With a teacher for a mom and a physician’s assistant for a dad, Matthew North had two experts on the case from birth, but his problems baffled them both. “Everything was hard for Matthew,” says Theresa North, of Highland Ranch, Colo. He didn’t speak until he was 3. In school, he’d hide under a desk to escape noise and activity. He couldn’t coordinate his limbs well enough to catch a big beach ball.
Matthew, now 10, was evaluated for autism and attention deficit hyper-activity disorder, but the labels didn’t fit. “We filled out those ADHD questionnaires a million times, and he always came out negative,” Theresa recalls. “When we found this place, I cried. It was the first time someone said they could help.”
This place is the Sensory Therapies and Research [STAR] Center, just south of Denver, which treats about 50 children a week for a curious mix of problems. Some can’t seem to get their motors in gear: they have low muscle tone and a tendency to respond only minimally to conversation and invitations to play. Others are revved too high: they annoy other children by crashing into them or hugging too hard. Many can’t handle common noises or the feel of clothing on their skin. A number just seem clumsy. Adults can remember kids like these from their own childhood. They were the ones called losers, loners, klutzes and troublemakers. At STAR Center they wear a more benign label: children with sensory processing disorder (SPD).