other ways.


A diagnosis of SPD does not mean that a magic cure for your little ones struggles is available. A lot of hard work, many changes and practice will become part of your life. It's important to remember that we can't force changes on kids, these changes take a lot of regulating the body and brain through exercises you will practice with your occupational therapist and other professionals who may be assisting you.


So how do you go about finding an occupational therapist who is familiar with infants and their needs? I'd start off with your pediatrician and your insurance company. Ask the for an evaluation if you suspect your child may be struggling with SPD. I would also suggest asking a local mom group for suggestions or even googling names for occupational therapist in your area and calling the offices. If they can't help you they may be able to direct you to places that may be able to offer services and assistance.


In my next blog, I am going to talk about some of the exercises I do to help parents teach their kids to integrate their mind and body - along with forming a safe, secure and meaningful connection. This is going to be especially good for those needing more tools to help prevent long lasting effects of #developmentaltrauma and #attachment related problems.


I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have, would you do me a favor and share this with your friends and family on social media? Let's spread the word about #infantandtoddlermentalhealth and educate the world on how to prevent problems for our kids as they grow older. So much can be done in the first five years to prevent future problems - and we have to spread this awareness everywhere.


Thank you and til' next time,

Selma