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My Child Was Diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder.

PART ONE: What Exactly Does That Mean?

Child

Sensory processing, the basics
Let’s start with the most fundamental definition of sensory processing, also called sensory integration. Sensory processing is the way in which our brain acquires information from our senses and arranges/organizes/interprets it so we can respond in an appropriate, effective, and meaningful way. Sensory processing provides the foundation for more complex learning and behavior. 

What is Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) / Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
This means there are difficulties processing sensory input which affect functioning in day to day life. Our most influential sensory developmental time takes place before the age of seven, and happens naturally while we go about ordinary childhood activities. 

For most of us, distinguishing between different sensory experiences — such as sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance, movement, and body in space awareness — happens unconsciously without our thinking about it. We receive messages from our senses and respond automatically to the information. For example, we filter out extraneous noises so we can focus on a book; we don’t notice how a chair feels under us; we don’t have to concentrate to keep ourselves balanced; we pull our hand away from a hot flame; we step down off a curb. 

But all this can’t happen automatically if the central nervous system has difficulty accurately perceiving or integrating the information it receives. If the neurological process becomes disrupted somewhere in the loop of intake, organization or output, then normal development and adaptive responses will not occur. The result of this disruption is Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) / Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learning, speech, motor skills, physical and emotional development, adapting to sensations and situations, regulating emotions, behavior, etc. may be impacted.

What does that mean for my child?
Since efficient sensory processing is necessary for a child to navigate successfully in daily academic, home and social life, your child may not be able to respond to sensory information in an automatic manner that is appropriate to the situation. The “primitive” brain takes over and causes either a “fright, flight, or fight” or a withdrawal response, either of which often is extreme for an ordinary situation. For example, a child who can’t tell what truly is frightening may scream and run if someone tries to take her hand, or may obliviously walk out into traffic — both are inappropriate responses.

What conditions are associated with SID/SPD?

  • Autistic spectrum disorders
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Learning disabilities
  • Genetic disorders
  • Developmental delays
  • Behavioral challenges
  • Premature birth

How is SID/SPD diagnosed?
A qualified occupational or physical therapist can perform an evaluation using a sensory history, standardized testing and clinical observations.

How is SID/SPD treated?
Occupational therapists provide sensory integration therapy to meet the individual needs of each child and his/her particular nervous system, providing the sensory experiences that are most helpful to that child.

Looking ahead:
In the next post, we’ll discuss in more detail what to be aware of and what you might expect with your sensory child.

When did you first become concerned about your child’s development? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what topics you would like to discuss or hear more about. 

Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.

I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best,
Miriam

About Miriam:
Miriam Skydell MS, OTR/L is a pediatric OT with 30 years experience and a strong commitment to empowering every child and every family with the skills, confidence and emotional stability necessary for a meaningful, independent life. In addition to her Masters degree from NYU (1986) and membership in the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), Miriam is a licensed Interactive Metronome®,  HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®), and TLP (The Listening Program®) provider.

Miriam performs preschool screenings, contracts experienced OTs, PTs and STs to schools, helped implement the HWT curriculum, and lectures extensively for parent and support groups and at teacher conferences for public and private schools throughout New Jersey. Through her private practice in Fair Lawn, Miriam Skydell and Associates, established in 1995, Miriam has helped countless children with a wide range of diagnoses improve functional living skills, manage the impact of sensory processing dysfunction, and meet their individual potentials.

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