How Sensory Processing Disorders May Affect Kids

Many are already familiar with the five senses:

Sensory Processing - child legos
  • Taste
  • Sight
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Sound

Did you know there are two more senses? These two additional senses refer to body awareness (proprioception), and balance/spatial orientation (vestibular sense).

Proprioception

Proprioception is the ability to sense where your body is in space, and the ability to safely maneuver around your physical environment. For example, we can tell when our arm is raised above our head without looking at it because of our sense of proprioception.

Vestibular Sense

Vestibular Sense helps control balance, eye movement, and spatial orientation. It helps you stay stable and upright.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Children with Sensory Processing Disorders have trouble organizing information received from the senses. That is, they can be oversensitive to input, undersensitive to input, or both.

These issues can make it hard for children to succeed in school. For example, a child who is undersensitive to the sound of a school bell may take longer to transition to the next class simply because they were not alerted by the initial sound of the bell. A child who is oversensitive to the sounds of peers laughing or talking loudly during recess may be observed to cover their ears because they are overwhelmed with the auditory input.

There are many other ways sensory-motor difficulties can be observed. The following examples may be suggestive of difficulty with sensory integration.

Undersensitive Children

Children who are undersensitive to sensory processing input may seek out more sensory stimulation, which may look like:

  • Constantly touching people or feeling different textures
  • Personal space issues
  • High pain tolerance
  • Unable to sit still/are fidgety
  • Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
  • Enjoy deep pressure
  • Crave fast, spinning, and/or intense movement

Some behaviors might look like hyperactivity or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when many of these behaviors are sensory seeking. It is important to speak with your medical team for more information.

Oversensitive Children

Children who are oversensitive to sensory processing input may avoid sensory stimulation, which may look like:

  • Unable to tolerate loud noises
  • Refuse to wear clothing/find tags and labels irritating/clothes feel too tight
  • Easily distracted by background noises
  • Fearful of playground equipment
  • Clumsy and bump into people
  • Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed

Medication and Treatment

There is currently no medication available to treat sensory processing issues.

However, occupational therapists engage children in specific, purposeful physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input, so they may participate in their daily activities and navigate their environment more efficiently.

An occupational therapist who is trained in the Ayres Sensory Integration approach identifies the child’s sensory preferences, assists the child in becoming aware of what their body seeks and avoids (self-awareness is key!), and provides meaningful activities that are the “just-right fit” to help regulate their sensory needs so they may go about their days more smoothly.

The sensory system is a realm of the human body that can be overlooked because we do not necessarily constantly and consciously think about it (much like how we take breathing or the beat of our heart for granted).

However, our senses affect how we go about our days and how we interpret our days. Think about it: if we are in an environment with consistent auditory and visual stimulation for hours, we may go home feeling drained and ready to relax.

We may not consciously think about it, but our brains are constantly processing, registering, and putting together the sensory input we provide it. What we surround ourselves with and what we do matters.

Once understood it can be fun learning about how we can modify our environment or activities to set us up for success for the day.