Feeling Every Fabric: Sensory Processing Disorder

Happy ZoeSoft. Scratchy. Tight. Loose. Bumpy. Smooth.

Think about all you touch throughout the day. How something feels doesn’t affect most people. You touch something, understand what it feels like, and move on with your task.

For others, how something feels can set the tone for their day.

“Too” much
When Zoelle Kempenich was younger, her parents, Aaron and Hillary, noticed she would have difficulties in different situations.

“We were given a lot of advice from friends, most who said Zoe had behavioral issues,” said Hillary. “As parents, we were at a loss. We went to parenting classes and read books and nothing got us on the right track. We talked with our pediatrician, but nothing seemed to work.”

Once Zoe was three, Hillary enrolled her in Head Start. She thought “maybe it was a social issue.” Zoe still struggled.

By first grade, something dawned on Hillary.

“Zoe was getting dressed in the morning, a basic task many people take for granted, when she kept saying, ‘It’s too itchy, it’s too tight, it’s too much,’” said Hillary. “I keyed into the word ‘too’ and thought it meant something. That’s when I called Altru’s Pediatric Therapy Services for an evaluation.”

Kempenich2Diagnosis
Therapists discovered Zoe dealt with sensory processing disorder, which results when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. In addition to touch, Zoe also has sensitivities to sounds, taste, light and some social interactions.

“It explains Zoe to a tee,” said Hillary. “Everything we read and learned about sensory processing described what Zoe was going through. When one of her senses is overstimulated or reacts a certain way, Zoe fixates on it and can’t get past the struggle.”

Jeans were tough for Zoe to accept. Once on, she would get distracted by the feel of the fabric. Even after changing, she’d still be worried about it.

“Getting dressed and putting on socks shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was to Zoe,” said Hillary. “Her self-confidence has grown because she’s learned ways to overcome the challenge. We no longer have to buy stock in a certain pant or shirt because she’s learned to accept different textures.”

“She’s the princess who can feel that pea under the mattress,” said Aaron, a medical physicist at Altru Cancer Center. “That’s how keyed in her senses are.”

Making Sense of it All
Zoe began therapy once or twice a week with Diane Solberg, and now continues with occupational therapist Kayla Wood and physical therapist Liz Olson once every six weeks.

“We talk and play games to help me get used to different textures,” said Zoe. “Other times, we’d ride bikes and use the climbing wall.”

Now nine, Zoe attends Ben Franklin Elementary School, where paraprofessional Amy Spicer helps with therapy throughout the day.

“We discovered brushing is one preventive technique to use with Zoe before her senses escalate too high,” said Hillary. A sensory brush is moved in the same direction over Zoe’s arms and legs. This repeated, calming action is done a few times throughout the day to reduce sensory defensiveness. Zoe also does joint compression during her daily therapy routine.

Hillary says brushing helps Zoe get through her days. She’s overcome may texture obstacles, and is a much happier child.

“I like spending time with my sister (Niska, 6), and doing music and art classes,” said Zoe. Her dog, Peri, is also a good friend.


Art Therapy
It’s through art that the Kempenich family has been able to connect even more.

Girls Painting

“There was a time when kids would say some negative things to Zoe, and it hurt all of us,” said Hillary. “We used art to help us express how those words made us feel.”

Glass Girl Hillary Kempenich

“Glass Girl” or “Omoodayaabik Ikwe” in Ojibwe, a Native American language.

An artist herself, Hillary has donated pieces to TAG – The Art of Giving, an annual art benefit held since 2007 that supports patients and patient care at Altru Health System. In 2012, funds raised went to areas of pediatric therapy services.

“It’s very overwhelming to see community support,” said Hillary. “By supporting TAG, it’s as if people are saying, ‘We care. We might not understand, but we care.’ There’s still so much to be done to educate about sensory processing disorder.”

“I can’t imagine our lives without pediatric therapy services,” she continued. “We knew something could be done to help Zoe, and we found it at Altru.”

Have you benefitted from pediatric therapy services at Altru? Share your experience with others below.

2 thoughts on “Feeling Every Fabric: Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. Our sweet Zoe will always be our princess, with or without the pea. May God always bless her and her little family.

  2. This is my daughters exact story as we’ll, exact same issues and friends telling us it was a parenting issue w us or behavioral issues w her. We did the same therapy too, I would love to msg this family.

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