Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder. It refers to the inability to process certain information received through the senses (touch, taste, sight, sound and smell). Specifically, SID is a disruption in the process of intake, organization and output of the sensory information. Inefficient sensory intake refers to taking in too much or too little information. With too much information, the brain is on overload and causes an individual to avoid sensory stimuli. With too little information, the brain seeks more sensory stimuli. Neurological disorganization can occur in three different manners. One way is when the brain does not receive messages because of a disconnection with neuron cells. A second manner is sensory messages are received inconsistently. The third way is sensory messages are received consistently but do not connect properly with sensory messages. Thus, inefficient motor, language or emotional output occurs when the brain poorly processes sensory messages.
This dysfunction affects children in several areas including attention, activity level, and behavior. Following is a list of examples of how various stimuli can be improperly taken in and organized to produce an inappropriate response:
- A child who is unable to screen out background noise (nonessential sensory information such as fan noise or tapping) may become distractible or hyperactive.
- A child crossing a street and hearing a horn may react by freezing up like a deer in headlights because the brain does not process the information correctly. The brain acts instinctively (tense up) instead of appropriately (get out of the way).
- A child may show unexplainable irritability due to underlying factors, such as the child is fearful of certain sounds or intolerant to a tag in the back of their shirt.
Below is a list of symptoms that children may show if they have a problem with sensory integration. However, sensory integration dysfunctions affect each person in different ways and to varying degrees.
- Responds negatively to unexpected or loud noises
- Holds hands over ears often
- Cannot walk or talk with background noise
- Avoids bright lights
- Avoids eye contact
- Hesitates going up or down steps
- Often smells non-food objects
- Does not smell strong odors
- Avoids normal certain tastes/smells
- Hangs on other people, furniture, and objects
- Seems to have weak muscles, poor endurance
- Walks on toes
- Is distressed when feet leave the ground
- Avoids climbing and jumping
- Takes excessive risks while playing, with no or little safety awareness
- Avoids getting messy in glue, paint, and sand
- Sensitive to certain fabrics of clothing
- Has low awareness of pain or temperature
- Jumps from one activity to another
- Difficulty paying attention
- Easily distracted by uneventful stimuli
- Is overly affectionate with others
- Is accident prone
- Seems anxious for no reason
Sensory integration dysfunction can adversely affect many areas of a child’s development, including emotional, social and learning. The behaviors and feelings that children show as a result of their SID, may become causes of other problems. For example, a child who is intolerable to tight socks may be constantly irritated and exhibit many behavior problems. Another example is when children have a problem with paying attention. A child who is extremely sensitive to noise may not be able to concentrate on schoolwork because their desk sits right next to the heater and air conditioner that makes a constant humming sound, and therefore, impedes their learning. Lastly, children who have difficulties with motor skills and play activities may have a hard time making friends or becoming part of a group. As a result of these problems caused by SID, there is also a chance that children with the disorder are misdiagnosed as having a behavior disorder, learning disability, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, schizophrenia, and pervasive developmental disorder.
As with most disorders, there is no cut and dry treatment for SID. Nonetheless, there have been a few types of occupational techniques developed to help children. The therapy aims at improving the way a child’s brain responds to and makes use of sensory information and then how that information is used to plan, coordinate and organize movement. SID therapy uses enhanced sensory input combined with planned motor output through which a child experiences success. The emphasis is non-cognitive, which means the therapist works with the child’s reactions rather than have the child practice specific skills. To the child, parent, and any other observer, the therapy session resembles simple playing. However, the session is specifically designed to match and develop the child’s nervous system needs.
Sensory Integration Parent Support Group Meets 3rd Monday of each month at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington, KY.
Contact: Pam Short (859) 623-7666