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Sensory Processing difficulties and your child

Whether you’re a therapist, teacher or parent, you’ve probably had to spend more time than you’d like settling temper tantrums or trying to subdue unruly behavior. But some families deal with a level of tantrums and behavior that leave them feeling totally drained.



I can remember my mum having the same argument with my brother every morning before school. His tag was itchy, the socks were too short/too long/too stretched or just sitting wrong, and his shorts were sitting funny around his hips.


My brother eventually grew out of it, and never had the problem again once he no longer had to wear a uniform (ironically he has since joined the army!).


But what about our little ones who don’t grow out of it? What about the kids who struggle with attending school, participating in group projects or leisure activities because of their sensitivities?


According to SPD Australia, Sensory Processing difficulties (or as it is recognized in the States as Sensory Processing Disorder) impact and impair the functional skills of 1 in 20 children.


So what does Sensory Processing difficulties look like? To answer this, we first need to discuss sensory processing. Sensory processing is our ability to process all the information that comes into our bodies from our senses (we have eight by the way) and to then interpret the information to make choices and to inform us about ourselves and our world. When this goes wrong, sensations can feel like a lot, or a little, depending on how we are processing and misinterpreting.


Most of us cope with this like a well-oiled machine. Our brains take in all the information, sort it, and give us the proper way to respond. But for people who have sensory processing challenges or difficulties, the input gets to the brain and becomes a mess of useless information. This then results in an inappropriate response (no response, wrong response or an over-response in the form of a “blow up” or “meltdown”).


As a parent or teacher, if you’re reading this and thinking it sounds like your child, here are some other things you can look out for:


Language

An early sign that things aren’t going according to plan is a delay in language development. This can show in a child that knows what they want to say, but can’t seem to make their mouths form the words or in a child with no hearing problems who doesn’t seem capable of listening. In both cases, whether on their way in or out, the words are lost in translation (Integrated Learning Strategies, 2020).


Coordination

Because their visual stimuli aren’t processing properly, it becomes challenging for their limbs to respond properly. They may struggle with tasks like coloring in the lines, cutting accurately, putting together puzzles and many other tasks that require both fine and gross motor skills (Integrated Learning Strategies, 2020).


Touch

Children who struggle with the touch can have reactions like I described with clothes as well as discomfort or anxiety with others touching or even being near them. And that picky eater who refuses to eat everything because it feels weird? They fit in this category too. It’s hard to swallow something when your brain can’t make heads or tails of the texture. These sensitivities can result in a lot of anxiety or aggression (Integrated Learning Strategies, 2020).


Lights and Sounds

Do fluctuations in lights and sounds or even persistence in one or the other cause a lot of stress or agitation? These too can be signs of poor sensory integration. The exposure eventually elicits a response and if it’s not agitation, it’s distraction.


Other signs include difficulty tying shoes, holding onto writing utensils, writing without breaking the pencil lead, paying attention, and following multi-step instructions (Integrated Learning Strategies, 2020).

Contact us at All Star OT or your local Paediatric Occupational Therapist if you’re concerned about your child’s sensory processing skills.

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