Most of us would agree that raising a child is never an easy task, but being the parent of a child with sensory processing difficulties takes the challenge to a whole new level. A parent might have to hold down a screeching 3 year old and fight her "tooth and nail" through daily life tasks like brushing teeth, clipping nails, combing hair or just eating. Parents often struggle to understand if the child is just being "naughty" or if something is wrong with his nervous system. When atypical behaviors are exacerbated in certain situations (barber shop, outside on the playground, etc.) or occur with such frequency and intensity that they present ongoing problems, they may be signs of a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Thousands of individuals are behaviorally and emotionally "imprisoned" by their ineffective perception and interpretation of sensory input. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the inability to use information received through the senses in order to function smoothly in daily life. SPD happens in the central nervous system, at the head of which is the brain. Simply put, Sensory integration is the "organization of sensory input for use" (Ayres, 2005)
The brain and mind are admittedly interwoven. Our thoughts, feelings and actions occur through the complex actions of the brain and any change in the brain no matter how subtle, can have a major impact on our feelings, thoughts and actions. These changes result in behaviors that confuse, frustrate and anger parents and teachers. They wonder why these children lack self-help skills, become aggressive or withdrawn, or refuse to participate in activities or sports.
In addition, these children or adolescents might have problems developing the ability to process information received through their senses to the extend that their ability to interpret sights, sounds, smells, taste and sensations are greatly compromised. They might become unusually upset by bright lights or loud noises or even by being touched or moved unexpectedly. They might have problems to coordinate groups of large muscles (gross motor) and/or small muscles (fine motor) and thus have difficulties mastering running, jumping, hopping or climbing (gross motor) or buttoning, zipping, tying shoes, coloring, cutting or writing.
The brain-behavior connection is very strong. Becaue the child with SPD has a disorganized brain, many aspects of his behavior are disorganized. His overall development is disorderly and his participation in childhood experiences is spotty, reluctant or inept. For the out-of-sync child, performing ordinary tasks and responding to every day events can be enormously challenging.
At this point, sensory integration is still being used to describe the theory and treatment, based on the original work of A. Jean Ayres. Sensory Processing Disorder is used to define and describe the disorder / dysfunction symptoms. Our understanding of sensory integration led to interventions to help these children. Sensory integration therapy focuses on correcting, improving, and/or compensating for sensory integration disorders, much as special education therapy focuses on learning disabilities and speech and language therapy focuses on language disabilities.
Difficulty taking in or interpreting this input can lead to devastating consequences in:
social and family relationships
learning Did you ever wonder WHY your child does the things he/she does?
Do you wonder why they are excessive risk takers - jumping and crashing into anything they can ?
Why they can't do puzzles - write well - or find the coordination for riding a bike or hitting a ball?
Why they cry or cover their ears with every loud sound - even vacuums, toilets or hair dryers ?
Why they don't like to be touched or can?t be touched enough?
Why they will only eat macaroni and cheese and pizza?
Why they will only wear certain clothes or need you to cut the tags out of their shirts?
Ever wonder why you can't seem to calm them down or get them to sleep?
Why they won't put their hands in anything messy or use glue, Play Doh, or play with mud?
Why they fear playground equipment or being tipped upside down?
Why crowded stores bother them so much leading to major melt downs in public places?
Sensory Processing Disorder - also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction - is still in the process of becoming widely accepted and treated by all professionals. Even though the theories have been around for almost four decades, much still needs to be done before the "word" has reached the millions affected by this neurological disorder.
Signs And Symptoms Of Dysfunction
The purpose of this sensory processing disorder checklist is to help parents and professionals who interact with children become educated about particular signs of sensory processing dysfunction. It is not to be used as the absolute diagnostic criteria for labeling children with sensory processing disorder, but rather, as an educational tool and checklist for your own knowledge. Professionals who can diagnose this disorder have their own tools in addition to checklists to observe and test for sensory integration dysfunction.
As you go through this list, you may say, "Wow, my child has so many of these characteristics/behaviors, he must have a sensory processing disorder!!" That MAY be true, and please do not take it lightly if you find a host of these to be characteristic of your child. But, then use this as a guide to speak with your doctor and an Occupational Therapist so you can clearly explain why you think your child may need help. Or, you may go through the list and say, "No big deal, so my child has some of these behaviors/characteristics, doesn't every child?" Well, this may be true too and your child's behavior may fluctuate from day to day. What we need to be concerned with is which symptoms your child shows, which category they are having difficulty with, how much it interferes with their or other's lives and what kind of impact it is having on their level of functioning. They may have a lot in one category and none in another or some in all categories. This will help target diagnosis and treatment.
