Sensory Processing Disorder in Children
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 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 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.
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
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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