Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (originally called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses. Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. For those with Sensory Processing Disorder, sensory information goes into the brain but does not get organized into appropriate responses. Those with SPD perceive and/or respond to sensory information differently than most other people. Unlike people who have impaired sight or hearing, those with Sensory Processing Disorder do detect the sensory information; however, the sensory information gets “mixed up” in their brain and therefore the responses are inappropriate in the context in which they find themselves.
Why is sensory processing important?
A newborn can see, hear and sense their body but is unable to organize these senses well. They are unable to judge distances or feel the shape of one object versus another. As the child is exposed to various sensory inputs, they gradually learn to organize them within their brain and can give meaning to them. They become better able to focus on one sensation and as a result, performance improves. Their movement changes from being jerky and clumsy, to more refined and they can manage multiple amounts of sensory input at one time. By organizing sensations, the child can modulate their response and as a result, they seem to be more connected with the world and in control of their emotions. When children are efficient in their processing, appropriate responses to the environment around them occur and are demonstrated by appropriate skill mastery, behavior, attention, and self- regulation (controlling their physical activity, emotional and cognitive responses). Children can sit and attend to the important pieces of information in a classroom. Furthermore, the child can understand their surroundings and themselves. This allows for success in the whole body (gross motor) activities. This in turns aids the social development of the child.
This is how sensory processing works: A child’s sensory systems pick up information from the child’s surroundings and send that information to the nervous system, which receives and organizes the information and generates a reaction or respond to what is happening around him. The Eight Sensory Systems Most people are surprised to find out that we actually have eight sensory systems rather than five.
Learn more about these eight systems in detail.
Now, some children might have difficulty with processing or tolerating certain inputs. When children demonstrate significant sensory processing concerns you may require an assessment and intervention designed by an occupational therapist or other medical professions in order to understand better what is happening. Several possible medical reasons can cause this difficulty, but one of the most comment is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD as a term can be confusing. No two children are alike and no two cases are the same. Different bodies, different ways of integrating the sensory input. For children with SPD, their bodies do not organize the sensory information properly, the integration of the sensory information is interrupted. This makes difficult to generate an appropriate response, which can cause confusion and sometimes negative behaviors.
How can you know if your child has problems with sensory processing?
If a child has difficulties with sensory processing they might:
-Show heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement.
-Be under-reactive to certain sensations (e.g. not noticing their name being called, being touched, high pain threshold).
-They have difficulty regulating their own behavioral and emotional responses; increased tantrums, emotionally reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviors, easily frustrated or overly compliant.
-Be easily distracted, show poor attention and concentration.
-Have poor motor skills; appears clumsy, has immature coordination, balance, and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills.
-Have poor sleep patterns.
-Display restricted eating habits or is a picky eater.
-Become distressed during self-care tasks (e.g. hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoelaces, self-feeding).
-Love movement; seeks out intense pressure (e.g. constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing in objects/people).
-Avoid movement-based equipment (e.g. swings, slides etc).