Nicholas… a 5-year old sensational kid

Nicholas Bernhard worked with WMC Pediatric Occupational Therapist Ali Roemhild at WMC’s recent Sensational Kids camp, a six-week camp for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder. Roemhild (left) is pictured with Nicholas, who enjoyed the therapy swing, and his mother, Teresa Gehling.

Sometimes the world can be uncomfortable – music is playing too loud, sunlight makes you squint, a piece of clothing irritates your skin.

For people with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), these types of sensory overloads can cause distress, making it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.

Five-year old Nicholas Bernhard was diagnosed with SPD by Tyler Menke, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System family medicine physician at Winneshiek Medical Center. Nicholas’ mom, Teresa Gehling, says, “Nicholas wouldn’t wear jeans, had to wash his hands over and over again, and acted in ways that were completely different than his older siblings.” His quirkiness led Teresa to bring Nicholas to the doctor. “During the appointment, Dr. Menke began telling me about SPD. As I was listening to him, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that Nicholas’ behaviors had a name and that he wasn’t the only one facing these challenges,” says Teresa.

Dr. Menke referred Nicholas to WMC’s Occupational Therapy program where Nicholas and Teresa – together – could learn how to manage his responses to sensory stimulation. The pair worked with Occupational Therapist Lori Shindelar, who provided a sensory-rich environment where Nicholas could explore his abilities and his mother could identify his limitations. “Lori also taught me techniques to help Nicholas,” says Teresa. Those techniques included targeted massage, play-based interventions, how to create structure for Nicholas, and how to identify and react when Nicholas was over or under-stimulated.

“After just a few sessions, I noticed that Nicholas was more comfortable in his environment. His life was changing in a positive way, and he was having fun, just being 5 years old,” says Teresa.

Nicholas goes to camp

Nicholas and Teresa continued to learn more about SPD at the six-week WMC Sensational Kids Camp for kids. WMC Pediatric Occupational Therapist Ali Roemhild, says, “Effective occupational therapy enables children with SPD to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping.”

“Camp further helped us understand Nicholas and how to help him,” says Teresa. “I applaud WMC for talking about Sensory Processing Disorder publicly. The camp helped bring community awareness to this very real disorder.”

Teresa has simple advice for parents concerned about their child’s behavior: “Just go to your doctor.” She adds, “You never excuse misbehavior, but if you can begin to understand the reason behind your child’s behavior, you can react to it in the correct way.”

For more information about SPD, talk to your primary care doctor, or call the Winneshiek Medical Center Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine department at 563-387-3031

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