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Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing Disorder or SPD is like a neurological 'traffic jam' that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. Since these persons find it difficult to process information received through the senses, it becomes a challenge to perform numerous tasks every day. Clumsy behavior, anxiety, depression, failure at school and other impacts may result if this disorder is not attended to effectively.


Since our senses are working together, we hear background sounds and feel our clothing, chair, floor or sky. We can see letters on the screen and can also filter out unimportant sensory input to make sense of what we are reading. But, for instance, if we feel that our shirt is itchy and is hurting us or keep sliding off the chair, or the words that you read pulsate, then we may have sensory processing dysfunction – these could be developmental delays, attention and learning problems, and autistic spectrum disorders.


What happens if a child's normal every day functioning is so severely affected by sensory preferences? The child is either hypersensitive (over-responsiveness) or hyposensitive (under-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli. He/she has trouble integrating sensory input – in other words, these children suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder, which is also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction.


If we examine the signs and symptoms of hypersensitivities to sensory input, the first thing that strikes is fear of sudden loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware or other noises that could be unoffensive to others. These children may be distracted by background noises that others do not hear and are fearful of surprise touch; they avoid hugs and cuddling even with those familiar to them. They are fearful of crowds and avoid standing in close proximity to others and do not enjoy a game of swing. They are extremely fearful of climbing or falling and have poor balance, and may fall often.


Hyposensitivities to sensory input include a constant need to touch people or textures. They exhibit clumsy and uncoordinated movements and have an extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain. They do not understand their strength and are often fidgety and unable to sit in one place whereas they enjoy movement-based play like jumping, spinning etc. They could be thrill seekers and can be dangerous at times. Whether the child is eating a hamburger or riding a cycle or reading a book, his/her successful completion of that activity will depend upon 'Sensory integration'. Out of proportion reactions to touch, sound, sight, movement, taste or smell could be:


  • Bothered by fabrics, tags, labels
  • Dislikes messiness
  • Resists grooming
  • Squints, blinks or rubs eyes frequently
  • Bothered by light and patterns
  • Very sedentary or high with activity
  • Usually exhibits high or low pain threshold

A study by Briggs-Gowen Group in 2009 suggested that at least 1 in every 6 children experience this sensory symptom that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions. Indeed, it could get so chronic that it can disrupt the everyday life of a child.


What could be the causes of SPD ?

The causes of SPD are both genetic and environmental. Preliminary research studies suggest that SPD is often inherited. Prenatal and birth complications have been implicated and even environmental factors are involved to cause SPD. But only with further research, it will be possible to identify the role of each.


Emotional impacts of SPD

Since the child has problems with motor skills and other abilities, success at school and childhood accomplishments could be challenging. As a result, the child often gets socially isolated and will suffer from low esteem complex. Inability to make friends or be part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, uncooperative, disruptive and being labeled as clumsy or 'out of control'. Parents of such children are often blamed by those who are unaware of the child's hidden handicap.


Treatment for SPD

Although effective treatment for SPD is available, far too many children are misdiagnosed with this disorder and hence not properly treated. Untreated SPD can affect the individual's ability to succeed in marriage and social environments.

Once accurately diagnosed, such children can immensely benefit from a program of occupational therapy or physical therapy with a sensory integration approach, under a well-trained clinician, with listening therapies, and other complimentary and combined effective therapies.


Such therapies takes place in a sensory-rich environment called the OT gym. The child is guided through fun activities that are subtly structured so that he/she though constantly challenged is always successful. The child is able to behave in a more functional manner. Such effective occupational therapy enables children with SPD to take part in normal childhood activities such as playing with friends, enjoying school, dressing and sleeping. Parents are involved and work with the therapists to learn more about their child's sensory challenges and methods for engaging therapeutic activities called 'sensory diet', at home or elsewhere. This way, the parents could become better advocates for their ward at school and within the community at large.


Tags: #Sensory Processing Disorder
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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: December 7, 2022