Responses Can Also Change
Responses to sensory inputs can fluctuate and change. Children and adults with sensory issues can find these harder to manage towards the end the day. Or towards the end of the week or school term.; Tiredness or ill-health can exacerbate sensory issues. Clinically, I have seen a significant difference in childrens ability to manage sensory sensitivities when they are well compared to if they are unwell. Autistic children; can often have even less reserve when they are unwell.; This can lead to quicker sensory overload.
Another thing that will impact on sensory processing is stress. There is some research in this area.; It indicates that anxiety can increase sensory sensitivity.; However, it also shows that sensory sensitivity can increase anxiety.; The author was unable to tease out which came first though, liking it to a chicken and egg scenario.
Sensory Disorders In Children
When a child has difficulties in receiving or responding to data obtained from their senses, sensory issues may be occuring.
The common symptoms of sensory processing issues in children include the following:
- Resisting or avoiding touch
- Aversion to triggers of senses
There is no definitive reason or cause known indicating why children experience these sensory issues. Children may have sensory problems in eight main areas:
- Vestibular/Body Movements
- Proprioception/Body Awareness
Although we have been mentioning sensory issues as Sensory Processing Disorder , it has not been officially recognized by the DSM-5 as a diagnosis.
Instead of being a standalone diagnosis, it is now recognized as symptoms of other disorders such as ASD.
The symptoms present differently for each child. Children who are easily stimulated may have hypersensitivity, while those who are not experience fewer sensations and have hyposensitivity.
The type of sensitivity determines the symptoms. Hypersensitive children react to little sounds as they are too loud.
They may not like certain smells. It may become a struggle for them to be in a noisy environment. Hypersensitive children may:
- Have a low pain threshold
- Be picky in terms of food
- Appear clumsy
On the other hand, hyposensitive children actually seek interaction with their environment. They try to get sensory feedback by trying to engage in their own way.
Other Signs Of Sensory Processing Difficulties
If your child has sensory processing difficulties, you might also notice that your child:
- gets anxious or worried in busy or unpredictable environments like parties or on public transport
- finds it hard to focus
- gets tired, particularly in busy environments like playgrounds and shopping centres
- has trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep
- avoids tasks that involve lots of sensory experiences, like dressing herself.
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Symptoms Of Sensory Processing Disorder
SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses. Children who have SPD may overreact to sounds, clothing, and food textures. Or they may underreact to sensory input. This causes them to crave more intense thrill-seeking stimuli. Some examples include jumping off tall things or swinging too high on the playground. Also, children with SPD are not always just one or the other. They can be a mixture of oversensitive and under-sensitive.
Children may be oversensitive if they:
- Think clothing feels too scratchy or itchy.
- Think lights seem too bright.
- Think sounds seem too loud.
- Think soft touches feel too hard.
- Experience food textures make them gag.
- Have poor balance or seem clumsy.
- Are afraid to play on the swings.
- React poorly to sudden movements, touches, loud noises, or bright lights.
- Have behavior problems.
Sometimes these symptoms are linked to poor motor skills as well. Your child may have trouble holding a pencil or scissors. He or she may have trouble climbing stairs or have low muscle tone. He or she also may have language delays.
In an older children, these symptoms may cause low self-confidence. They may lead to social isolation and even depression.
Children may be under-sensitive if they:
- Cant sit still
- Dont recognize when their face is dirty or nose is running.
Websites With Useful Information
- We also explore different sensory equipment and supports.; Use this link to find out more.
- The STAR Institute website includes a lot of useful information and updates on current research.
- The Sensory Integration Global Network outlines further information and current research on Ayres sensory integration.
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Spd Or Asd: Finding The Right Diagnosis
It is important for parents to find a professional who can provide the correct diagnosis, as early as possible, so children can receive the appropriate treatment. Many doctors will try to help alleviate the sensory issues while treating the autism spectrum disorder, if that diagnosis applies.
Various skills that a child learns to do at different age levels is called a developmental milestone, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ,
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months or whenever a parent or provider has a concern. The CDC website has a list of the milestones by months and years, which parents can check to compare their childs progress and discuss with the pediatrician if there is a concern. Once it has been determined that the child is falling behind on any of the milestones, and if there is a concern of autism spectrum disorder, a recommendation should be made for the child to be examined by a specialist. This could be a developmental pediatrician, a pediatric neurologist, or possibly a child psychologist or psychiatrist.
