Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
About sensory processing disorder
Sensory processing is the ability to take in sensory information from the world around us and interpret this information effectively so that we may function optimally throughout the day. The brain not only processes information through the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound, but the nervous system also interprets this sensory information and translates it into movement, body position and pressure.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) occurs when the nervous system has difficulty regulating, processing, and interpreting information from one or more of the senses. This may affect one’s ability to function optimally in all environments, and these difficulties can adversely affect a child’s social skills, academic performance, and motor development.
What are some symptoms of sensory processing disorder?
We take in and experience sensory information from the environment every minute of our day, and we use this information to produce a reaction. Our brains take in this information, and must be able to organize it, process it and use it in order for us to respond appropriately to a particular situation. It is the organization of all of this sensory information that is termed sensory integration. The sensory information that we receive includes auditory, tactile, visual, olfactory, vestibular and proprioceptive information. The vestibular and proprioceptive senses are the less known and obvious of the senses, and they are responsible for sense of movement and sense of body position in space, respectively.
Different children perceive and process sensory information differently. Some children find loud noises scary, while others like to bang objects and search for interesting ways to create noise. Similarly, some children may only tolerate certain fabrics or textures for clothing, while others may enjoy rolling around in grass, sand, or on the carpet. All children and adults have different sensory preferences, and while most adults have learned to adapt to their specific needs, some children need guidance in processing sensory information to reach their full potential.
Some symptoms of sensory processing disorder in children include:
- Inability to focus on an activity if there’s background noise
- Jumping from one activity to another, never fully being able to complete a task
- Responding negatively to loud noises, or often covering ears
- Seeking high movement activities, but often appearing clumsy
- Showing a strong preference for certain foods or smells
- Irritation from shoes, socks, tags, or different textures
- Difficulties learning new activities
- Under or over-sensitivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
- Tendency to be easily distracted
- Social and/or emotional problems
- Unusually high or low activity level
- Poor coordination
- Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
- Poor fine motor coordination
- Impulsivity, lack of self-control
- Difficulty in making transitions
- Inability to unwind or calm self
- Emotionally reactive
- Poor self concept
- Delays in speech, language, motor skills
- Delays in daily skill performance (dressing, feeding)
- Delays in academic achievement
What is sensory processing disorder and what causes it?
When sensory information (that we take in from our environment) is not being efficiently organized and processed in our brains, what results is called sensory integration dysfunction. An underdeveloped nervous system causes inefficient processing of sensory information, an this can often be seen in children who were born prematurely, or have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, among other reasons.
How can I tell if my child may have sensory processing disorder?
Sensory integration dysfunction can be presented in a few different ways, and can be placed in three general categories:
1.) Sensory Modulation Disorder
Sensory Modulation Disorder is a problem with responding appropriately to sensory information in a way that matches the nature and intensity of the sensory information. A child can be over-responsive (respond more intensely, quickly and for a longer time to sensory input than typical children- ex. can’t tolerate tags on clothing), under-responsive (exhibit less of a response to sensory input than the situation demands, or take longer to react) or sensory seeking (crave and actively seek out sensory experiences, often in socially unacceptable ways.)
2.) Sensory-Based Motor Disorder
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder is a problem with stabilizing, moving, or planning a series of movements in response to sensory demands (a child may have difficulty with coordination and control of their bodies, as this is a dysfunction of the proprioceptive and vestibular senses).
3.) Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Sensory Discrimination Disorder is a problem with sensing similarities and differences between sensations. These children may have a difficult time zipping their jacket without looking, or have difficulty distinguishing between a written p or q, for example.
When children are unable to process sensory information efficiently, it can affect them in many different ways, including their ability to regulate their emotions, their social skills, speech and academic skills, and fine and gross motor skills.
How can I help treat my child’s sensory processing disorder?
With effective treatment provided by an occupational therapist, a child’s nervous system can develop the ability to process sensory information in an appropriate manner. A child with poor sensory integration skills may need to learn specific compensatory strategies to function optimally and integrate sensory input in an efficient manner.
Our approach to sensory processing disorder at North Shore Pediatric Therapy
At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we tailor our therapy to meet the needs of each individual child. Our therapists are specially trained to provide your child with vital sensory input and experiences needed to meet the needs of his nervous system. Children with sensory processing disorder require individualized treatment plans adapted to motivate and empower them to reach their full potential, with the proper balance of arousal, calming and organizing activities.