Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Since October is National Sensory Awareness month I chose to write my research paper on a topic dear to my heart. Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration. ” In writing this paper I hope to inspire more awareness of what Sensory Processing Disorder is all about.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, 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 countless everyday tasks.
Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively. Beginning with statistics, one study (Ahn, Miller and Milberger) shows that at least 1 in 20 children’s daily lives is affected by SPD. Another research study by the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group (Ben-Sasson, Carter and Briggs-Gowan) suggests that 1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions.
Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, like those of most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic, and they disrupt everyday life. Sensory Processing Disorder can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable.
Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These are the “floppy babies” who worry new parents and the kids who get called “klutz” and “spaz” on the playground. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive. These kids often are misdiagnosed – and inappropriately medicated – for ADHD.
Sensory Processing Disorder is most commonly diagnosed in children, but people who reach adulthood without treatment also experience symptoms and continue to be affected by their inability to accurately and appropriately interpret sensory messages. These “sensational adults” may have difficulty performing routines and activities involved in work, close relationships, and recreation. Because adults with SPD have struggled for most of their lives, they may also experience depression, underachievement, social isolation, and/or other secondary effects.
Sadly, misdiagnosis is common because many health care professionals are not trained to recognize sensory issues. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation is dedicated to researching these issues, educating the public and professionals about their symptoms and treatment, and advocating for those who live with Sensory Processing Disorder and sensory challenges associated with other conditions. What causes Sensory Processing Disorder is a pressing question for every parent of a child with SPD. Many worry that they are somehow to blame for their child’s sensory issues.
The causes of SPD are among the subjects that researchers at Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation and their collaborators elsewhere have been studying. Preliminary research suggests that SPD is often inherited. If so, the causes of SPD are coded into the child’s genetic material. Prenatal and birth complications have also been implicated, and environmental factors may be involved. Of course, as with any developmental and/or behavioral disorder, the causes of SPD are likely to be the result of factors that are both genetic and environmental.
Only with more research will it be possible to identify the role of each. A summary of research into causation and prevalence is contained in Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder (Lucy Jane Miller). Children with Sensory Processing Disorder often have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed for school success and childhood accomplishments. As a result, they often become socially isolated and suffer from low self-esteem and other social/emotional issues.
These difficulties put children with SPD at high risk for many emotional, social, and educational problems, including the inability to make friends or be a part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, and being labeled clumsy, uncooperative, belligerent, disruptive, or “out of control. ” Anxiety, depression, aggression, or other behavior problems can follow. Parents may be blamed for their children’s behavior by people who are unaware of the child’s “hidden handicap. ” Effective treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder is available, but far too many children with sensory symptoms are misdiagnosed and not properly treated.
Untreated SPD that persists into adulthood can affect an individual’s ability to succeed in marriage, work, and social environments. Most children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are just as intelligent as their peers. Many are intellectually gifted. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information, and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs. Once children with Sensory Processing Disorder have been accurately diagnosed, they benefit from a treatment program of occupational therapy (OT) with a sensory integration (SI) approach.
When appropriate and applied by a well-trained clinician, listening therapy (such as Integrated Listening Systems) or other complementary therapies may be combined effectively with OT-SI. Occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach typically takes place in a sensory-rich environment sometimes called the “OT gym. ” During OT sessions, the therapist guides the child through fun activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged but always successful.
The goal of Occupational Therapy is to foster appropriate responses to sensation in an active, meaningful, and fun way so the child is able to behave in a more functional manner. Over time, the appropriate responses generalize to the environment beyond the clinic including home, school, and the larger community. Effective occupational therapy thus enables children with SPD to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping. Ideally, occupational therapy for SPD is family-centered.
Parents are involved and work with the therapist to learn more about their child’s sensory challenges and methods for engaging in therapeutic activities (sometimes called a “sensory diet)” at home and elsewhere. The child’s therapist may provide ideas to teachers and others outside the family who interact regularly with the child. Families have the opportunity to communicate their own priorities for treatment. Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder helps parents and others who live and work with sensational children to understand that Sensory Processing Disorder is real, even though it is “hidden. With this assurance, they become better advocates for their child at school and within the community. Diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder usually begins with screening, which is basically a professional search for red flags that indicate enough differences in development to warrant a more comprehensive assessment. Screening may take place at school, in your doctor’s office, or at a private practice clinic. Wherever it occurs, you are likely to be asked to fill out one or more parent checklists and a developmental history to supplement the observations of the evaluators.
If differences exist that are sufficient to warrant further assessment, evaluation will follow. An evaluation for SPD involves standardized testing, detailed clinical observations, and parent-report measures. In addition to standardized assessment, all comprehensive OT evaluations include detailed observations in a clinical setting to assess real-life movement and reactivity to stimulation. Most also include detailed interviews with parents and teachers. If you spot the red flags of SPD in your infant or toddler, the case for seeking immediate diagnostic services is powerful. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention. The sooner an accurate diagnosis is made, the sooner intervention can begin. Many children and their families suffer needlessly for years because of sensory issues that could have been addressed if a sound, professional evaluation had determined that Sensory Processing Disorder was present and treatment had begun sooner. * Early diagnosis increases the chances of successful intervention. The immature brains of younger children are more “plastic,” which enables them to change more easily.
This makes intervention more effective for them. Older children still benefit but the benefits may take longer to achieve and may be based on cultivating coping skills rather than on modifying the brain, as early intervention is believed to do. * Early diagnosis lays the groundwork for better school experiences. Children who receive intervention at younger ages–as infants or preschoolers–acquire the skills they will need to succeed in school sooner and usually have better experiences once they enter school.
This is why federal law requires and funds the screening and, if indicated by the screening, multidisciplinary assessment of preschool-aged children with suspected disabilities. * Early diagnosis can prevent secondary problems from developing. Children who perceive themselves as “failing” at activities that most children perform effortlessly are at risk for other problems such as social difficulties, academic under-achievement, acting-out behaviors, and/or low self-esteem and self-confidence. When children are diagnosed and treated at younger ages, they are more likely to escape this defeating cycle. Early diagnosis provides correct labeling for unusual behaviors. Because of their atypical behaviors, children with SPD often attract negative labels such as “aggressive,” “withdrawn,” “weird,” “hyper,” “out of it,” and others from peers and adults. With early diagnosis, these behaviors get labeled early for what they really are–symptoms of an underlying neurological disorder. Undeserved and undesirable stereotyping, punishment, and other consequences are minimized or avoided. * Early diagnosis improves family life.
The stress on the families living with sensational children can be devastating. The understanding that comes with diagnosis helps parents avoid such common traps as assigning blame to each other for their child’s behavior or disagreeing over discipline. A diagnosis also gives parents an explanation they can use to address the criticism and disapproval that is often directed at them as well as their child. | (Lucy Jane Miller) In writing this research paper I hope to continue to reach as many people as possible to increase awareness about Sensory Processing Disorder.
Increased awareness about Sensory Integration may help teachers and parents better understand the behaviors of SPD. In addition, the home and learning environment may be adapted to best provide a “Sensory Diet” that allows for the child’s ability to learn and to manage activities of daily living. Finally, Development occurs in spirals, each curve laying a foundation for the next. With effective intervention and complete understanding, children with disabilities can build the scaffolding needed to support an upward spiral of development.
Works Cited Ahn, Roianne R. , et al. “Prevalence of Parents’ Perceptions of Sensory Processing. ” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy (2004): 1-7. Ben-Sasson, A. , A. S. Carter and M. J. Briggs-Gowan. Sensory Over-Responsivity in Elementary School: Prevalence and Social-Emotional Correlates. Published Online: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, 2009. Lucy Jane Miller, Ph. D. OTR. Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.