What Should I do if I Think My Child Needs Help with Sensory Processing Development?

If you suspect that your child’s sensory development is not optimal, it is important to check with your pediatrician for further screening and follow-up. Remember that a problem with one sensory system can affect your child’s learning and development. Understanding more about sensory processing and sensory processing disorders will help you decide what type of treatment might be helpful to your child.
Sensory processing Consult your pediatrician if you have concerns with this area of your child’s development. Your child may need an assessment and intervention with an occupational therapist.

Although sensory processing has been researched since the 1960s, you and your pediatrician may be unfamiliar with the terms Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Integration Dysfunction (a synonym for SPD, a term used in the past). There has been some controversy about the existence of SPD and the efficacy of treatment. This is mainly true because it is difficult to prove its existence. SDP is often diagnosed along with other disorders, such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This coexistence further complicates research efforts. However, there are many accounts providing evidence in support of SPD diagnoses and treatment.

SPD is a global umbrella term that includes all forms of the disorder, including three primary diagnostic groups and the subtypes found within each primary diagnostic group:

  • Type I – Sensory Modulation Disorder
  • Type II – Sensory-Based Motor Disorder
  • Type III – Sensory Discrimination Disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder is often the result of a problem with a child’s responsiveness to sensory stimuli combined with self-regulation strategies. A child’s spectrum of responsiveness may range from hypersensitive to hyposensitive or under responsive to certain sensory stimuli. Also, some children constantly crave and seek out sensory stimulation.

  • Examples of hypersensitivity: Lucy appears fearful and covers her ears and hides whenever her preschool circle time bell rings. She is displaying hypersensitivity or over responsiveness to sound. Lee complains and asks his mother to remove the tags on his shirt when his mother dresses him in the morning. He is displaying hypersensitivity to light touch.
  • Examples of hyposensitivity: In the morning, Jose sleeps through his alarm, sleeps through his mother’s voice, and does not really awaken until she helps him sit up in bed. He is displaying hyposensitivity to sounds.
  • Examples of sensory seeking: Alexi always runs to give her mother a big hug by crashing hard into her chest. Eliot loves to spin on the tire swing, jump off playground equipment, and spin in circles in the middle of his preschool classroom. At times, all of these behaviors can be considered typical of young children. It is considered a problem when it interferes with his or her ability to participate in daily life activities and routines.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder occurs when a child’s sensations of movement or proprioception and vestibular senses are impaired. A child with this disorder has problems planning or executing movements in response to the sensory demands in his environment. Children with Sensory-Based Motor Disorder may display characteristics of the two subtypes of this disorder. Postural disorders and dyspraxia can affect a child’s gross motor, fine motor, and/or oral motor skills.

  • An example postural disorder: Ten-year-old Sam’s handwriting is illegible. This is true mainly because he is unable to maintain good sitting posture and sits slumped over his desk while writing.
  • An example dyspraxia: Eight-year-old Nicole has trouble getting herself dressed for school because she cannot follow the steps needed to get dressed.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder occurs when a child’s ability to take in and interpret sensory information is impaired. It can affect any of the sensory systems – hearing, vision, or touch, for example.

  • An example of Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Sean is behind in taking notes at school because he is still “feeling” around in his backpack for his pencil. He finally looks for it with his eyes because he cannot locate the pencil with his sense of touch alone.

You may feel that your child’s behaviors and symptoms fit easily into one of these categories or that he displays a combination of these examples. A comprehensive assessment by a sensory integration-trained therapist is one way to help identify the issues your child may have and to find the type of treatments and interventions that would possibly benefit him.

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