Is There Always A Pattern Of Sensory Sensitivity In Autism
Interestingly, despite there being a lot of attention on sensory sensitivity in autism, the research reports a mix of sensory patterns.; Results show that there is no clear pattern of responses in autism to sensory information.; Different studies have given different results but most find that there is a mixed sensory profile in autism.
This is a good reminder that every person with autism is an individual.; Whilst some brains are more sensitive, others could be slower to respond to sensory inputs and others might seek out more sensory inputs.; There can also be differences with each sense.; One common finding in all studies is auditory sensitivity, or sensitivity to sounds. I see this clinically too.; Touch sensitivityis also frequently reported.
Overall, however, research does not support a specific pattern of responses.; Every autistic child or adult will have their own unique sensory profile and need their own individualised supports.
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Myth #3: Kids With Sensory Processing Issues Are Overreacting
Fact: Kids with sensory processing issues may seem fussy. It may appear that they get upset for no reason. But the truth is theyre reacting to things that may not be as noticeable to others.
Some kids may get agitated and overwhelmed in a restaurant because of a specific smell. Or at the mall because of a type of sound. Or they might refuse to wear certain clothing or brush their hair because it feels painful. For these kids, having too much sensory information to process can lead to a sensory meltdown or shutting down.
Inability To Process Sensory Data
Processing disorders such as the Auditory Processing Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder are caused by a certain deficiency in an individuals ability to use effectively the information that is collected through the senses.
Sometimes the brain cannot process auditory, visual and other sensory information it receives.
In this case, the persons ability to learn or to be comfortable and make sense of the environment becomes impaired.
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Managing Spd & Autism In Adults
The combination of sensory processing disorder and autism in adults is going to have a different set of challenges than it does for children. For instance, occupational therapy interventions for children are often focused on helping them succeed in a classroom setting, and they regularly use play to help with sensory processing. In order to help adults with both SPD and autism, interventions are often aimed at self-care skills, helping them to become more independent and function well in daily life.
Occupational therapy services are still considered the optimal treatment for adults, and they can be used to help clients better process and integrate sensory information.
Occupational therapy for adults is also highly individual. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, the level of disability can vary greatly. OT for adults will be highly specific to an individuals level of disability and treatment goals.
OT and sensory integration techniques can help adults with autism and SPD better care for themselves, become more independent and self-reliant, and also potentially work outside the home and perform better in the workplace.
Why Is Sensory Processing Important
The sensory information that our body receives forms the basis for our decision making.; If our brain isnt processing this information accurately, or if it isnt able to ignore things that arent important, it is much harder for us to produce an appropriate response.; You can compare it to a computer.; The input comes from the mouse, keyboard and maybe smart screen.; The operating system processes the input and then something is produced.; If the operating system isnt working properly then we might not be able to print or send an email or upload a blog post.; The outcome is not what we had hoped.
In sensory processing, the brain is like the operating system.; The brain must pay enough attention to the right message and organising it in a way it can be used. If its not sending the sensory messages to the right place, then the response may not be appropriate. It could be unsafe, for example, running across a busy road if there is a loud noise.; The response might also lead to errors, such as breaking a toy because you accidentally used too much force.; ;When sensory processing issues occur the sensory messages arent connecting smoothly which leads to unexpected responses.
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What Causes Sensory Processing Differences
Preliminary research from the STAR institute and colleagues suggests that Sensory Processing Differences are often inherited. This means, the causes of SPD are coded into the childs genetic material at birth. ;In addition, prenatal and birth complications or risk factors, such as being premature, may also cause SPD.; Environmental factors may be involved. For example, children who are adopted often experience SPD, due perhaps to restrictions in their early lives or poor prenatal care.
Do People With Autism Have Difficulty With Temperature Regulation
Children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders suffer from temperature regulation problems, sometimes as a part of overall sensory processing issues. They may exhibit hyper or hypo sensitivities to heat and cold. A manifestation of this is the child who does not feel cold in the winter and continuously peels off his clothing or coat despite the cold weather. The child who has difficulty cooling down after a short time in the sun may also begin to shiver after a brief period in air conditioning, even though most of the time an AC Repair company will tell you there is nothing the matter with the actual system. Having said this, situations like this highlight why it is extremely important to keep a check on the heating and air conditioning systems at home. If at all you face any issues, you could try contacting technicians like T.E. Spall & Son, who is a provider of HVAC services in Scranton.
