For most kids, sensory processing occurs without conscious thought and these skills are automatic. But for some kids, sensory information goes into the brain but does not get organized into appropriate responses. For some of these children, school is a place they dislike.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is an increasingly common diagnosis, with a wide range of symptoms that can be difficult for parents to deal with and pediatricians to diagnose. Kids often are misdiagnosed and inappropriately medicated for ADHD.
Sensory problems can mean special challenges that make learning difficult for children in the classroom. Sensory kids may have trouble:
- paying attention
- following directions
- staying on task
- with motor skills and handwriting
- sitting still
- making friends
- with speech, language and communication
- with loud sounds
- being touched
Children with sensory issues often have developmental delays. What occupational therapy does for kids with SPD is to help both the child and the family learn strategies and tools to help the child at home and at school.
Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. Those with Sensory SPD perceive and/or respond to sensory information differently and the sensory information gets “mixed up” in their brain, and therefore the responses are inappropriate in the context in which they find themselves. Individuals with SPD may over or under-respond to one or more sensations (e.g., a loud sound, or light touch), crave sensations or may have problems with motor skills and coordination.
Getting help from professionals early assists parents and teachers in supporting a child’s success in managing sensory challenges. Treatment from professional pediatric occupational therapists may include one or all of the following: a health and physical evaluation by a pediatrician, a speech/language evaluation, a sensory-motor and relationship/engagement evaluation by occupational therapist, social-emotional evaluation by a psychologist, family priorities and needs evaluation by a case coordinator and possibly a feeding evaluation.
Early diagnosis increases the chances of successful intervention and treatment and can prevent secondary problems from developing. Part of the equation is equipping children and their parents with the tools to manage sensory issues at home and at school, and the other part is assessing whether a child is in the right school or a teacher is able to provide what a sensory child needs in the classroom. Testing alone is not sufficient to ascertain the kind of environment a child needs to be academically successful.
This article is created from materials provided by the STAR Center.
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