Sensory processing is best explained as the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. For those with Sensory Processing Disorder, sensory info goes to the brain but does not get organized into appropriate responses. Those with SPD perceive and/or respond to sensory information differently than most other people. Unlike people who have impaired sight or hearing, those with Sensory Processing Disorder do detect the sensory information; however, the sensory information gets changed around in their brain and therefore the responses are often inappropriate to the situation.
Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (originally called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses. One of the original occupational therapist and psychologist A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.
Ten Facts About Sensory Processing Disorder
- Sensory Processing Disorder is a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults.
- Parent surveys, clinical assessments, and laboratory protocols exist to identify children with SPD.
- At least one in twenty people in the general population may be affected by SPD.
- In children who are gifted and those with ADHD, Autism, and fragile X syndrome, the prevalence of SPD is much higher than in the general population.
- Studies have found a significant difference between the physiology of children with SPD and children who are typically developing.
- Studies have found a significant difference between the physiology of children with SPD and children with ADHD.
- Sensory Processing Disorder has unique sensory symptoms that are not explained by other known disorders.
- Heredity may be one cause of the disorder.
- Laboratory studies suggest that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are not functioning typically in children with SPD.
- Preliminary research data support decades of anecdotal evidence that occupational therapy is an effective intervention for treating the symptoms of SPD.
– from Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD ) p. 249-250 by Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR
Infants & Toddlers:
____ problems eating
____ refused to go to anyone but me
____ has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
____ is extremely irritable when I dress him/her; seems to be uncomfortable in clothes
____ rarely plays with toys, especially those requiring dexterity
____ has difficulty shifting focus from one object/activity to another
____ does not notice pain or is slow to respond when hurt
____ resists cuddling, arches back away from the person holding him
____ can not calm self by sucking on a pacifier, looking at toys, or listening to my voice
____ has a “floppy” body, bumps into things and has poor balance
____ does little or no babbling, vocalizing
____ is easily startled
____ is extremely active and is constantly moving body/limbs or runs endlessly
____ seems to be delayed in crawling, standing, walking or running
____ has difficulty being toilet trained
____ is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc
____ is unaware of being touched/bumped unless done with extreme force/intensity
____ has difficulty learning and/or avoids performing fine motor tasks such as using crayons and fasteners on clothing
____ seems unsure how to move his/her body in space, is clumsy and awkward
____ has difficulty learning new motor tasks
____ is in constant motion
____ gets in everyone else’s space and/or touches everything around him
____ has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/ withdrawn)
____ is intense, demanding or hard to calm and has difficulty with transitions
____ has sudden mood changes and temper tantrums that are unexpected
____ seems weak, slumps when sitting/standing; prefers sedentary activities
____ hard to understand my child’s speech
____ does not seem to understand verbal instructions
___ is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc
___ is easily distracted in the classroom, often out of his/her seat, fidgety
___ is easily overwhelmed at the playground, during recess and in class
___ is slow to perform tasks
___ has difficulty performing or avoids fine motor tasks such as handwriting
___ appears clumsy and stumbles often, slouches in chair
___ craves rough housing, tackling/wrestling games
___ is slow to learn new activities
___ is in constant motion
___ has difficulty learning new motor tasks and prefers sedentary activities
___ has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/ withdrawn)
___ ‘gets stuck’ on tasks and has difficulty changing to another task
___ confuses similar sounding words, misinterprets questions or requests
___ has difficulty reading, especially aloud
___ stumbles over words; speech lacks fluency, and rhythm is hesitant
___ over-sensitive to environmental stimulation: I do not like being touched
___ avoid visually stimulating environments and/or I am sensitive to sounds
___ often feel lethargic and slow in starting my day
___ often begin new tasks simultaneously and leave many of them uncompleted
___ use an inappropriate amount of force when handling objects
___ often bump into things or develop bruises that I cannot recall
___ have difficulty learning new motor tasks, or sequencing steps of a task
___ need physical activities to help me maintain my focus throughout the day
___ have difficulty staying focused at work and in meetings
___ misinterpret questions and requests, requiring more clarification than usual
___ have difficulty reading, especially aloud
___ speech lacks fluency, I stumble over words
___ must read material several times to absorb the content
___ have trouble forming thoughts and ideas in oral presentations
___ have trouble thinking up ideas for essays or written tasks at school
*This checklist can’t diagnose a child with SPD, it can help to see if additional testing should be done. Think about the child’s behavior during the past six months, when filling out this checklist.
Fidget Toys to make!
Balloons filled with flour or play dough
Nuts and bolts
Tube sock filled with dry rice and sewn shut for weight/tactile play
Velcro under the desk or table to run fingers over
Theraband on legs of the desk or chair
Pipe cleaners to twist/wind around fingers
Kneadable erasers or sticky tack
Ziploc bags filled with hair gel or finger paint and taped closed (add buttons, beads, google eyes)
Flexible rubber hair curlers
DIY Zipper bracelets
Flexible straw cut short so the child can bend/flex in his hands
Key rings linked together (try different sizes)
Hair rubber bands around wrist
Large key ring with pony beads looped on
Ziploc bags or balloons filled with water beads
Small gel window clings on a piece of laminated card stock
String pony beads onto a pipe cleaner and duct tape either end to a craft stick for child to slide beads up and down.
Pony bead strung onto a jumbo paper clip
Sew a small mesh fabric tube, place a marble inside, and sew ends closed so the child can push the marble back and forth inside the tube.
Which children benefit the most from sensory seating?
Sensory seating is designed for children who fidget in the classroom. If they seem to be a “sensory seeker” and move about in their seats, they may be seeking vestibular input. They are using the movement or help them attend and stay focused. Some students need more movement than others. Some students need information from proprioceptive sense – they struggle to know where their body is. They may rock back and forth, constant move or fidget, slump in chair or get up often to talk with the teacher. Students move to stay alert, get organized, regulated and focused.
Sensory cushions or chairs can help in the classroom or while doing homework. It allows them to move in subtle ways but not be distracting or inappropriate during classroom time, mealtime or homework time.
Some options are wobble cusions, Southpaw Zuma Rocker, a one-legged stool or a ball chair.
Wobble cushion is airfilled and can be placed on the student’s chair. Make sure it is having an affect on their regulation and focus. If not, the cushion may not be the answer.
The movement cushion should have enough air in it so that it is unstable when the child sits on it. If it is too deflated, the child will touch the bottom of the cushion when they sit down. If it is over inflated, the cushion will rock side to side like a sea-saw even when no student is sitting on it.
The base of the cushion should be stable, but when seated on the wobble cushion in the classroom the student should be able to move gently as they are seated. The amount of air will also change depending on the student’s size as heavier students will need slightly more air than lighter students.
Make sure the child’s feet touch the ground and they sit back on the chair. Cushion should fit the student and chair as well. Don’t have child use a weighted lap piece or weighted vest – they may fall off chair or struggle with all of the input at one time.
ALWAYS MONITOR THE AFFECTS OF THE SEATING SOLUTION!
- Does the seating improve child’s focus?
- Can the child answer more questions and follow directions better?
- Are they less disruptive when on seating system.
- Do they stay in the seat longer?
DISCONTINUE SEATING IF:
- The student is not listening or completely distracted while on the seat.
- Student fidgets even more?
- Child moves round classroom more?
- Student is not as engaged in classroom activities.