It’s a term we hear quite often, and getting Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder explained properly can be quite hard work. Most of us who work with children toss it around freely, almost like a ball. And, I'm convinced we carry these challenges into adulthood.
I’m a physical therapist, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few sensory lectures from my occupational therapy colleagues. I have to say, it has been most helpful to me in my practice. Today, nearly every child, teen, and adult has some form of sensory challenge. I mean who doesn’t? With all the distractions, fast-paced lives, and an overabundance of technology, it’s a wonder we don't all have a sensory tantrum or meltdown daily. So, understanding sensory processing disorder (SPD) and learning to manage it can be quite helpful. Here is a quick and easy look at SPD in a nutshell.
This is the part of sensory processing disorder that many of us are familiar with. It breaks down into Sensory Over-Responsive, Sensory Under-Responsive, and Sensory Seeking behaviors. It occurs as our nervous system tries to interpret and organize incoming sensory information, but struggles to break it down. The result is one of the three mentioned categories. We can use tools and techniques with each of these groups to help regulate their sensory responses. For
example, if someone is sensory under-responsive (seems a bit lost in space, doesn’t hear their name called, forgetful, low energy), we can encourage organization through movement or heightened sensory tools. If someone is a sensory-seeker (may be overly active, jumping, can’t sit still, touching others, biting), we can offer sensory motor tools to organize their system. An over-responsive individual (heightened sensory responses, overly stressed, or anxious) can be relaxed through items that provide calm and are soothing to the nervous system.
Most of us can figure out how to get on an escalator, navigate a subway system, or get in and out of a car. Yet, someone with Sensory-Based Motor Disorder will struggle, as they don’t have accurate postural responses. They may become frustrated, and young children may even throw tantrums as they try to figure out how to move their bodies. With this type of challenge, we often work on balance activities using balance beams, rockers, and dynamic mobility tools to provide strength to the vestibular and postural systems.
This part of sensory processing disorder is a challenge as it presents its self with difficulties in detecting differences in location, intensity, and timing, or telling the difference between two objects. For example, if I put a quarter and a nickel in your hand, can you tell them apart by feel? Someone with this challenge may hold on too tight or not tight enough not knowing the right pressure to apply. Within Sensory Perception/Discrimination Disorder, we look closely at how vision, sound, touch, movement, and taste are perceived and executed. We may then choose tools to learn how to manage touch.
Most occupational therapists are well versed in sensory processing disorders and can answer questions, but having a general understanding can help you better serve those who are in need. Think of your own sensory needs and learn how you prefer to engage with your environment. Are you a tactile seeker? Under-responsive listener? Over-responsive to visual stimulation? How do you manage it? A multisensory room with its specialized sensory equipment may just help to manage all of our needs and sensory processing challenges in one soothing, organizing and alerting room.
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