Sensory Processing Disorder – Part 1

The following article is a reprint written by Susan Donohoe. She’s the owner of Kozie Clothing, the newest line of compression and weighted clothing that can be found at SensoryEdge
Many Children with Aspergers experience sensory processing difficulties or sensory processing disorder (SPD). Sensory Processing is the neurological processing and interpretation of sensation within one’s own body and from the environment. In short, it is the brain’s organization and interpretation of the sensory input from everyday use. This is a complex interrelationship of processes, hence the term sensory integration.
Modulation is a term you may hear describing the neurological process which the child’s central nervous system appropriately regulates (continually adjusts) behavior responses to continually changing external and internal sensory stimuli. If this modulation is not working well the child may seem under responsive, over responsive (seeking stimuli), or both, or may be overwhelmed to sensory stimuli. When this behavior interferes with a child’s “occupation” in life (social, emotional, play, school, attention, body mechanics, self-care, etc.), then it is termed a disorder, hence sensory processing/ integration disorder. It is important to note that anyone and everyone has some sensory processing or integration problems from time to time because any kind of sensory stimuli can temporarily disrupt ones normal functioning.
The three main sensory systems we are referring to are tactile/ touch (influencing motor control and emotional development), proprioception (sense obtain through one’s own muscles, ligaments, deep pressure to the skin – therefore giving a sense of body position, organization, and calibration of movement), and Vestibular (sense of movement and gravity specifically postural control, muscle tone, coordinated use of both sides of the body, coordinating eye movements, etc.). Other sensory systems include olfactory (smell), auditory, visual, and gustatory (taste). Sensory processing disorder and sensory processing difficulties are individual to each child. Some may be mildly affected while others have greater difficulty functioning in life. It is important to note that symptoms vary and not all are present. Also it is a marker of neurological dysfunction that a child may show symptoms one day or with one activity and not the next.
The main type of therapy for SPD, with a trained Sensory Certified Occupational Therapist, includes a safe and challenging level of sensory stimulation encouraging movement to focus the child on tolerating and integrating sensory input, which is driven by the child’s interests and the “occupation” of play. Other therapy focuses on making environmental adaptations (such as in the home and school).
Common symptoms of SPD include: clumsiness (tripping, bumping, falling); poor fine motor skills; delayed self-care skills; poor muscle tone; difficulty initiating tasks; poor timing; poor posture; poor hand-eye coordination; learning disabilities; poor handwriting; poor organization skills; becomes easily frustrated; difficulty with social relations; constantly touching objects; doesn’t like to be groomed (hair, teeth, etc.); difficulty with clothing seams, socks, waistbands; seeks only soft clothes; likes tight clothing, small spaces, weight of blankets; opposed to being touched, would rather be the one to touch; hates being tickled or cuddled; often touches people or objects too hard; difficulty with eye contact; often smells objects; poor attention skills; picky eater; stuffing food or objects into mouth; difficulty with transitioning; hypersensitive to noise (things are too loud); hyposensitive to noise (doesn’t seem to notice); Hypersensitive to touch (certain fabrics, surfaces, etc.); little awareness to pain and temperature; hyposensitive to touch (may not notice when clothes are twisted or on improperly); hypersensitive to light; movement produces an anxious reaction (swinging, roller coasters, bike riding, spinning, rolling); over-seeks movement (swinging, spinning, rolling); takes excessive risks in movement, extreme activity levels; walking on tiptoes.
Dressing for Success! As mentioned above, making adaptations within the child’s everyday life is also a part of understanding the child. Every child deserves to feel comfortable and adorable in their clothing. What if that same clothing could offer qualities that address sensory discomfort and therapeutic input? The child’s image of themselves and how they feel in their environment can enhance the social and emotional quality of life when that child feels organized and calm.
Susan Donohoe, OTR/L is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with certification in Sensory Integration and an advocate for children with special needs. Susan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has been practicing O.T. for 30 years. Through many years of active practice and working closely with educators, therapists, manufacturers, and experts in Design founded Kozie Clothes as a way to incorporate Neuroscience Principles into relevant designed apparel for children with special needs. With her passion and commitment, she developed the concept for a line of adorable coordinated sportswear and products that offer therapeutic value which are non-stigmatizing.
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