Sensory Processing Disorder Explained
By Catherine Wiberg
ILS Staff Blogger
When this topic came to me, I got excited. I have two children who have been diagnosed with Sensory Integration Processing Disorders. I have not always explained it well to other people. However, I have some experts’ definitions and insights to share with you in addition to my own experiences.
Dr. Anna Jean Ayers—a developmental psychologist and occupational therapist known for her work with sensory integration—said,
Sensory Integration occurs automatically in most people, and so we tend to take it for granted—just as we take our heartbeat and digestion for granted.
Integration is a type of organization. To integrate is to bring together or organize various parts into a whole. The central nervous system, and especially the brain, is designed to organize countless bits of sensory information into a whole integral experience.
Sensations tell the brain what the body is doing, the brain tells the body what to do, because nerve cells do communicate with each other.
Slow learning and poor behavior in children are often caused by inadequate sensory integration within the child’s brain.
Most of us recognize what our senses tell us and feel content with what they tell us. In the case of someone with a Sensory Processing Disorder, like two of my children, the senses give information that the brain then interprets differently from most people.
For example, my oldest son does not like hugs. There’s nothing wrong with not liking hugs. The interesting thing for him is that hugs almost seem painful to him. He feels confined, constrained, and controlled. For many, a hug means affection, support, kindness. For him, it means exactly the opposite. He loves to wrestle, however, and loves to do things that provide a more jarring physical sensation. He often has been thrill-seeking and daring.
My second son loves hugs and touch to the opposite extreme. He uses multiple pillows at night to provide him with the feeling of being embraced as he sleeps. I have not yet made him a weighted blanket, but it appears to be warranted. He reaches out to me for an arm to cuddle if he feels tense. On the other side of the coin for him, if he gets bored, he seeks different sensory stimulation. He has been known to bang his head into walls, tables, and couches (thank goodness sometimes something soft) in order to get a sensory experience to pull him out of his boredom. He will often roll around on the floor like a ball when he’s bored and seeking stimulation. A Sensory Processing Disorder and other sensory integration challenges like this often appear in people with autism. Although my son does not have autism, it appears to some that he may because of his Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory integration takes place in many different diagnoses and conditions. This son has actually had occupational therapy to help him with sensory integration.
Dr. Ayers also said
Much of the hyperactivity in children today is due to poor sensory integration. Sometimes lights or noises will irritate and distract the child.
Educators often call reading, writing, and arithmetic the “basics,” but actually these are extremely complex processes that can develop only upon a strong foundation of sensory integration. A sensory integrative problem that is “minor” in early childhood may become a major handicap when the child enters school.
The behaviors and academic learning of your child are the visible expression of the invisible activity within his nervous system. Learning and behavior are the visible aspects of sensory integration.
I have seen this especially in my second son. It’s challenging because when my second son gets bored or overwhelmed academically, he creates sensory sensations such as “falling” out of his chair, blurting out unexpected words or phrases, burping loudly, tapping, whistling, or making other noises. It gets him attention and gives him a sensory release. He is an intelligent child, which makes the sensory integration hard for him to accept, understand, or explain.
Dr. Ayers said,
“Sensory Integration sorts, orders, and eventually puts all of the individual sensory inputs together into a whole brain function. When the functions of the brain are whole and balanced, body movements are highly adaptive, learning is easy, and good behavior is a natural outcome.”
This has given me enough motivation to take him to an occupational therapist and try to help him at home. We have learned many things. It’s also one of the reasons I love writing for Integrated Learning Strategies because even though they aren’t occupational therapists, they use similar types of intervention to help children with sensory issues.
In addition to the five senses people normally discuss—hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling—Dr. Ayers identified three “hidden senses:”
- The tactile sense, which provides information primarily through the surface of our skin, from head to toe, about the texture, shape, and size of objects in the environment. It tells us whether we are actively touching something or are passively being touched. It helps us distinguish between threatening and nonthreatening touch sensations.
- The vestibular sense, which provides information through the inner ear about gravity and space, about balance and movement, and about our head and body position in relation to the surface of the earth.
- The proprioceptive sense, which provides information through our joints, muscles, and ligaments about where our body parts are and what they are doing.
Now that you have all this technical information, what can you do to help your child develop strong sensory integration and understanding?
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs, Sensory Processing Disorders
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