Sensory Processing Disorder (sometimes referred to as Sensory Integration Disorder) can be found in many children with special needs. Sensory issues when left unattended can have far reaching consequences for these children, especially in regards to their education.
Sensory processing difficulties were for a time largely unrecognised, however in the last few years more children are being identified as having these difficulties. This has led to an improvement in many childrens educational and overall life experience through appropriate interventions.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder(SPD)?
Sensory processing for most people occurs naturally, without effort. Our nervous system filters input and signals from the external environment and our own body.
The input comes through these senses:
proprioceptive sense - which helps us position our body parts in relation to self and space and helps us to plan our movement.
vestibular sense which helps with balance and co-ordination.
Our nervous system then processes the information and allows us to carry out the appropriate response.
When a child has SPD the nervous system is unable to process all of this information effectively and difficulties arise.
What are some of the signs/symptoms of SPD?
Many children can be hypersensitive to external stimuli and are disturbed by it, causing sensory overload. Examples of this may be:
Sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises and strong smells
Refusal to wear certain clothes due the texture or labels
Becoming upset when touched (even lightly)
Intense dislike of touching water, sand etc
Avoids crowds or standing close to people
On the reverse of this you may have a child who is hyposensitive to stimuli and will seek more of it. Examples of this may be:
Running or jumping excessively
Hugging or touching others with great pressure
Constant wants to spin
Would stay on a swing or trampoline for hours
Chewing on non-food items
Appears not to feel pain
Other signs of SPD can be:
Decreased attention span
Difficulty throwing or catching
Little awareness of danger
Difficulties with peer group and other relationships
This list is not exhaustive and shows just some of the signs that children can exhibit. Some children can even have a combination of hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity symptoms.
Addressing these challenges is extremely important and if a teacher or parent suspects the child in their care has SPD then it would be highly beneficial to have a formal assessment carried out. This is usually done by an occupational therapist. (It is also helpful for parents to keep a diary and watch for any patterns of behaviour that may emerge.) A program of intervention can then be put in place for the child which can help to alleviate many of their difficulties.
SPD can be a diagnosis in itself but is also thought to co-exist with other difficulties such as autism, Asperger syndrome, ADD, ADHD and dyspraxia.