Sensory Processing

I often receive questions from parents and friends about sensory processing in children. Sensory Processing is becoming more of a topic discussed in doctor appointments, daycares, and between parents as we begin to understand how our bodies and our children’s bodies work.

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses (https://www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder). We tend to think of our senses as taste (gustatory), touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), sight (visual), and hearing (auditory). We also now consider additional sensory systems including our vestibular system and proprioception. Our vestibular system provides our brain with information about head position, motion, and spatial orientation. It is also involved with motor functions that allow us to balance and stabilize our head and body during movement as well as maintain posture (https://www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder). Proprioception (kinesthesia) refers to your perception or awareness of the orientation of your body in your environment (https://www.verywellhealth.com/proprioception-2696141). Proprioception can be thought of as a constant feedback loop within your nervous system, telling your brain what position you are in and what forces are acting upon your body at any given time. An example of this is knowing that you can tell your arm is raised above your head even when your eyes are closed.

How all this information from our senses is received and processed is essentially sensory processing. To keep it simple, lets divide sensory processing into two types: hypersensitive and hyposensitive.

Hyper means excess or exaggeration (oversensitivity). Hypersensitive children tend to avoid sensations. This can be seen in kids who avoid touching the wet, sticky, slimy foods because their sensory system can register the feeling of that texture as unpleasant leading to avoidance of that texture. They can refuse to wear certain clothing because it feels scratchy, avoid hugs and cuddling, or be fearful of swings and playground equipment.  

Hypo means under or beneath (under sensitivity). Hyposensitive kids can appear sensory seeking because their sensory systems require a lot of stimulation to register the feeling and process it. Sometimes these kids will want to touch everything in view, need to move around a lot or be fidgety, and partake in more than usual rough and tumble play.

The question is: How does sensory processing affect us and our children?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.

Kids with sensory issues may exhibit extreme behaviors when we wouldn’t necessarily expect them. This could look like screaming when their face gets wet, lashing out or becoming aggressive while getting dressed because the feeling of the clothes on their bodies it too overwhelming, or agitation/fear at the grocery store because the lights and noise are too much to handle. This can lead to tantrums and troubles with transitions.

Who can help?

Occupational Therapists (OT) are the specialists who can help children with sensory issues. OTs will engage kids in activities that are designed to help regulate their sensory input. When kids are better regulated, they feel more comfortable and are able to focus and complete tasks they enjoy or that are required. Some examples of therapy activities might be riding a scooter board on your stomach across the floor, jumping on a trampoline, swinging in a specialized swing, or desensitization while finding a buried toy in sand. OTs can create “sensory diets” or maps to help kids throughout the day with regulating their sensory systems, giving breaks at intervals and times of need.

To learn more about how Occupational Therapy can help your child with sensory processing concerns give us a call today!

References:

Miller, Lucy Jane. “Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder.” Sensory Processing Disorder – STAR Institute, www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder.

Miller, Lucy Jane. “Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder.” Sensory Processing Disorder – STAR Institute, www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder.

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We are looking forward to seeing all of our friends back in Clinic! 

Although we have remained open during the Covid-19 emergency we were also able to provide teletherapy sessions along with in clinic session. Beginning May 4, 2020 we will be resuming all in-clinic ST, OT, and ABA appointments.