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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Essence of Sensory Processing Disorder

From the Washington Post Blog "On Parenting"

By Marguerite Kelly
May 21, 2014

Question: My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 7, and is now a junior in high school.

Because of his attention difficulties, we constantly have to remind him to do his homework, his chores or whatever he needs to do. I fully understand his challenges, so I follow the advice of his doctors pretty well.

There is one thing that really bugs me, however: My son simply won’t take a shower without a lot of prodding. I’m not asking him to shower every day, but why can’t he take two showers a week without making such a big fuss?

I had hoped that a budding interest in girls would make my son have better hygiene, but that hasn’t happened yet. Although he does use a deodorant — when he’s reminded to use it — he tells me that he doesn’t know why he has to take a shower, too.

At what point do I stop saying anything about it and just let him be stinky?

Answer: You shouldn’t let your son smell bad, because that will affect his ability to make and keep friends.

You have to insist that your son catch up with the times, and with the boys in his class. Your son acts the way a young teenage boy usually acts: He was probably shocked when you wanted him to take a shower, to wash the back of his neck and to use a deodorant. Sooner or later he’ll realize that you were right: He does smell like Cologne du Goat.

Almost all young teenage boys tiptoe into a good hygiene plan between the sixth and ninth grades, not when they’ve reached their junior year in high school. Because of this delay, it sounds like your son may actually have sensory processing disorder, especially if he has always been bothered by the tags in his shirt and the seams in his socks.

SPD children can have super-sensitive skin (or tactile responsivity, as it’s called in the trade) which can cause them to be seriously bothered by things like showers, which send irregular needles of water onto their skin.

Fortunately, an occupational therapist can check your son for this condition, and if he has it, she can help him get over it, as long as he does the daily exercises she will prescribe. This will help him relax, too.

You could also have him take baths instead of showers. If you don’t have a bathtub, buy a cheap plastic bin, then put it in the shower stall and fill the bin up with water. Have your son sit in the bin, where he will feel enclosed and safe. In time, he should be able to tolerate a shower as well as a bath.

To learn more about sensory processing disorder — a condition that was discovered about 40 years ago — you’ll want to read two fine books on the subject: the revised edition of The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz (Perigee; $16) and Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske (Penguin; $17). If this is your son’s problem, the more you and your son know about SPD, the sooner he will get over it.


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Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at, where you can also find past Family Almanac columns. Her next chat is scheduled for May 29th.

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