What is sensory processing disorder?
Children with sensory processing disorder have difficulty processing information from the senses (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and hearing) and responding appropriately to that information. These children typically have one or more senses that either over- or underreact to stimulation. Sensory processing disorder can cause problems with a child's development and behaviour.
Who has sensory processing disorder?
Children with autism and other developmental disabilities often have sensory processing disorder. But sensory processing disorder can also be associated with premature birth, brain injury, learning disorders, and other conditions.
What causes sensory processing disorder?
The exact cause of sensory processing disorder is not known. It is commonly seen in people with autism, Asperger's syndrome, and other developmental disabilities. Most research suggests that people with autism have irregular brain function. More study is needed to determine the cause of these irregularities, but current research indicates they may be inherited.
What are the symptoms?
Children with sensory processing disorder cannot properly process sensory stimulation from the outside world. Your child may:
- Either be in constant motion or fatigue easily or go back and forth between the two.
- Withdraw when touched.
- Refuse to eat certain foods because of how the foods feel when chewed.
- Be oversensitive to odours.
- Be hypersensitive to certain fabrics and only wear clothes that are soft or that they find pleasing.
- Dislike getting his or her hands dirty.
- Be uncomfortable with some movements, such as swinging, sliding, or going down ramps or other inclines. Your young child may have trouble learning to climb, go down stairs, or ride an escalator.
- Have difficulty calming himself or herself after exercise or after becoming upset.
- Jump, swing, and spin excessively.
- Appear clumsy, trip easily, or have poor balance.
- Have odd posture.
- Have difficulty handling small objects such as buttons or snaps.
- Be overly sensitive to sound. Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, hair dryers, leaf blowers, or sirens may be upsetting.
- Lack creativity and variety in play. For instance, your child may play with the same toys in the same manner over and over or prefer only to watch TV or videos.
How is sensory processing disorder evaluated?
Experts recommend that children who show signs of a sensory problem be checked for other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder or an anxiety disorder. A doctor who has special training to care for children with development and behaviour concerns or a mental health professional can check for these conditions. Your child may also see an occupational therapist (OT). The OT will observe how your child stands and balances, his or her coordination, eye movements, and how your child responds to stimulation.
How is it treated?
Sensory integration therapy, usually conducted by an occupational or physiotherapist, is often recommended for children who have sensory processing disorder. It focuses on activities that challenge the child with sensory input. The therapist then helps the child respond appropriately to this sensory stimulus.
Therapy might include applying deep touch pressure to a child's skin with the goal of allowing him or her to become more used to and process being touched. Also, play such as tug-of-war or with heavy objects, such as a medicine ball, can help increase a child's awareness of her or his own body in space and how it relates to other people.
Although it has not been widely studied, many therapists have found that sensory integration therapy improves problem behaviours.