Sensory Processing

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing (sometimes called “Sensory Integration” or SI) is defined by the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation as a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing the sensations or “sensory integration”.

Sensory processing is our ability to detect, integrate and process information from our senses and then perform appropriate actions in relation to this information. If a child is over reacting, under reacting or fluctuating in how they register this input it will directly impact their ability to attend to tasks such as at group time or during handwriting.

To be effective, sensory processing must be efficient. Sensory Integration refers to the process of creating efficient sensory pathways and connections in the central nervous system.

Sensory Processing

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organised into appropriate responses. Pioneering Occupational Therapist and Neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioural problems, anxiety, depression, reduced self esteem or self control, poor academic development, peer interaction and other difficulties may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.

Research studies show that anywhere from 1 in 20 children to 1 in 6 children are affected by SPD significantly enough to affect aspects of their everyday life. The symptoms of SPD, like in most disorders, vary in their severity. Whilst most people at times have difficulties processing sensory information, for individuals with SPD these difficulties are chronic and affect their daily lives.

All children are learning to process sensory information, and children with more apparent disabilities such as hearing or visual impairments may not receive, perceive, organise or interpret information accurately, however, many children without other diagnoses also have these difficulties with processing sensory information.

A difficulty in sensory processing may result in an inability to regulate sensory input. These include: sensitivity to sensations, inconsistent or confused responses to situations, disorganised behaviours, poor peer interactions, immature social/emotional development, reduced self esteem or self control and poor academic development.

Does your child have difficulty with any of the following areas? If so, one of our Occupational Therapists will assist with assessing and providing intervention for your child’s needs.

  • Responds inappropriately to loud noises such as covering their ears or hiding
  • Dislikes or avoids bright lights
  • Fearful of being off the ground e.g. avoids swings in the playground
  • Constantly “on the go” and seeks out all kinds of movement such as twirling, spinning, running and likes rough and tumble play
  • Does not like movement and prefers sedentary play
  • Avoids participating in “messy” play such as sand, water or glue
  • Dislikes being close to others
  • Tends to only wear certain types of clothing
  • Touches people and objects constantly
  • Walks on their toes
  • Fussy eater
  • Mouths items and will often suck and chew non-food items
  • Seems accident prone
  • Resists grooming activities such as brushing teeth and haircuts

What Therapies for Kids can do

A detailed assessment of your child’s functional and motor skills will be conducted as well discussion with parent/carer regarding areas of their attention, posture and their sensory processing. A Sensory Questionnaire may be provided to the parents if discussion indicates further investigation is required.

Occupational Therapy intervention may involve:

  • direct one on one therapy intervention: this may include a desensitisation or calming programme including assessing and modifying the home and/or school environments
  • provision of sensory diet and/or specific activities
  • consultation with parents and carers to provide education and setup of sensory and behavioural strategies
  • Willbarger’s Therapressure Brushing Protocol may be recommended
  • ALERT or MORE intervention techniques may be used.

Sensory Integration Treatment: may include the use of suspended equipment such as swings, hammocks and logs to assist in the modulation of the sensory systems. Additional movement activities, weighted and heavy work or calming activities and/or exploration of tactile and other sensory input in a graded manner.

The seven senses that are modulated within sensory integration treatment consist of:

  • Tactile or Somatosensory System – sense of touch
  • Visual System – sense of hearing
  • Auditory System – sense of hearing
  • Gustatory System – sense of taste
  • Olfactory System – sense of smell
  • Vestibular System – sense of balance
  • Proprioception System – sense of body position.

What you can do

Following assessment your therapist will provide you with activities to complete at home and how regularly they should be provided. Activities may include bear walks, therapy ball or deep pressure. As you complete these activities with your child you can monitor the effects of these activities at particular times in the day and provide this feedback to your therapist so that the home program can be redesigned to best target your child’s individual needs.