Sensory Processing Disorder and Sports
Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may present with individual characteristics that can affect their fit with certain sports. Some aspects of a sport may make it a great match: for example, joining the track team for a child who seeks vestibular input. Other sports may be less suitable. Take the child who is unable to sustain their vision on a focal point and experiences visual sensitivity. Sports like baseball, demanding the players keep their eye on the ball, may be more of a challenge.
Factors to consider when choosing a sport:
1. Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses:
Motor coordination and praxis level: This can change within a sport as well. A dog paddle requires low coordination in comparison to the skillful motor planning of the breaststroke.
Muscle tone: Children with SPD often have lower muscle tone than children without SPD. This can translate to more energy being used for the child with SPD during certain quick actions, such as the stopping and turning in basketball or soccer.
On the other hand, when swinging a golf club back and forth before the hit and bouncing the ball in tennis to prepare a serve, more time is allowed for muscle fibers to be recruited, which means less energy is expended to recruit them.
2. Stimuli of Sport Environment:
Each sport has a unique sensory profile that should be considered when a child with SPD participates. Is there constant whistle-blowing? This could be over-stimulating to the auditory-sensitive child. Swimming could be an excellent fit for a child who seeks proprioceptive feedback. Read the Sport Sensory Characteristics list at the end of this handout.
3. Energy Requirements:
Lower energy sports: bowling, fishing, hiking, recreational cycling, baseball, martial arts, horseback riding, golf, yoga, table tennis
Higher energy sports: basketball, track and field, cheerleading, cross country, dance, rock climbing, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, skiing, BMX bike racing, hockey, mountain biking
4. Dynamic vs. Static:
More static: bowling, diving, hiking, archery, trampoline, yoga, martial arts, track and field, rock climbing
Less dynamic: skiing, skating, fencing, volleyball, cycling, wrestling, racquet sports, horseback riding, baseball
More dynamic: dance, field hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee
Fortunately, bringing the subject to light doesn’t mean limitations must remain in place. Awareness is a step toward managing a child’s sensory processing issues so they’re able to participate in what they want!