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Olivias Story Sensory Slow
Olivia doesnt always notice whats happening in the room.; Often, she doesnt respond to her name.; Sometimes it seems like she is oblivious to the world around her.; Her movements are slower and a bit clumsy.; She needs encouragement to have a go and to try activities that her friends just automatically start.; Overall, her responses to the sensory messages she receives from the world are slower.
Final Thoughts On Sensory Processing Disorder
Having sensory processing disorder or loving someone who does can feel like a daily struggle. Surely, your struggle is unique to you, but youre not alone. Starting the process by talking to a trusted physician, occupational therapist, or mental health professional can make a big difference in how you feel. It can also make a big difference in the symptoms and well-being of your loved one.
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Whats The Outlook For Kids With Sensory Issues
Theres no cure for sensory issues. Some children may experience fewer with age, while others may just learn to cope with the experiences.
Some doctors dont treat sensory issues by themselves, but rather target the symptoms during overall treatment for the diagnosed condition, such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.
If you believe your child has problems processing what they sense and has no other underlying medical condition, validated treatment options may be limited.
Because its not considered an official disorder, not everyone is eager to treat or speculate on treatments that havent been reliably shown to be effective in changing behaviors.
Sensory Overload In Autism
Sensory overload involves more than just sounds. It can be any environmental stimulus that interferes with the stability of the environment. In some cases, the individual can be so sensitive as to react adversely to sensations you might not even notice.
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How Autism And Sensory Processing Disorder Are Linked
Do you think sensory issues are at the root of what makes autistic people different? ;
Thats the powerful question that Maia Szalavitz of TIME Magazine asked world-renowned professor, author, and self-advocate Temple Grandin in a 2013;interview.
Grandins reply?;I think the core criterion is the social awkwardness, but the sensory issues are a serious problem . they make it impossible to operate in the environment where youre supposed to be social.
With that statement, Grandin linked sensory issues and socialization, and hinted at the relationship between sensory processing disorder and autism as well.
SPD is a condition that affects the way that the brain communicates with the rest of the body. When the brain of an individual with SPD receives sensory information through the nervous system, it has trouble converting those signals into typical reactions.
As a result, the individuals physical, emotional, and social responses appear unusual. Plus, SPD can manifest differently from one day to the next, further complicating the issue.
Myth #8: Sensory Processing Issues Is Just Another Name For Adhd
Fact: ADHD and sensory processing issues have some things in common, like fidgeting, struggling with personal space, and even experiencing sensory overload. And tools like weighted blankets and fidgets can benefit kids with both. But even though they have some overlap and can co-occur, there are key differences between ADHD and sensory issues. Not all kids with ADHD have sensory issues, just like not all kids with sensory issues have ADHD.
By understanding more about sensory processing issues, you can help dispel myths others have. Get tips for talking to your childs teacher about sensory processing issues. And read what one dad wants people to know about parenting a child with sensory processing issues.
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Dramatic Mood Swings And Tantrums
What parents often notice first is odd behaviors and wild mood swings, strange at best, upsetting at worst. Often its an outsized reaction to a change in environment a radical, inexplicable shift in the childs behavior.
For instance, a first-grader may do fine in a quiet setting with a calm adult. But place that child in a grocery store filled with an overload of visual and auditory stimulation and you might have the makings of an extreme tantrum, one thats terrifying for both the child and parent.
These kids temper tantrums are so intense, so prolonged, so impossible to stop once theyve started, you just cant ignore it, notes Nancy Peske, whose son Cole struggles with sensory issues. Peske is coauthor with occupational therapist Lindsey Biel, who worked with Cole, of Raising a Sensory Smart Child.
Creating A Sensory Diet To Manage Sensory Issues
Another tool used by occupational therapy practitioners is the creation of a sensory diet. This sensory diet is a treatment approach that can be used by families, parents, and caregivers to utilize things that have a calming effect on the specific individual.
The sensory diet will be directed at the individuals specific sensory needs. It can also help to increase sensory exposure in a gradual manner to improve tolerance. A sensory diet is not food-related, although it can include meal and eating habits.
A sensory diet typically consists of activities that can be practiced various times a day. These methods can help a child stabilize if they are overstimulated. They can also provide sensory input that the body needs throughout the day to improve attention, focus, regulation abilities, responsiveness, and adaptability. Children can often learn how to perform these activities on their own to help regulate themselves.
While families will contribute valuable information that factors into the sensory diet, the treatment plan will need to be created and overseen by a licensed occupational therapy provider.
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