Have you noticed that your child appears to struggle in noisy environments?
Will they only eat a few select foods?
Do they complain about tags or seams in their clothing?
Or maybe they are struggling with their attention and schoolwork and you’re not sure why?
These can be a sign that your child is struggling with sensory processing integration.
This is also known as sensory processing disorder.
The senses that may be affected by sensory processing issues include sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, balance, and motor coordination.
Having difficulties with input from any of these senses could obviously be difficult for your child and cause them distress.
Sensory processing disorder can coexist with developmental disabilities, but that is not always the case.
Children with and without specific diagnoses who may be struggling with sensory integration may benefit from sensory integration therapy.
Here at Little Feet Therapy, one of the pediatric therapy services we offer is sensory integration therapy.
Let’s take a closer look at how sensory integration therapy works and how it can help your child as an effective treatment for sensory processing disorder.
What Is Sensory Integration Therapy?
It can be overwhelming for a child with sensory processing disorder to deal with the sensory input the world throws at them. Such sensory inputs – loud noise, bright lights, etc – might be a little jarring for you or I, but for a child with sensory processing disorder it can be stressful and even physically painful.
Sensory integration therapy can help.
By gently and gradually exposing your child to sensory stimulation in a structured and repetitive way, their brain can naturally adapt its reactions to be more efficient. Sensory integration therapy is provided by a pediatric occupational therapist who has received special training in this unique treatment protocol.
Your child’s occupational therapist will use repetitive activities to teach your child, gradually increasing the difficulty of the activities.
The goal is that over time your child’s nervous system will respond to their environment in a more organized way, allowing them to feel less overwhelmed. This can allow their brain to adjust and adapt to processing sensory stimuli in a more constructive way.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory integration is the process by which your child adapts and responds to their environment and analyzes sensations sent to them by their senses. If your child struggles with input from their sensory systems, it’s likely a sign of a sensory processing disorder.
Their senses, or sensory systems, include the following:
- Sight (vision)
- Hearing (auditory)
- Smell (olfactory)
- Taste (gustatory)
- Touch (tactile)
- Joint perception sense (proprioceptive)
- Balance and movement (vestibular)
- Internal (interoceptive)
Children use these systems to move, play, and interact with their peers.
If your child is struggling with sensory processing, it could affect every area of their life.
Classroom activities may become extremely difficult, and they may even struggle participating in family gatherings.
Tasks like following directions, sustaining attention, and visual tracking all may be affected by a sensory processing disorder.
Sensory processing disorder includes difficulties with both sensory modulation and sensory discrimination.
Modulation is your child’s ability to respond to sensory information – as in, neither overreacting nor underreacting to a sensory situation.
Discrimination is your child’s ability to process and perceive sensory information.
If your child is struggling in any of these areas it could greatly affect their success in school, their social life, and their future.
Who Benefits From Sensory Integration Therapy?
40% to 80% of children with developmental disabilities may also have difficulties with sensory processing.
If your child is seeing an occupational therapist for one of the following diagnoses, they may benefit from sensory integration therapy as well:
- Occupational therapy for autism spectrum disorder
- Occupational therapy for Down syndrome
- Occupational therapy for developmental delays
- Occupational therapy for ADHD
Or for the following diagnoses:
- Learning Disability
- Nonverbal Learning Disability
- Developmental Delay
- Regulatory Disorder
- Developmental Coordination Disorder
Even if your child does not have a diagnosis, around one in ten people without a specific diagnosis can also have sensory integration issues. Most children who are referred for help with sensory issues do not have a diagnosis, in fact.
Referrals for sensory integration therapy are often given to children who are struggling academically, regardless of their diagnostic status.
If your child is between the age of birth through adolescence, they can be referred for sensory integration therapy.
To determine if your child could benefit from sensory integration therapy, an occupational therapist may give an evaluation.
This evaluation might include observing your child, interviewing their teachers and caregivers, and standardized testing.
How Does Sensory Integration Therapy Treatment Work?
The repetitive therapy that an occupational therapist may provide your child is also called sensory diet treatment.
Even though the word “diet” is used, the technique has nothing to do with nutrition or food.
When your child is given a sensory diet, the goal is for them to be able to go from an overloaded state to one where they can be calm and alert.
Your child may not automatically know when they are in a state that is calm and feels “just right” to them.
The goal of a sensory diet is to help them become aware of when they are in that state of feeling “just right.”
Sensory diets can include techniques such as balance treatments and movement therapy.
They can also include tailored accommodations and physical activities.
The ideal sensory integration therapy will include the following:
- An environment that feels safe while providing opportunities to explore your child’s senses
- Your child engaging with their environment in an active way
- Activities that are directed by your child but supported by their therapist
- Challenging your child to develop ideas and follow through with them
A sensory integration therapy session may also include specialized equipment to help with balance and posture.
Ideally, the routine established with your occupational therapist will suit your child’s schedule and individual needs.
Once a decent routine is established with your child’s occupational therapist, you can practice with them at home.
The more your child practices their new routines, the more they may feel balanced and in control of themselves and their sensory environment.
Do you think your child would benefit from sensory integration therapy?
Are you hoping they can feel more secure within themselves and their environment?
Book your appointment with Little Feet Therapy today to find out more.