Sensory processing refers to the ways in which the brain receives, organizes, and responds to sensations to which it is exposed. These sensations include sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and movement. When the central nervous system ineffectively processes sensory information, it may result in difficulties in
performing activities of daily life.
Manifestations of sensory processing disorders include coordination problems, poor attention, and difficulties in focusing on tasks. In children, they may include poor handwriting skills or difficulty in getting dressed, eating, or bathing. Other possible signs are problems in transitioning to or regulating sleep.
Your first experience with sensory processing disorders may be with your “colicky” baby. Your baby only wishes to be swaddled, continuously wants to suck, or cannot fall asleep on his own. He may have delayed motor skills and spend little time crawling. As he grows, he may become a picky eater, throw tantrums with transitions, and only wear sweatpants and socks without seams. He may be respond to loud noises by covering his ears. Learning a new task may be frustrating, leading to lack of mastery and/or a tantrum. Other behaviors may include:
-Crashing into objects and people.
-Chewing on clothing, toys, and other non-food items.
-Overstuffing the mouth with food.
-Exhibiting fear of water, loud noises, and/or unexpected or new situations.
-Gagging at the sight, sound, smell, or touch of items.
-Avoiding interaction with peers or other people.
Please rest assured that these behaviors are responses to the sensations in the environment. They are not related to your child’s intellect. Functional success relies on a nervous system that can process all of the sensations in the environment and then build motor skills for success. We all process sensory information differently and have challenges in different areas. When a child cannot participate in activities of daily life, demonstrates delays in motor skills, and has difficulty in self-regulating, identifying the underlining challenges may make a huge difference in the ability to learn and participate. An occupational therapist can help you by assessing your child’s sensory motor development through standardized testing and screening tools. He or she can also direct you to programs, services, and professionals who can assist you in your child’s development. Seeking help early on for children with sensory processing disorders proves to have lasting results and allows them to build on skills and enjoy their life through their senses.