Sensory Processing Disorder in Children

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sensory processing disorder affects school skills

Sensory processing disorder in children is becoming more recognized among health professionals and educators. These children are often misunderstood and may be labeled as learning disabled, slow, clumsy or naughty.

Identifying sensory processing disorder (also called sensory integration dysfunction) is a vital first step towards helping these children to achieve their potential.

Sensory processing disorder in children can be present in any or all of these 3 areas of dysfunction: Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Motor Difficulties and Sensory Discrimination Difficulties.

Here, I will describe just a few of the common symptoms. Remember, all children (and adults!) may show one or two symptoms at various stages – but when symptoms are persistent and affect the child’s functioning at home, at school and socially, then help should be sought from an occupational therapist.

Sensory Modulation Disorder

Preschoolers may well have the same sensory modulation difficulties as babies and toddlers with sensory processing disorder. In addition, if they are attending school, they may dislike standing in lines because of the jostling and bumping that usually takes place. They tend to overreact to the normal rough and tumble of playground play – the accidental knock feels like being tortured, and they may cry as though they have been stabbed! Sensory modulation problems may also look like an attention deficit disorder, as the child is continually distracted by what he sees, feels, hears and smells.

Sensory Motor Difficulties:

sensory processing disorder can affect self care skills

Sensory processing disorder in children may result in certain developmental milestones being attained slowly or not at all. Sitting, crawling and walking may be delayed, and crawling may often be omitted. These may indicate a problem with low muscle tone and/or bilateral integration.

Gross and fine motor skills may be below their peers, and for example, they may take a long time to learn to use eating utensils, cut with scissors and dress themselves. They may be clumsy and struggle to play games and interact appropriately with other children. This may indicate a motor planning problem (dyspraxia) or bilateral coordination problem.

Sensory Discrimination:

Sensory Processing disorder in children may manifest in delays in auditory perception (understanding what they hear), visual perception (understanding what they see) and tactile perception (understanding with they can feel)

In the absence of a diagnosed hearing loss, auditory perception delays may result in (among other things) a child struggling to remember what was said, confusing similar-sounding words, and struggling to hear the teacher’s voice over the background noise in the classroom.

In the absence of a diagnosed loss of vision, visual perception delays may result in (among other things) a child struggling to copy words from the blackboard, losing his place when reading, confusing similar looking words and letters (eg b, p, d) and battling to do jigsaw puzzles. This child may also find it hard to do regular classroom worksheets such as mazes, wordsearches and spot-the-differences.

tactile perception is a sensory processing function Poor tactile perception can cause a child to be clumsy with the use of his hands, perhaps breaking things owing to squeezing too hard, or dropping things because of not holding them firmly enough.

Tactile Perception delays can make fine motor tasks such as fine craft work and handwriting more difficult, and the child may not be able to identify an object by feel instead of by sight.

If you are concerned that your child may have sensory processing disorder, then use this checklist given by the SPD website to identify specific areas of concern. If a pattern of dysfunction emerges, then contact your local occupational therapist for evaluation, treatment and guidance.

Occupational Therapy is recommended as the first line of intervention, but there are some Sensory Integration Activities that parents can do at home with their children.

Read more about Sensory Integration Disorder to see how it can affect a child's functioning in different areas of life.

Return to the main Sensory Processing Disorder page.

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Recommended Books:

These books have been written by Occupational Therapists who are experts in their fields.

If you click on the images or links to buy these books through Amazon, I will receive a small commission that will help support this site. Thank you!

1) Sensational Kids
This is my first choice of book for parents and teachers who need to know more about sensory processing and how to help their child at home and in the classroom. Well written, easy to understand and immensely practical.

2) Raising a Sensory Smart Child
I personally feel that this book is more suited to therapists, although many parents have certainly benefited from it. It is more indepth and therefore more "textbooky", but contains a wealth of valuable information.

3) From Rattles to Writing
Good for new parents, preschool teachers and therapists, this book details the activities, toys and exercises that are most beneficial at each stage of a child's development from birth to 5 years. Inexpensive and helpful activities to stimulate your child's normal development.

SPD Resources

PFOT Sensory Laplander

Weighted Blankets, Sensory Toys and lots more to help kids with SPD.

View the full range of sensory products at PFOT