Kids and adults alike process the world using the five senses. We smell dinner cooking in the oven, hear our kids laughing as they play, see the smiles on our kids’ faces, feel their tiny arms hug us, and taste the delicious taste of coffee in the (very early) morning.
But for some people, senses can be overwhelming. For example, the sound of a lawn mower can be mildly annoying to you but make your kid tense up. Or the light touch of a specific fabric can cause your child to chafe, making her miserable every time she wears a particular shirt.
These can be signs of sensory processing disorder (SPD).
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder is not yet medically recognized as a diagnosable condition. However, it is a very real condition. SPD happens when the brain has problems accurately receiving and responding to information it receives from the senses.
Often, we see sensory processing disorder in adults and children on the autism spectrum. However, anyone can experience it.
Like autism, SPD occurs on a spectrum, in which symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the person. Some people might have challenges with all five senses, while others are only sensitive to one or two senses.
In some cases, kids might not react to certain senses. For example, a child might scream when you brush their teeth but not flinch when they feel extremely hot water.
How Nutrient Deficiency and Sensory Processing Disorder Interact
Often, kids with SPD react negatively to foods with certain textures. This can make it challenging to ensure that your child is getting the right nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Often, kids with SPD are incorrectly diagnosed as being simply “picky eaters.” This is really unfortunate because it diminishes the genuine challenge kids with SPD face when they try new foods.
Here are some specific nutrient deficiencies that can impact people who have SPD.
The B vitamins, including folate, play a significant role in the health of our nervous system and brain. Being deficient in B vitamins can impact brain development and lead to other serious conditions such as depression.
Our nervous system uses magnesium to transmit information. So, when there’s a magnesium deficiency, that signal transmission becomes inefficient, making it more likely that kids with SPD will have more frequent and intense stress responses. A magnesium deficiency can also impact sleep quality.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for supporting brain function and development. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t naturally make omega-3, so we have to get them from supplements or food sources (mainly fish). One study found a link between omega-3s and a reduction of sensory overload.
How to Get Your Child with Sensory Processing Disorder the Nutrition They Need
The good news is that there are several types of foods that can ensure kids with SPD get the nutrients they need. Of course, fruits and vegetables are always a good source of nutrition, as are lean proteins.
For many kids, supplementing their diet with a quality multivitamin is a great way to ensure they get the nutrients they need, regardless of what other foods they eat.
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