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Children's Health

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The Truth About Sensory Processing Disorder

Helping a Child With SPD

What if you realize that the school might be on to something? A referral to an occupational therapist can pretty much never hurt, says Shaikh. "This isn't medication. It doesn't have side effects," he says. "There are a lot of adaptive, common-sense things that a good occupational therapist can do to help a child with sensory issues."

For example, perhaps your son has been fighting a lot at recess. The occupational therapist may find that he has a problem with knowing where his body is in space, so when another child bumps into him, he lashes out.

"A good OT will give him exercises to better develop that positional sense," says Shaikh. "In general, with young kids, the more 'nonmedical' work -- teaching and training -- that can occur, the better off you are."

But you shouldn't take a referral from a school straight to an occupational therapist, advises Melanie Fernandez, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of The Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at New York City's Child Mind Institute. Instead, consult your pediatrician, and perhaps seek an evaluation from a child psychologist or psychiatrist.

"That diagnosis will help identify the most effective approach," she says. "For example, the real issue might turn out to be ADHD, which occupational therapy doesn't treat. An evaluation may also be a way to establish what the condition isn't -- ruling out SPD or ADHD, but still identifying support that can take place in the classroom to help your child."

Getting Professional Help for SPD

Many providers, such as child psychiatrists or psychologists, may be willing to do a short "second opinion" consultation over the phone, says Kawa. "You can tell them that the school has brought up x, y, and z concerns about your child, and ask what they think. They may say that it sounds like you need an ADHD evaluation, or that it's 'typical boy stuff' and suggest waiting a few months to see if it's still a problem. Or they may tell you to come right in because it sounds like your child is really struggling."

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