We all learn through information processed through our senses. Our senses (touch, sight, sound, movement, body awareness, taste, and smell) are not separate channels of information; they work together to give us a clearer picture of the world around us and our place in that world.
These sensory inputs work together contributing bits of information to process through sounds we hear, textures we feel, images we see, flavors we taste, and aromas we smell. We are often able to filter out unimportant sensory input so we can make sense of what we are experiencing.
People with sensory processing disorders find this more challenging, they can lose focus because a shirt label is itchy, look away when they hear any noise, feel like the words they are reading are bouncing, this sensory processing challenge is also known as sensory integration dysfunction.
Sensory issues can affect many different people; those with developmental delays, attention and learning problems, autistic spectrum disorders and other diagnoses to those without any identified learning or behavioral challenge.
Common Signs of Sensory Processing Problems
Out-of-proportion responses to touch, sounds, tastes, sights, movement, or smells:
- Being bothered by clothing fabrics, labels, tags, etc.
- Distressed by light or unexpected touch
- Strongly dislikes getting messy
- Resists and/or avoids grooming activities
- Very sensitive to volume or frequency of sounds
- Squints, blinks, or rubs eyes frequently
- Becoming agitated by lights or patterns
- Demonstrating high activity level or very sedentary
- Exhibiting unusually high or low pain threshold
Difficulties with Motor skill and body awareness:
- Delays in fine motor skills: using crayons, buttons/snaps, beading, scissors.
- Delays in gross motor skills: walking, running, climbing stairs, catching a ball.
- Messy or illegible handwriting
- Moves awkwardly or appearing clumsy
- Low or high muscle tone
Oral motor and feeding problems:
- Oral hypersensitivity
- Frequently gagging or drooling
- “Picky eating”
- Delays in speech and language
Poor attention and focus:
- ‘Tunes out’ or ‘Acts up’ in group settings
- Over stimulated/Uncomfortable in group settings
- Difficulty with independence and self-confidence
Although some behaviors are typical for certain stages of growth and development, for example, toddlers often dislike the texture and feel of finger-painting. Some are not typical: when an older child or student has a meltdown during every art project, this is more significant and should be noted.
It is also “typical” for a younger child to have a strong dislike for itchy fabric or brushing teeth, to exhibit shyness with strangers, or fear of a noisy environment, as long as these sensory experiences do not interfere with day-to-day function.
A child with sensory issues has responses to these types of experiences that are out of proportion, and consistently demonstrate behaviors that can’t be dismissed when these sensory experiences are present.
To better to understand a child’s unique individual sensory portrait we can complete a Sensory Checklist.
sensory-checklist (click to open checklist)
Environments at school and home can present different sets of challenges, ask the child’s teachers to fill out a Sensory Checklist as well.
Notice if the teacher has checked off a lot of “avoids,” “seeks,” or “mixed,” then use the completed Sensory Checklist to request an evaluation with an occupational therapist (OT) specially trained in assessing and treating sensory processing issues.
If the child has problems with sensory processing, there is good news; there are ways to support it, especially by working with a knowledgeable OT. Working with an experienced OT can enhance and support a child’s ability to process sensory input as well as help parent’s better support the needs of a family member with Sensory Processing concerns.
If you have more concerns or questions about Sensory Processing please contact our office and schedule a consult with one of our qualified therapists.