Kids Who Feel Too Much

Children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) sometimes overreact or underreact to touch, sounds, and food textures. Parents say this controversial condition is real, but doctors debate whether it’s a separate disorder. For children who have sensory issues, occupational therapy can treat it. Learn how to spot the symptoms of SPD to get your child evaluated properly.

Boy with Sensory Processing Disorder 

Playdates, parties, meals at kid-friendly restaurants are the types of activities you’d expect to fill the days of a typical 3-year-old boy. But that’s not the case for Charlie Phelps of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“We usually avoid restaurants,” says Charlie’s mother, Katie Phelps. “I don’t do playdates because he could pitch a fit — it’s not unusual for him to throw himself into walls — or wander off by himself. I don’t want something to go wrong and for people to start seeing him in a different light.”

She is thinking specifically of a Christmas party that ended in tears — both Charlie’s and hers. Her son, then 2, couldn’t keep his eyes off the Polar Express train chugging around a miniature track. He had no interest in decorating cookies, playing with other kids, or doing anything that involved leaving the train. After about an hour, Phelps thought that stopping the train might encourage Charlie to join the party.

“All hell broke loose,” she remembers. Charlie screamed with an intensity that most kids save for shots at the doctor’s. Phelps tried explaining that the train was tired and needed a nap. She tried distracting her distraught son by telling him about the other fun activities. She took him outside, hoping the cool air would help. When Phelps was out of options and Charlie couldn’t settle down, she decided it was time to leave. “He screamed and kicked like a bucking bull all the way home,” remembers Phelps. He was still crying as she carried him into the house, but he managed to look up at her and say, “Mommy, you rock baby,” referring to a calming ritual she’d created. Phelps brought her son to the recliner, held him tight and whispered “Rock, baby” in his ear repeatedly as they settled into the comforting motion of the chair.

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