The ‘sensational’ tot: Recognizing—and dealing with—Sensory Processing Disorder

Worried something might be amiss with your child’s developing senses? Learn the ins-and-outs of SPD.

The ‘sensational’ tot: Recognizing—and
dealing with—Sensory Processing Disorder

Envision two unique babies.

Benjy has been on the go since Day 1.Constantly active, frequently fretful, easily startled, and a fitful sleeper, he sure keeps his parents on their toes. Speaking of toes, he skipped crawling and walked on tiptoes at nine months! Mom and Dad are exhausted—but that's just how it is with an infant, they guess.

Valerie's parents appreciate her peaceful nature. She goes to anyone, naps often, sleeps all night, and is content being moved from car to grocery cart to stroller to house, strapped in her baby seat. Her parents notice that she's uninterested in watching it snow or grasping a rattle, but she does seem entranced with the laptop's screensaver beside her on the kitchen counter.


Two very different tots—one underlying disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the inefficient processing of messages from a person's body or environment received through the senses.

Children with SPD may be over-responsive to certain sensations, such as sudden touch or movement. However, some may be under-responsive, not noticing that the door slammed or the hammock is swaying.

Some tots with SPD may be cravers, seeking loud noises, flickering lights, and vigorous movement.

Others may misjudge differences among sensations—are they moving up or down, forward or backward? Is the water hot or cold?

Many with SPD are unusually clumsy, bumping into furniture, stumbling, and struggling to catch a beach ball or alternate feet to climb stairs.

Rather than growing out of it completely, children with severe SPD usually grow into it as they develop, sticking to regular routines and familiar environments that help them feel safe and comfortable.

SPD is not a learning disability, but it can lead to academic and social problems, as a child may be inclined to avoid ordinary childhood experiences that are distressing, such as messy art and science projects, circle games with other children, new foods, and other sensory stimuli.

Here are a few of the common signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in children. If your child shows one or two of these behaviors, not to worry! Therapists typically only diagnose SPD when an individual's symptoms are severe enough to negatively impact everyday life.

Sensory over-responsivity

• Resists being touched or held

• Is distressed by baths, hairbrushes, and messy hands or face

• Cannot tolerate textures of most clothing or sheets

• Is a picky eater

• Keeps hands fisted and won't put bare feet on the ground

• Covers eyes or ears frequently

• Is apprehensive of sudden movement, playground equipment, car rides, or elevators

Sensory under-responsivity

• Seems oblivious to irritating touch sensations like itchy fabric

• Is unbothered by inoculations or bruises

• Ignores loud noises

• Does not notice when name is called

• Does not notice when s/he is falling

Sensory craving

• Touches everything

• Bumps and crashes, seeking deep pressure into skin and muscles

• Seeks intense movement, constantly rocking, swinging, jiggling, or climbing

• Enjoys shaking and nodding head, twirling, or being upside down

• Sniffs objects and people

• Puts inedible objects in mouth after 2 years of age

• Speaks in booming voice

Inefficient sensory discrimination

• Misjudges distance to a ledge or to moving objects such as kids swinging

• Has difficulty seeing differences in faces, pictures, and letters such as “b" and “d"

• Has difficulty hearing differences in voices, tunes, and sounds such as “g" and “k"

• Gets confused when orienting limbs to get dressed

• Can't tell if milk has soured or food is sufficiently chewed

Inefficient sensory-based motor skills

• Has loose or “floppy" muscle tone

• Trips “on air" (i.e., without an apparent obstacle)

• Has difficulty using both sides of the body together to clap or read

• Has difficulty thinking up, planning, and carrying out novel and complex actions, such as negotiating an unfamiliar obstacle course

• Shows reduced fine-motor skills for drawing, writing, or articulating words

• Shows reduced gross-motor skills for crawling, running, or climbing

If you think your child may be showing signs of Sensory Processing Disorder, chat with your pediatrician or ask for a referral to a pediatric occupational therapist. If you think something is amiss with your child's development, listen to your motherly instinct! No one knows your tot like you do.

Fortunately, SPD is treatable, especially when children are young and their brains are malleable.

Looking for a few activities to introduce sensory-motor experiences and enhance your child's developmental skills at home?

Try these hands-on, body-on activities with your little one!

• Circle games (e.g., Hokey Pokey or Duck, Duck, Goose)

• Resistive activities (Tug-o-War or gentle roughhousing)

• Heavy work activities (carrying bags of potatoes and buckets of water, digging, or pushing a stroller)

• Follow-the-leader

• Stretching activities (crouching like a seed and gradually “growing")

• Playing in tubs filled with water, sand, beans, rice, mud, shaving cream, or other ingredients pleasing to the touch

Whether your child is diagnosed with SPD, or simply needs a little extra time to develop basic sensory-motor skills, fear not, mama! Now that you know the signs of SPD, you can stop worrying so much and seek help if necessary. In the meantime, have fun with your child, go outdoors daily, and join the ranks of parents everywhere raising “sensational" kids.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

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A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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