What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
We process information from our senses throughout our day. Whether it be the noise and the visual busyness from our tube journey to work, or the taste and smell of the meals we eat. We are aware of the 5 senses sight, smell, touch, sound, taste, but did you know that there are also 2 additional senses:
Proprioception (body awareness)
Within our joints and muscles are receptors that tell our brain where our limbs are positioned in space.
Vestibular receptors, located in the inner ear provide the brain with information about the body’s movement.
Most children process sensory input from the world around them easily to produce normal behavioural responses. It is when this information is not processed or ‘integrated’ correctly that a child’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities can be affected.
How would I know if my child had Sensory Processing Disorder?
If a child is having difficulties processing the sensory information from the world around them their behaviour may be affected in many ways. They are less likely to be able to achieve their full academic potential, find social interactions difficult and find family activities such as swimming, holidays or going to the cinema distressing. Here are some descriptions of the ways that Sensory Processing Disorder may present itself in your child:
Tactile difficulties (touch)
These may be displayed through an aversion to sticky or dirty hands, not wanting to wear shoes or socks, finding clothes itchy, an interest in touching certain surfaces and fabrics, not liking having their hair washed or brushed, or not liking textured food, resulting in a fussy or picky eater.
Proprioceptive difficulties (where they are in space)
This may present itself through a child seeking out heavy items to cuddle up under such as heavy clothing or coats. They may appear fidgety in class and constantly moving to seek input.
Vestibular difficulties (movement)
They may avoid movement such as spinning or swinging or have a fear of heights, or they may be completely opposite to this and crave these sensations and engage in these activities at every opportunity.
Auditory difficulties (hearing)
This includes an over sensitivity to loud noises, for example in the playground or swimming pool. Children who are under responsive to auditory input may appear to have a lack of attention to the world around them i.e. not noticing when their name is called out.
How can an occupational therapist help with Sensory Processing Disorder?
An occupational therapist can help identify how a child is processing and responding to sensory information. Once the areas of difficulty are established, strategies and techniques are implemented to address them. The goal of occupational therapy is to foster appropriate responses to sensation in an active, meaningful, and fun way.
During occupational therapy sessions, the therapist guides the child through fun activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged but always successful.
Treatment of any difficulty is never a once a week approach, to be truly effective it needs to be a 24 / 7 approach, incorporating school, home and the therapy sessions. Our occupational therapist specialising in a sensory integration approach, will work with you in your home to explain your child’s sensory challenges and teach techniques and strategies to work on them. This is sometimes called a ‘sensory diet’. We will also provide ideas to teachers who interact regularly with your child.
Additional clinical information about sensory processing disorder?
What is brushing
This can be a powerful tool particularly for those children who struggle with touch such as finding wearing clothes itchy and uncomfortable, or who do not like wearing shoes and socks. Our occupational therapist will teach you how to carry out brushing techniques with your child which involves using a soft-bristled brush applied in a specific way to provide deep pressure, followed by joint compressions, several times a day.
What is a sensory diet?
Your occupational therapist may only see your child for an hour or two a week. A sensory integration approach needs to be a carried out throughout the day to include home and school. Often ‘sensory diets’ are provided where the occupational therapist will create a detailed programme of therapies specific to your child and their sensory needs.
What equipment can help a child with sensory processing disorder?
Adaptations to make the home or classroom more ‘sensory smart’, such as creating quiet spaces and reducing visual clutter are often suggested. Parents may also opt to buy items such as weighted vests or blankets, pressure garments, fidget toys or even chewable jewellery and these will be discussed with you by our occupational therapist.