Children with sensory processing disorder may have impaired function in one sense or multiple senses. They may have problems with sight, touch, sound, taste and physical contact.
Sensory processing disorder can often go undiagnosed. There is no clear factor that has been found to be responsible for SPD at this time. Research is ongoing and several factors are thought to be a cause, amongst them genetic, environmental and birth complications. Risk factors for developing SPD include autism, under stimulation during childhood, foetal alcohol syndrome, relatives with SPD, environmental toxins, food allergies and mental health issues.
At this time there is not a standard test for sensory processing disorder.
Behavioural Symptoms in a child with sensory processing disorder:
- Withdraws when touched
- Behavioural problems
- Difficulties calming oneself after exercise or being upset
- Refusal to eat certain foods due to the textures of the foods
- Be hypersensitive to certain fabrics
- Wears only soft clothes or clothes without tags
- Dislikes dirtying his or her hands
- Does not engage in creative play
- Lacks variety in play – may watch the same television program over and over
- Oversensitivity to sounds, especially hair dryers, washing machines, or sirens
- Be oversensitive to odours – strong or mild
- Have challenges with certain movements, such as swinging, sliding, or going down stairs
- Notices or hears background noises that others cannot
- May harm others during play accidentally
- Dangerous behaviours
- Have odd posture
- Poor balance
- Delayed fine motor control, such as handwriting challenges
- Delayed gross motor development
- Impairments in sleep, eating, and elimination patterns
- Be in constant motion
- Jump, swing, spin excessively
- Gets fatigue easily
- Alternates between constant motion and fatigue
- Poor coordination
- May fall often
- High tolerance to pain
- Decreased ability to interact with peers
- May stand too closely to others
- Social isolation
- Fearful of crowds
- Avoids standing in large groups
- Fearful of surprise touch
Children with sensory processing disorders are as intelligent as any other child and many may be gifted. Their brains work differently to stimuli. They need to be taught to process information and they need activities tailored to their needs.
Children with SPD benefit from occupational therapy sessions in a sensory rich environment. A qualified therapist guides them through fun activities that are structured to challenge the child but ensure that he is always successful.
The focus of occupational therapy is that the child learns the appropriate response to stimuli in a fun way so that the child is able to function in everyday situations.
For hypersensitive children:
- Slow/gradual introduction to sensory stimuli
- DO NOT FORCE child to move, taste, touch things which cause a significant fearful response
- Prepare child/let child know what you are doing ahead of time and while engaged in activity/treatment
- Allow child to experience sensations when he is ready. You CAN encourage it and creatively find a way to get him to do it
- Let the child know you understand and accept what they are feeling!
- Be patient, allow extra time, ask the child what is making them feel anxious, sad, angry etc. Give them words to use to express their feelings and emotions.
For hyposensitive children:
- Make child aware of body parts through input and sensory play
- Remind child to do what their body needs to do, but safely. Help them understand their own sensory needs
- Allow child more movement experiences and movement breaks
- Have child do activities in a variety of positions; sitting, kneeling, laying on stomach propped on elbows, sitting on a therapy ball, etc.
With proper treatment a child with sensory processing disorder can learn the skills to manage their response to external factors and function normally at their optimum level.