Did you know that as many as 1 in 6 children could be experiencing sensory issues that affect their daily life?¹
I have mentioned in previous posts that my son has a sensory processing disorder. I know that when I first heard that, I nodded my head, but inside, I had NO CLUE what it was. But with the research I have done on it, I found out that I had one too! It is so common, that half of my family experiences some sensory issues, and I’m so excited to share some of the signs and solutions.
In the book The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, she gives every detail under the sun about sensory processing disorders. She states that,
“Sensory Integration Dysfunction is the inability to process information received through the senses. . .Dysfunction happens in the central nervous system, and the ‘head’ of which is the brain. When a glitch occurs, the brain cannot analyze, organize, and connect–or integrate–sensory messages. The result of SI Dysfunction is that the child cannot respond to sensory information to behave in a meaningful, consistent way. He may also have difficulty using sensory information to plan and organize what he needs to do. Thus, he may not learn easily.”
To explain this definition, she gives the example of a boy pulling a cat’s tail. When the cat turns around, hisses, and scratches, a typical child with proper sensory integration would learn that pulling the tail is a bad idea. But a child with a sensory processing disorder might not process that information that the cat is providing him with, and therefore keep pulling his tail. This is due to a dysfunction of some of his senses.
But did you know that:
There are more than the five senses of vision, touch, smell, taste, and hearing?
This came as a serious shock to me!
With sensory processing disorder (SPD) a lot of children have problems with the lesser known senses: vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile.
This is the sense that helps process “sensory information about motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation.”²
Basically, this is the system that “process[es] information about movement, gravity, and balance, which it receives through the inner ear.”³
This video well explains this dysfunction in children.
Signs of a problem with the vestibular sense:
A child with a vestibular dysfunction may be oversensitive or undersensitive–or both–to movement. She may avoid certain movements due to gravitational insecurity or be a thrill seeker–enjoying spinning or moving fast.
Other signs are (but not limited to):
- Easy loss of balance
- Act like a limp noodle (while getting dressed for example)
- Difficulty using both hands together
- Inability to focus on one voice or noise when there are a lot of background sounds
- Difficulty with reading comprehension
- Low self esteem
So what can you do?
There are lot of different activities you can do to help integrate your child! Here is a basic list:
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Walking on unstable surfaces–like sand
- Riding on a see-saw
- Rolling down a hill
Overall, if a child can learn to be more comfortable in certain situations and get the stimulation that he or she needs, it will help to integrate the vestibular system.
This is the sense that, “process[es] information about body position and body parts, which it receives through the muscles, ligaments, and joints.”³
The proprioceptive sense can affect a lot of everyday skills including, “body awareness, motor control and motor planning, grading of movement, postural stability, and emotional security.”³
This is a really great video that better explains the proprioceptive sense.
Signs of a problem with the proprioceptive sense:
- Chews constantly on objects
- Difficulty getting dressed
- Holds pencils too lightly or too tightly (to overcompensate for lack of hand strength)
- Frequently break objects
- Poor posture
- Lack of self-confidence and refusal to try new things
So what can you do?
- Bear hugs (anything with deep pressure)
- Ripping paper
- Pressing and pulling items like play-doh
- Arm wrestle
- Jumping on a trampoline (the joint compression that takes place while jumping helps to calm your child and give deep sensory input)
- Painting at an easel (this strengthens shoulders)
Since the proprioceptive sense receives its input through the muscles and joints, it often takes pressure of some kind to activate that sense. Strengthening your child’s core, hands, and shoulders helps to compensate with some of the problems that come from having a dysfunction of the proprioceptive sense. Strengthening activities like the ones I mention in my post on DIY Fine Motor Activities, helps to better integrate your child as well.
“The tactile sense process[es] information about touch, which it receives primarily through the skin.”³
This sense sounds a lot like the sense of touch, but it’s actually different. Touch is a “far sense” and it responds to external stimuli.
The tactile sense is a “near sense” because you cannot control it and aren’t aware of it.
Touch comes through your hands or feet, but the tactile sense is throughout all of your skin.
When you have a disorder with the tactile sense, you can often be hypersensitive to sensations that many people would disregard, such as individual pieces of grass touching your ankles while you are walking in a field. Or hyposensitive to sensations, such as an enjoyment of the deep pressure of getting a shot.
Signs of a problem with the tactile sense:
- React negatively to light touch
- React negatively to the feeling of tags or seams in clothing
- Be a picky eater
- Avoid getting messy or sticky
- Treat animals roughly
- Completely unaware of messiness on face or hands
- Unaware of touch unless very extreme
- Unable to use certain body parts without looking at what she is doing
- Extreme oral fixation to objects past usual age of 2
- May be a loner and have few friends
So what can you do?
- Water play
- Sand play
- “Guess the object” (have your child feel certain objects and try to guess what they are without looking)
- Back rubs
- Dress up
Things that really use all aspects of your skin are extremely helpful. Encourage your child to feel different textures and objects to help them to get their brain and tactile sense working together!
Sometimes a sensory processing disorder can appear very overwhelming. There are so many signs and so many ways that a child could be struggling. But it can all be ok! Children are so resilient, and with your love and patience, your child will be able to handle anything. If you want further information about sensory processing disorders I highly highly recommend The Out-of-Sync Child and the Star Institute has a lot of great resources as well. And if you are really concerned about your child, talk to your pediatrician about going to an occupational therapist. They are extremely knowledgable about sensory processing disorders and what to do.
- “The Out-of-Sync Child” Carol Stock Kranowitz
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