The term “sensory processing disorder” has been around a while. It’s possible that you’ve heard the term “sensory disorder” in relation to a child lately. Perhaps you’re aware of someone who claims their kid has a sensory condition or sensory integration disorder, but what exactly is it?
Let’s start with defining the different types of sensory input. We all know about the 5 senses that we are taught about in elementary school:
- Our sense of sight or how we see things come through our eyes
- Our sense of sound or how we hear things come through our ears
- Our sense of smell comes through our nose
- Our sense of taste comes through our mouth
- Our sense of touch or how we feel things is transmitted through our skin
In addition to these 5 well-known senses, there are other ways our body receives input as well:
- The vestibular sense, which is how our body processes movement and movement detection, comes from the inner ear.
- Our proprioceptive sense, which allows us to tell where our body parts are in terms of force used during activities, is received through the inner ear and receptors in joints throughout the body.
- Interoception is recognizing and understanding internal feelings in our body such as the ability to know when you are hungry, know when you feel hot or cold
Our five senses allow our bodies to comprehend and interact with the world around us. Most individuals are capable of determining which feelings are essential and can ignore those that aren’t. My vision, for example, can focus on the words on the screen while ignoring the fan noise overhead since it has no bearing on my current activity at this moment.
However, for people who have a sensory problem, their bodies do not react to the stimuli in a typical manner. They may be oversensitive to the feeling of hypersensitivity, underreactive to the sensation of hyposensitivity, or seek out various types of sensation (sensory seeking). The following are just a few examples of sensory abnormalities;
Sense of Sight
- Hypersensitive – frequently covers eyes in bright lights, prefers solid colors over patterns
- Hypersensitivity – does not react to fast-paced light changes (strobe lights)
- Sensory Seeker – will look directly into bright lights, seeks out bright patterns with contrasting colors
- Hypersensitive – will cover ears at sounds that others don’t perceive as loud, startles easily with sounds, avoids loud sounds
- Hyposensitive – does not respond to loud sounds such as a fire alarm
- Sensory Seeker – will place objects that make noise right next to their ears, will throw objects to hear the sound it makes when it hits the floor
- Hypersensitive – gags at the smell of foods, makes faces when smells are present
- Hyposensitive – doesn’t respond to extreme smells
- Sensory Seeker– will repeatedly bring things to their nose to smell them
- Hypersensitive – will only eat bland flavors, eats a limited number of foods
- Hyposensitive – can eat strong flavors and hot foods with no reaction
- Sensory Seeker – prefers strong flavors such as sour things and extreme spicy foods
- Hypersensitive – will only wear specific types of clothing, doesn’t like to be touched
- Hyposensitive – shows no reaction to abrasive textures
- Sensory Seeker – wants to touch different types of textures
- Hypersensitive – doesn’t like extreme movements, doesn’t like climbing or swinging at the playground
- Hyposensitive – can spin in circles without getting dizzy
- Sensory Seeker – likes to climb, jump, and spin on things
- Hypersensitive – appears to be clumsy when moving, may be a picky eater because certain foods require coordinated and forceful chewing
- Hyposensitive – poor body awareness, may sit in uncomfortable position for extended periods of time without readjusting self
- Sensory Seeker– purposefully bumps into things, walks touching the sides of walls, constantly leaning on things
- Hypersensitive – overeats because they constantly feel hungry, always feels hot or cold
- Hyposensitive – struggles with potty training because they can’t recognize when they need to go
- Sensory Seeker – holds their bladder too long because they like the feeling of a full bladder
Sensory processing difficulties can affect any one or a combination of senses. Despite the fact that these processing disorders may have an impact on daily life, there is hope. Working with an occupational therapist to determine specific sensitive spots and develop a strategy to address them might assist.
Creating a plan specific to each child’s needs can help to teach the brain the proper way to process sensory inputs or help identify ways to change daily routines to decrease sensory-based meltdowns.
If you feel like you could use some assistance in this area, sign up for a consultation today – we would be happy to help!