Sensory processing difficulties

A common challenge for children with special needs

I recently put this question to a group of parents who use homeopathy for their children with special needs:

“I have been asked to do a short talk about homeopathy to a group for special needs families. What do you think would interest them most?”

One of the most popular answers was: sensory issues.

Sensory Integration

Children with problems with sensory integration find it hard to make sense of the world around them.  It is therefore more of a challenge to function well or behave appropriately.  They may over- or under-respond to input from any of their senses:

  • sight
  • hearing
  • touch
  • smell
  • taste
  • proprioception (or awareness of where their body is in space)
  • vestibular (or sense of movement)

An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration can assess these challenges.  Then they may suggest strategies to manage them.  Stimulating activities will help those with sensory seeking behaviours.  On the other hand, more calming activities will be beneficial for sensory avoiders.

For a clear explanation of Sensory Processing Disorder, watch this video of SPD from a child’s perspective.  (I would like to thank Jigsaw Occupational Therapy for introducing me to this video.  I first saw it on their excellent training “Introduction to supporting children with Sensory Processing Difficulties”)

Children who are over-sensitive to sensory stimuli are in a constant state of high alert.   (In other words, their fight or flight stress response is being triggered much of the time). As a result, they experience high levels of anxiety.  Consequently, children may react by becoming aggressive (meltdowns) or withdrawing (shutdowns).  These are the children who are most often come to me for homeopathic treatment.

Should I consider homeopathy for sensory processing difficulties?

Yes, absolutely – read about Ollie below for an example.

Also, it is also worth noting that in my experience homeopathy works well alongside Occupational Therapy in these cases if parents wish to use both.

For research evidence, see Barvalia’s paper on Holistic Homeopathy for Autism Spectrum Disorder (Ref 1 – see the bottom of page 36 for SPD).  32 cases with moderate to severe sensory impairment showed statistically significant improvement after 12 months of homeopathic treatment.

Ollie’s story

5 year old Ollie came to see me for help with fits of anger due to sensory overload.  In these episodes he would hit out at those around him.  Moreover, he often hit himself, although he seemed oblivious to any pain from doing so.  In particular, Ollie was sensitive to sudden loud noises – balloons popping, fire alarms going off or hand-driers bursting in to life in public toilets.  Being in a group of noisy children was also difficult and so school play-times and parties could also result in him feeling overwhelmed.  He would become very anxious and move suddenly into angry outbursts.  These were occurring several times a day.  By bedtime, Ollie would often be anxious again and clingy.  He wanted to sleep with his Mum and with the lights on.

As always when looking for a homeopathic remedy, I also gathered lots more general information about Ollie, including his character, other health issues and events in the past that might have had a big effect on him.

I learned that his birth had been difficult and he had become stuck in the birth canal. After this, he spent a few days in Intensive Care separated from his mother.  Sensitivity to noise was apparent from babyhood onwards and he was also prone to night terrors.

Homeopathy for Ollie

Based on all this information, I selected the remedy Stramonium for Ollie.

A few months later, his mother reported that Ollie was a different child. He was calmer at school, had slept in his own bed most nights and although there had been glimpses of anger, these were no longer flaring up as they used to.  Ollie had not had any Occupational Therapy, so I recommended an OT trained in sensory integration in case his parents should feel advice on further strategies would be useful in the future.

Further reading

You may also be interested to read about my work with Ian, who came to me for help with hyperactivity and sensory seeking behaviour.

1. Barvalia: Autism Spectrum Disorder: Homeopathic Links Spring 2011,vol 24: 31-38