Sensory processing disorder describes (in very simple terms) a situation where the signals that various nerves and sense organs recieve don’t get organised into appropraite motor and behavioural responses.
So far so wooly and vague right!
I’m no expert, but like most teachers who work with children with a whole range of additional needs I’ve picked up bits and pieces about all sorts of things and sensory processing disorder is one that I often see characteristics of in lots of the children I work with. Now I can’t diagnose it and I can’t cure it but what I can do is be aware of it’s existence, alert for signs of it, refer to appropriate professionals (OT in our area) implement basic strategies that might help and then follow any reccomendations.
There are three main forms of SPD:
- Sensory modulation disorder
- Sensory based motor disorder
- Sensory discimination disorder
1. Sensory Modulation Disorder
The first is Sensory modulation disorder- this covers three main areas- over stimulation, understimulation and sensory seeking.
Children may be- over or understimulate by sensory infromation from the whole range of sense organs- touch, taste, vision, hearing, vestibular, proprioception and interoception. senses may all be overwhelmed or understimulated.
Children who are understimulated need much greater stimulus than others to react- for example they may have a low pain threshold, not be bothered by loud sudden noises or being pushed around in the playground.
Over stimulated children may retreat inwards shrinking away from the overwhelming information coming from their senses, or the may lash out trying to drive away the things that hurt them. They may complain of noises you can’t hear, smells you can’t smell, textures which seem smooth to you may feel rough and coarse and the lights in your classroom may seem to flicker and jump causing a continuous distracion.
Children who are sensory seeking have an intense craving for sensory stimulus- the chew on jumpers and hands, they run faster, climb higher and spin and spin. They want to touch, smell, taste and expereince the world in ways that may seem socailly and developmentally out of place.
2. Sensory based motor disorder
The second aspect of SPD is Sensory based motor disorder. This is where the child has difficulty planning and then carrying out movements in smooth, cordinated ways. This splits into two areas
Dyspraxia- The child with spidery handwriting who complains that their hand hurts after only writing for 5 minutes, who can’t catch a ball, whose shins are always bruised from banging into tables, who’s always late and disorganised as they can’y find anything and have no sense of time.
Postural disorder- This child struggles to maintain control of their bodies in order to do a task- they can’t maintain good trunk control so writing is difficult, they may struggle with jaw control so drool or chew with their mouth open, always clumsy and falling over games and PE can be a problem but this disorder effect stationary work too- even sitting on the carpet is tough for this child.
3. Sensory discrimination disorder
And finally Sensory discrtimination disorder.
This child has difficulites distinguising between similar sensations- they seem unpeturbed by bumping their shin but flinch when you tifckle their foot. They strip off their coat on the coldest day but shiver when they come in, sounds tastes and smells just don’t seem to come across quite ‘right’ to them.
Right- that’s a brief introduction to Sensory Processing disorder- perhaps you’re reading this thinking- yes that describe little Johnny perfectly. If so here are some more sources of information:
Sensational Kids OT center– basic information about SPD
The SPD foundation webpage
The Out of Sync Child- fantastic book with a tick chart to help identify problems, pen pictures of children and ideas to support them.
Right- next how to support children with SPD in the classroom
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