Imagine you take your child to what you think will be a fun trip to the theatre to see a new movie they’re excited about. But once you get there, your child melts down for seemingly no reason. What you may not notice – that they do – is the flashing lights on the screen, the loudness and vibrations of the audio, the blowing of cold air across their neck, the noise of people unwrapping candy, or the scratchy sensation of the seats. All of this can be very alarming for a child with a sensory processing disorder. They’re unable to effectively cope with all of the sensory stimulation they’re receiving at once. Understanding sensory integration issues is essential in effectively supporting your child and their interactions with the world around them.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) occurs when children are either over or under stimulated by sights, sounds, smells, flavors, textures, or other sensory input. Their brain has trouble organizing and processing this information, which can affect everything from how they move and communicate to what clothes they wear and foods they eat. Each child is unique in that some avoid certain sensations, while other seek them out. Early diagnosis is essential to determine exactly what is going on in.
Children and Autism
Autism and sensory integration issues can go hand-in-hand. For instance, children with autism may not like people touching them because of awkward social skills, or because they don’t like being touched. On the other hand, they may hug very tightly because they don’t understand personal space or because they crave the tactile pressure. It’s important to note that SPD does not mean your child has autism but SPD symptoms and autism spectrum disorder symptoms can overlap.
What are Symptoms of Sensory Integration Issues?
Professional experts disagree on whether sensory processing disorder should be an official diagnosis. However, they do recognize that some children experience sensory integration disorder symptoms. Understanding what signs to look for can help parents get their children the assistance they need such as sensory integration therapy.
- Being overly sensitive to noise, light, or texture
- Craving deep pressure or sensory input
- Refusing to eat certain foods because of texture
- Difficulty managing changes in environment
- Bothered by the tags, seams, or fit of clothing
- Constantly moving around or touching things
- Seeks quiet spaces in otherwise loud or busy environments
Managing Sensory Integration Issues Through Therapy
Sensory integration therapy can benefit not only SPD but also autism in children. Since there is overlap in symptoms, treatment can be multifunctional.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
Physical and occupational therapy can help your child to better cope with sensory input, whether they crave it or avoid it. This can allow them to better interact with their environment and the people around them. Occupational therapy for SPD can teach children ways to achieve the sensory stimulation they desire and calm themselves in different situations. They also learn to become more aware of their body in space and how to engage appropriately with others.
There are plenty of ways you can help your child with autism and sensory issues at home too. Creating sensory kits and activities, finding clothing that they’re comfortable in, building time into their schedule to transition between activities and get sensory input, and managing the amount of stimulation they receive can all be beneficial. Look for events that are geared toward children with autism or SPD where lights may be dimmed and music turned down, and where there are quiet or sensory spaces for if they get overwhelmed.
Sensory Integration Activities
Physical and occupational therapists can also teach you and your child a variety of sensory integration activities that may help. This could include things such as wearing a weighted vest or blanket, doing jumping jacks, swinging, playing with a fidget toy, or watching a lava lamp. These activities can help with proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile needs.
A sensory checklist can help to identify sensory integration disorder symptoms and determine which sensations your child likes, dislikes, or is neutral to. This can allow therapists to better tailor treatment to meet their individual needs. It can also help to differentiate sensory processing disorder from other conditions.
Whether your child has sensory processing disorder, autism, or other conditions that affect their sensory function and interfere with their daily life, getting them involved in physical and occupational therapy at Therapeutic Movements can help. Take steps to better understand SPD and how it affects your child, as well as what you can do to support their development. Check out our frequently asked questions page or contact Therapeutic Movements for more information.