We all have our own individual characteristics that include eye color, hair type, likes, dislikes, and preferences in the same way we have our own individual sensory system. The information we receive from our environments travels to our brains and is integrated (organized) and interpreted for our own use. The sensory system is composed of the following:
The auditory system- our sense of hearing
The olfactory system- our sense of smell
The gustatory system- our sense of taste
The tactile system- our sense of touch
The visual system- our sense of sight
The vestibular system- our sense of movement; balance and motion
The proprioceptive system- sense from our muscles and joints about our position in space
In children with Sensory Processing Disorder, the sensory information they receive from their environment is not integrated properly. This means that they may perceive different sensory input as “too much” or may not register the sensory information at all, and need more of it to function. If a child is perceiving the sensory input as “too much”, we call this “over-responsive”. An example of over-responsiveness would be the fight-or-flight response to the auditory input of the hum of the fluorescent lights. This could be observed as a child hiding under his or her desk or cowering and covering their ears. If a child does not register the sensory information, we call this “under-responsive”. An example of an under-responsive behavior would be when a child crashes into objects often; they may be seeking more information from their environment to feel where their body is in space (proprioceptive input).
As previously mentioned, we all have unique sensory processing systems, so no two children are alike in how they process sensory information. Some children may be over-responsive to touch, but under-responsive to sound. This is why it is not only difficult to understand this disorder, but also important to notice more than just what your child is doing. The responses to different sensory input can be characterized by various behaviors which are often viewed as negative. If there is a situation where your child is responding in confusing or inappropriate ways, observe your child’s environment, schedule, clothing, food, peers, and activities in addition to how they are reacting. This allows for a better understanding of your child’s needs in order to help them function, and more descriptive information to give to a medical professional, such as an occupational therapist, when creating an individual treatment plan for your child’s sensory needs.
Sensory processing impacts a child’s overall development through the way he or she explores, plays, interacts with others, and functions in daily life. Sensory experiences can rewire the brain in both positive ways through neurological pathways. In children with Sensory Processing Disorder, the goal of medical professionals is to create positive, functional responses to everyday sensory input based on a child’s individual needs. This is so that a child who experiences sensory challenges can eventually live a functional, happy, and sensory-rich life! If you have concerns about your child, we can help! Please contact us, Fox Therapy Center, PLLC at (804) 386-0485 located in Innsbrook, or visit our website for more information and articles at www.foxtherapycenter.com.
Danielle Boyd, MOT, OTR/L, CAS
Licensed Occupational Therapist, Certified Autism Specialist
Fox Therapy Center, PLLC-Certified Autism Center
Parham, L.D., & Mailloux, Z. (2010). Sensory Integration. In J. Case-Smith & J. O’Brien (Eds.), Occupational therapy for children (6th ed., pp.325-372). St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier