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Most parents of children with academic and behavioral disabilities may respond affirmatively when asked if their children have difficulties processing sensory information. Most people agree that children with autism spectrum disorders have trouble integrating sensory information. However, the medical community is taking more and more notice of the fact that some children who don’t have autism spectrum disorders also have some of the same problems.

Children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) may have a higher or lower sensitivity to sound, light, and touch. As a consequence, they may seek out or avoid sensory stimuli.

This article talks about sensory processing disorder (SPD), what causes it, and how parents can help their children who have SPD.

In elementary school, you may have been taught about the five senses, but in reality, you perceive the world through more than just your five senses.

Typically, there are eight major categories of sensory processing. They may consist of:

Proprioception. Proprioception is the “internal” awareness that you have of your own body. It aids in maintaining posture and motor coordination, among other things. It also provides information on your movement and space utilization.

It also provides information on your movement and space utilization.

Vestibular. This term relates to the spatial perception of the inner ear. It is what maintains your equilibrium and coordination.

Interoception. This is your perception of what your body is experiencing. Possibly best understood as your “emotions,” this covers whether you feel hot or cold as well as your emotional state.

Five senses. The five common senses include auditory, tactile, smell, taste, and sight.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) doesn’t list sensory processing disorder, which is interesting. There is not enough evidence from scientific studies to say that this condition can be diagnosed on its own. Numerous physicians and specialists believe that sensory difficulties are a symptom of another sickness or condition, like autism spectrum disorder.

In occupational therapy, the phrase “sensory processing disorder” is more widely utilized.

But what we know about sensory processing disorders can help parents, doctors, and other caretakers understand the condition and help people with it.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD, previously termed sensory integration dysfunction) is a disorder in which multimodal input is not processed correctly in order to give correct responses to environmental demands. Many individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder have sensory processing disorder.

People with SPD may have difficulty processing auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular, tactile, proprioceptive, and interoceptive stimuli.

Anna Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, described sensory integration in 1972 as the neurological mechanism that organizes experience from the individual’s body and the surrounding environment and facilitates the successful use of the body within the environment.

Sensory processing disorder has been recognized as the root of great issues in organizing sensory inputs originating from the body and the environment, and is manifested by impairments in the performance of any or all of the major areas of life: work, leisure, and play or daily living activities.

Sources disagree as to whether SPD is a distinct disorder or reflects the recognized symptoms of a number of other, well-established conditions. SPD is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders APA and the American Academy of Pediatrics advised pediatricians in 2012 not to use SPD as a standalone diagnosis.

SPD’s precise cause is unknown. Nevertheless, it is established that the midbrain and brainstem portions of the central nervous system are early processing hubs for multisensory collaboration; these areas of the brain are engaged in activities such as coordination, arousal, attention, and autonomic function. After passing via these centers, sensory input is sent to regions of the brain responsible for memory, emotions, and higher-level cognitive functions. Any damage to a brain region involved in multimodal processing can impair the ability to process inputs in a functioning manner.

Children with sensory processing disorder exhibit detectable abnormalities in brain anatomy, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco. The UCSF study is the first to identify a biological foundation for sensory processing impairment, which distinguishes it from other neurodevelopmental illnesses.

Young boys either with or without sensory processing impairment participated in the investigation. Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a modern type of MRI, to compare the test individuals, it was shown that those with sensory processing disorder had aberrant white matter tracts in the brain. White matter is essential for perceiving, thinking, and learning in the brain. Primarily, the anomalies happened at the rear of the brain, which functions as the sensory processing connection.

Researchers explain how the results of their research demonstrate that sensory processing impairment is separate from other neurological illnesses like autism and ADHD:

In children with merely ADHD or autism spectrum disorders, white matter tracts in the frontal anterior parts are frequently affected. The anomalies identified in a discrete region of the brain suggest that SPD may have a distinct neuroanatomical basis.

It is believed that anomalies in the white matter tracts of the children’s brains with sensory processing disorders can lead to a delay in the processing of sensory information.

According to UCSF experts, this study is only the beginning. Children with sensory processing disorders who have also had a brain injury or are known to have a genetic condition need to be looked at in more depth.

Children with sensory processing disorders respond inappropriately to stimuli that do not affect other children in one of three ways. They may be hypersensitive to flashing lights, sudden, loud, or constant sounds (like the whirring of a blender or even music), the feeling of scratchy or irritating fabrics like wool or garment tags against their skin, and even certain tastes or smells.

Additionally, they may not be able to accept physical touch from others, such as the tightness of a hug. For children with SPD, a crowded environment may be uncomfortable.

This overreaction to outside stimuli can make children anxious, make it hard for them to do everyday things, and make it hard for them to adjust to new situations. Overreacting reactions can be small or so bad that a child needs to leave the area quickly. Consequently, it might be challenging for children with SPD to interact with other children.

Some children may respond to stimuli slowly or not at all. This is called hypo- or under-responsivity. For example, they might not react to the pain of a scraped knee or too much cold or heat.

Some kids with sensory processing disorder can’t understand what their muscles and joints are telling them, which makes it hard for them to move and stand up straight. People may call them klutzy, clumsy, or “floppy” if, for example, they have to lean against a wall to stand up straight.

The third sign of SPD is sensory desire, which is when a child feels like they have to look for stimuli. The drive to “experience” or “feel” is so intense that they may act out.

Some children with SPD battle with anxiety and may also have additional disorders, including:

Coordination disorder Dyspraxia hinders the advancement of fine motor abilities. Young kids with dyspraxia may take longer to accomplish developmental milestones like walking or self-feeding. They may have difficulty with writing, sketching, and various athletic tasks as they age.

Inadequate perception of the body’s position and motion characterizes postural disorders.

Sensory discriminating disorder: the inability to perceive small changes in visual, tactile, aural, and physical information

Occupational therapist A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., was the first to recognize sensory processing issues. Dr. Ayres proposed in the 1970s that only certain people’s brains are unable to do what most individuals take for granted: analyze and interpret all the incoming information from seven (not the customary five) senses to produce a clear picture of what’s happening inside and outside.

In addition to touch, hearing, taste, smell, and sight, Dr. Ayres included movement (vestibular) and body awareness (proprioception) as “internal” senses. When the brain can’t make sense of all the information coming in, it’s like there’s a traffic jam in your head, with signals coming in quickly from all directions and competing with each other. You can’t make sense of it all.

What are the additional two senses in Dr. Ayres’s work?

The Internal Senses

Ligaments and joints contain proprioceptive receptors, enabling motor function and posture. The proprioceptive system informs the brain of the position and movement of the body with regard to external things.

Children that are hyposensitive want high stimulation; they enjoy activities involving bumping, jumping, and crashing, as well as deep pressure like bear hugs.

If they are hypersensitive, they have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects and may run into things and appear clumsy; since they have problems perceiving the magnitude of force they are exerting, they may tear the paper while erasing, pinch too hard, or slam objects.

Vestibular receptors, found in the inner ear, provide the brain with information regarding movement and head position to determine where the body is in space. These are, among other things, essential parts of coordination and balance.

People with hyposensitivity are always moving, want fast, whirling, or furious movement, and like being thrown into the air and bouncing on trampolines and furniture.

Hypersensitive people may be afraid to do things that require balance, like climbing playground equipment, riding a bike, or standing on one foot, especially when they close their eyes. They may also appear clumsy.

A Sensory Checklist

The checklist includes responses to all types of input, from walking barefoot to smelling non-food items, as well as queries involving gross and fine motor functions, like catching a ball (gross) and using scissors (fine). The checklist is intended to assist parents in determining whether their child’s behavior indicates serious sensory issues (gross).

For toddlers and babies, the list includes not wanting to be hugged to the point where they arch away when held. This may be because being touched hurts them. By preschool, overstimulated kids may be anxious and have temper tantrums that last a long time or happen often.

Students in elementary school who are hyposensitive may show “negative behaviors,” such as what looks like hyperactivity, but they are looking at people who are too sensitive and tend to avoid things. This could mean that they don’t want to brush their teeth or even have their faces covered or painted.d or painted. To further complicate matters, children can be both avoiders and seekers and have proprioceptive and vestibular impairments in addition to difficulties with the traditional five senses.

If you feel that your child suffers from sensory difficulties, the following symptoms may indicate that you should visit a doctor:

The behavior disrupts daily living. If your symptoms make it impossible to do normal things, you may need to see a doctor.

The symptoms progress dramatically. If your child has trouble standing or moving all of a sudden, you need to take them to a doctor.

Reactions have become impossible to control. There is no immediate remedy for sensory disorders. You might be able to help your child learn to control their behavior with the help of trained professionals.

Their learning is impacted by their sensory difficulties. If sensory processing or sensory overload makes it difficult for your kid to learn at school, your physician may be able to assess your child for a related issue or collaborate with school psychologists to help your child receive more classroom support.

There is no treatment for sensory problems. Some children may face fewer problems as they grow older, while others may just learn to manage with them.

Current research on the prognosis for children with impaired sensory processing is limited. There may be a link with some mental health problems, but more research needs to be done.

Some physicians may not treat sensory impairments on their own but rather treat the symptoms of a recognized ailment, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

If your child doesn’t have any other health problems and you think he or she has trouble processing what they see and hear, there may not be many good ways to help.

Because it is not officially recognized as an illness, not everyone is willing to treat it or speculate on remedies that have not been consistently demonstrated to help alter behavior.

Ways parents can help sensory processing disorder in children

  • Parents can assist their children with sensory processing difficulties by advocating on their behalf so that they receive the necessary support. This may consist of:
  • Consult a physician or pediatrician on the child’s sensory processing.
  • Discussing the child’s sensory processing with the child’s teacher and the school’s support personnel.
  • Seeking assistance, including physical and occupational therapy
  • Constantly inquire about their child’s emotional state.
  • Teaching their child how to communicate with adults if they need a break or are overstimulated
  • Supporting their child’s physical or occupational treatment goals through practice

  1. Sensory processing disorder (SPD), familydoctor.org. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/sensory-processing-disorder-spd.
  2. Sensory processing disorder: Symptoms, causes, treatment, Healthline. Healthline Media. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/sensory-issues-in-children#ways-to-help.
  3. Sensory processing issues explained. Child Mind Institute. Available at: https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained.
  4. Sensory processing disorder (SPD): Signs, symptoms, and help. Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Available at: https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/signs-and-symptoms-of-sensory-processing-disorder.

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