Sensory Processing Disorder and the Speech Language Pathologist

child with hands on ears
Cross Country Education
February 08, 2021 11:47 AM (GMT-05:00)

What Does It Feel Like to Have a Sensory Processing Disorder?

Have you ever needed to change out of a sweater because it was too itchy or leave a room because it was too noisy? Imagine feeling that way virtually all the time and not being able to escape the unpleasant feeling. This may approximate the experience of living with sensory processing disorder (SPD). People with SPD have difficulty integrating sensory input (visual, tactile, auditory, etc.) to the extent that it disrupts their daily lives. 

SLPs Can Team Up With OTs to Help Students with Sensory Processing Disorders

Although sensory issues are treated by occupational therapists, there is a good chance many of those students will be on the speech-language pathologist’s caseload. For that reason, it’s important for SLPs to understand how they can modify their approach to treatment when a student has SPD.
First and foremost, it is important to be in close communication with the student’s occupational therapist to learn the specifics of the individual’s sensory issues and the strategies they are already using. The OT will be your best resource for this type of information. Some OTs are open to co-treatment with SLPs, which can promote the sharing of professional knowledge. A co-treatment session is also an ideal opportunity to work with a student since it can provide an opportunity for the student to feel calm and secure. 

Addressing SPD Issues First

Keep in mind that students cannot learn until they feel calm and regulated; sensory issues need to be dealt with before students are expected to attend to speech therapy tasks. Think back to the itchy sweater and the excruciatingly loud room. It would be all but impossible to feel ready to learn while dealing with these discomforts. Once we know the specifics of a student’s sensory processing issues, we can make appropriate modifications to the type of input we provide. 

Over-responsive SPD

For students with over-responsive type SPD, settings that are less stimulating and more calming are appropriate. Some of the modifications we might make to our therapy setting include dimming the lights, periodically offering noise-canceling headphones, designating a quiet space for children who need to self-regulate, and generally reducing distractions. Some students might benefit from being seated with their backs to windows or doors. Avoid games with unexpected loud noises or heavily scented materials such as markers or playdough. Every student should also have a way to ask for breaks when needed. 

Under-responsive SPD

For students with under-responsive type of SPD, more stimulating activities are needed in order for the student to feel alert and regulated. These students can be encouraged to jump, swing, dance, or crash on a pad. You may wish to use music, loud noises, or novel toys/games that draw the student’s interest. A sensory bin can also help the student engage.

Sensory Processing Disorder Resources for SLPs and OTs

For further reading, please see:
Kashman, Nancy and Mora, Janet. The Sensory Connection: An OT and SLP Team Approach.
Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head.

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