Please understand the "Five Caveats" that Carol Stock Kranowitz points out in her book, "The Out-Of-Sync child" (1995), about using a checklist such as this. She writes:
1. "The child with sensory dysfunction does not necessarily exhibit every characteristic. Thus, the child with vestibular dysfunction may have poor balance but good muscle tone." 2. "Sometimes the child will show characteristics of a dysfunction one day but not the next. For instance, the child with proprioceptive problems may trip over every bump in the pavement on Friday yet score every soccer goal on Saturday. Inconsistency is a hallmark of every neurological dysfunction. " 3. "The child may exhibit characteristics of a particular dysfunction yet not have that dysfunction. For example, the child who typically withdraws from being touched may seem to be hypersensitive to tactile stimulation but may, instead, have an emotional problem". 4. "The child may be both hypersensitive and hyposensitive. For instance, the child may be extremely sensitive to light touch, jerking away from a soft pat on the shoulder, while being rather indifferent to the deep pain of an inoculation." 5. "Everyone has some sensory integration problems now and then, because no one is well regulated all the time. All kinds of stimuli can temporarily disrupt normal functioning of the brain, either by overloading it with, or by depriving it of, sensory stimulation."
Sensory Integration Activities
Gross motor activities for toddlers:
Most toddlers are just learning how to walk and run and need the experience. Go for lots of walks including walking on various surfaces; grass, gravel, sand, anything uneven will challenge their balance and help them learn better skills.
Toddlers like to jump. Place pillows, cushions, or a mattress on the floor.
At the playground, they can use some swings with safety belts and low slides.
Let toddlers practice climbing up and down the stairs with your help.
Get on the floor with the child for floor time. Play peek-a-boo by crawling around the floor behind furniture. Children love having adults on their level.
Gross motor activities for toddlers that you already do:
Have the child color on a large piece of paper on the floor on their hands and knees. This helps to strengthen the hips and shoulders as well as encourage the child to weight shift in quadruped to color.
Hang the paper on the wall (or a wall easel or kid's floor easel). On the floor, by the paper, place pillows, cushions, or mats.
Have the child stand on the soft surface to color. This will help him/her with their balance. This can be done for any table top activity as well.
Place the paper on a stool (or something of similar height) and have the child on their knees. To color, they will have to raise their bottom off of their heels/calves. This takes a lot of strength and stability in the hip muscles.
For older children, you can tape the paper to the wall. Have the child lie on their backs and lift their legs. Place the crayon between their toes and encourage them to use their legs and feet to color. This is a great exercise to strengthen the legs and work on their motor planning to determine how to succeed in this task.
Try balls with different textures (bumpy, "koosh", squishy etc.)
Balls can be used as early as when the child is beginning to sit. Propping their arms up higher on a pillows or a box may help them to sit on their own and encourages their back to be more upright.
Children enjoy rolling the ball back and forth to you when seated on the floor. This is a great way to challenge their balance in sitting.
Kicking a ball requires a child to shift their weight to one foot and support himslef like that in order to kick it.
Throwing balls of different sizes and weights requires balance, coordination, and the use of two hands. When a child is able to throw a ball, place a block tower in front of them and encourage them to hit the tower with the ball.
With a beach ball and paper towel roll tubes you can have the child on her stomach and keep her legs straight. Have her lift her back to hit the ball with the tube.
Hanging a ball from the ceiling encourages a child to reach up and jump to hit the ball in the air.
Have the child build a tower while he/she is standing so they have to bend down to pick up the block and raise back up again.
Build up blocks to kick them down.
Line up blocks and have the child step over them.
Have the child reach up high for the next block onto their toes.
Using the large blocks, build a tower at the end of a mat. Have the child roll, crawl, or "duck walk" into the tower to knock it down.
Have the child step or march on the bubbles as they hit the ground.
Lay down a strip of bubble wrap for the child to jump or stomp on, or do different "animal walks" down the strip.
Have the child reach up onto his toes to pop the bubbles.
You can use anything you already own to have the child jump, climb, or crawl through.
Jump ropes... lay them out on the ground and have the child jump over them or walk between the lines of two of them.
Hula hoops... step into and out of, or jump into and out of.
Cones...have the child walk around them or ride on a bike and ride-on toys around the cones.
Tires... lay the tire on the floor and do sitting bouncing on them around the whole tire, or step into and out of them.
Stools/Steppers... have the child go up and down the one step.
Be creative! Anything else you can think of, go for it.
Other ideas for gross motor activities
* Children love mirrors... place safe mirrors at eye level. When the child is first learning to push up on their arms when on their stomach, this is a great way to have children tolerate this position. You can sit or stand the child in front of a mirror and encourage movement. They can follow and imitate what you do and you can mimic what they are doing.
* Music is a wonderful medium for play. Even young children love to bounce, sway and wiggle to the music. When they get older, you can make instruments such as paper plate tambourines, an oatmeal box drum, or noisemakers from paper towel rolls, or filling up 20 oz. bottles with various things to make noise (rice, water and confetti, beans, coins etc). This is a great way to get the children to march with their knees high for a parade or play "follow the leader".
*Place sticky paper on the floor and have the children walk around on it.
*"Ring Around The Rosie" is a great way to have the child side step, lower self to ground and rise again. Or, try the "Chicken Dance".
*Gather blankets, pillows, and inner tubes. Place a large blanket over them and tape it down. Encourage the children to walk, roll, etc. over the large "mountain".
*Shadow Posing... Have the teacher/leader pose into various positions. The children will copy what you do. Hold it for about 10 seconds before changing to a new position.