In celebration of World Downs Syndrome day, we are going to talk about a problem that is not usually associated with Down Syndrome…. Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD).
In this blog, we are going to give some top tips on how to help someone who has both Down Syndrome and Sensory Processing Difficulties.
Before I get into how you can help people with Downs Syndrome who have SPD, I think that it is important to give a brief description of both diagnoses.
What Is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome is a condition that occurs when an individual has a full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Some of the most common traits of Down syndrome include low muscle tone, small stature and upward slanted eyes. Although this may not be true for every person with Down syndrome, some might have these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.
Down Syndrome happens to ever one in 700 babies, this makes it one of the most common chromosomal conditions. There are approximately 750 babies born with Down Syndrome in the UK each year and 6,000 in the US.
There Are 3 Types Of Down Syndrome!
Trisomy 21 (Nondisjunction)
Down Syndrome is usually caused when there is an error in cell division called “nondisjunction.” This results in three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two.
This type of Down Syndrome accounts for around 95% of cases.
Translocation is when the total number of chromosomes in the cells remains 46. However, an additional or partial copy of chromosome 21 attaches to another chromosome.
Translocation accounts for 4% of Down Syndrome
Mosaicism (Mosaic Down Syndrome)
This type of Down syndrome is where there is a mixture of two types of cells, some containing the usual 46 chromosomes and other containing 47. Those cells containing 47 chromosomes contain an extra chromosome 21.
Mosaicism is the least common of Down Syndrome. Only about 1% of all cases of Down Syndrome are Mosaicism.
What Are Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD)?
Sensory Processing Difficulties is a condition where the brain and nervous system have trouble processing or integrating stimulus. For people with SPD processing feeling of hot and cold, being tired, hungry and loud lights and sounds can be challenging. Sometimes causing extreme discomfort that leads to a meltdown. SPD is usually associated with Autism but it can be present in Down Syndrome and even Neurotypical (“Normal”) people.
The Seven Senses
Counter to common belief, we have 7 senses not five. These senses are:
People with SPD can be either oversensitive or under sensitive to any of these senses. If we are looking at touch, for example, someone with SPD who is oversensitive might get aggravated at labels and seams in clothes, asking for them to be cut out. While someone who is under-sensitive might be able to get into a very hot or very cold bath without feeling discomfort.
How To Help Someone With Down Syndrome with Their Sensory Processing Difficulties – Top Tips
The first step in helping people with SPD is to find out which senses are being affected. It could be one or all of the above depending on the person. Once this is established you can start looking at different products that can help each of the senses.
If someone’s SPD affects their sense of sight, a good way to regulate this sense is to get some sunglasses for the person to carry with them. That way when they feel overwhelmed they can just pop them on until their senses feel regulated again.
For most people, the sense of smell is only effected in terms of SPD when there is a strong perfume or food smell nearby. A neat trick many people use to be able to get around this is to carry a comfort item or a scarf sprayed with a scent they like. This might be a scarf, hat or teddy bear. If a smell becomes too much they can take a break and smell their comfort item to regulate themselves.
Some people with SPD can be considered “picky eaters” if their sense of taste is affected. They might want bland foods, or the same brand or type of food quite often. Most people decide to choose their battles and allow a person with SPD to choose their own diet. Unlike popular belief, someone with SPD will NOT eat something that upsets their senses when they are hungry, they will just go more hungry.
People with SPD that effects their hearing are usually very sensitive to certain sounds. They may enjoy some loud noises, like listening to their music at full volume but hate other sounds like babies crying or cutlery being used. When hearing is affected by SPD, the world can be a very scary and loud place, the person will feel constantly attacked by noises out of their control.
A way to help someone through this is to buy them some ear defenders, or if they want something more discreet, some ear plugs. This will allow the person to block out a lot of the unwanted sound and allow them to go out into social situations calmly. However, if you are buying some ear defenders for children, I would only use them when absolutely necessary because they can do more harm than good. To find out more about why this is, I’d suggest listening to our podcast.
If the sense of touch is affected by SPD, then some of the most common symptoms are people not liking seams in their socks, not enjoying the tags in their clothes. Boys/Men wearing their underwear backwards due to the seams at the front and reluctance to wear certain fabrics. Most of the ways to get around this are trail and error through trying different fabrics and then only wearing ones you feel comfortable with. Also, be sure to cut all tags out of clothes.
Vestibular (Balance) and Proprioception (Motion)
Many people who have problems with their vestibular sense tend to be seen as “clumsy”. In fact, it’s just that their body perceives balance, space and motion differently to other people. Some other noticeable symptoms of this type of SPD is stimming (this could be rocking, chewing, flapping etc) and tossing and turning while not being able to sleep and not being able to ride a bike.
Some of the ways to help people with SPD is to use products such a Chewigem. Chewigem helps to redirect the chewing somewhere safe. We have many different styles of chewies for lots of different types of chewers. They come in a variety of colours and are safe, discreet and functional for everyday situations.
To find out more about our great products click the link below, there’s something for everyone! :
Another key product which might help if the said person is struggling to sleep is a weighted blanket. These are duvets that are filled with beads allowing the sleeper to feel pressure they may require throughout the night allowing them to get a restful sleep without tossing and turning.
We hope that this article has been insightful and helpful in understanding how to help someone with Down Syndrome with their Sensory Processing Difficulties.
If you would like more information on Sensory Processing Difficulties, why not check out the following blogs: