So what are sensory processing issues? Children with sensory processing issues have trouble organizing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. They may either be oversensitive to sensory input or under-sensitive to it. Sometimes, they are both – over sensitive to certain things and under sensitive to others. This makes them seem unpredictable at times. They can have trouble in social situations, with learning in a classroom and with just the everyday challenges that life imposes on each of us.
Because the brain is a complex organ, no two children are quite the same. However, occupational therapists have designed tests that tell them about the way in which a child’s brain processes sensory information. They are able to determine whether or not, in addition to the observed difficulty of increased or decreased sensory sensitivity, the brain is accurately perceiving sensory information, be it related to the sense of touch, hearing, vision or the vestibular sense. Tests are also able to determine how accurately, for example, the sense of touch is able to perceive and discriminate touch experiences.
Oversensitive or Under-sensitive or ?
- Oversensitivity or hypersensitivity: when the child might avoid sensory information or a certain type of sensory information (such as socks, tags in clothing, or food with texture) because it may be too overwhelming.
- Under-sensitivity or hyposensitivity: when children appear to crave sensory experiences and can’t stop touching or feeling or needing to jump or spin or seek more sensory information. Under-sensitive children may exhibit an unusually high tolerance for pain which makes them rougher during their interactions with pets or with friends. They also seem not to realize they are hurting someone when they are hugging Mom or Dad or a friend.
- The child with sensory modulation difficulties appears to crave sensory information at times, or craves certain types of sensory information at times, while appearing to avoid or dislike or respond in a negative fashion to similar types of sensory information at other times. These children can appear really puzzling and can make you wonder if the child is “acting” or “pretending” instead of really having trouble.
- Another type of child may present with difficulties with emotional regulation, seeming unduly distressed at times or very clingy and unwilling to separate from Mom to play with peers, even familiar ones and in familiar environments
- At times, children can present with difficulties with sensory perception and discrimination. They may not feel when they have been touched or might not hold a pencil with an appropriate grasp because they are not able to adequately perceive where in their hands the pencil might be…they might frequently drop or even break the pencil.
- Some children with sensory processing difficulties can have motor delays or motor incoordination or delays in achieving certain motor skills, such as skipping, tying shoe laces or pumping a swing – it may appear that the skills seem to take a little longer to learn and master.
Wonders of Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists are uniquely trained to assess and treat sensory processing disorders. In addition to having an adequately equipped facility to be able to properly and effectively treat sensory processing issues, occupational therapists who work in this specialty area undergo post-graduate education and advanced training in order to effectively apply sensory integration principles in clinical practice.