With an increased awareness of sensory issues, many parents become concerned that their child may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If you are concerned that your child is showing sensory isms, then I recommend a visit to your pediatrician for a referral to an Occupational Therapist (OT) – preferably an outpatient clinic based therapist who is qualified in Sensory Integration Therapy.
As part of the initial assessment performed by an OT, the parent or caregiver may be given a questionnaire to gather information about your child’s sensory systems in a variety of settings.
The Sensory Processing Measure
I prefer to use the [easyazon_link asin=”B007GBB9F6″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”speciism0f-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) [/easyazon_link] (SPM).
This unique assessment is the first to show how sensory processing problems manifest in various settings. The SPM includes 3 rating forms:
Home Form – completed by the child’s parent or home based care provider
Main Classroom Form – filled out by the child’s primary classroom teacher
School Environments Form – completed by other school personnel who work with and observe the child
These forms provide norm-referenced standard scores for two higher level integrative functions – praxis and social participation – and five sensory systems- visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular.
With each system, the SPM also offers descriptive clinical information on processing vulnerabilities, including under- and over- responsiveness, sensory seeking behavior, and perceptual problems.
For children under the age of 3, the Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile is the assessment tool of choice. This profile examines patterns in children from birth to 36 months who are at risk or have specific disabilities related to sensory processing abilities. Caregivers complete a judgment-based questionnaire in 15 minutes, available in either English or Spanish, reporting the frequency (Almost Always, Frequently, Occasionally, Seldom, or Almost Never) with which infants respond to various sensory experiences.
In addition to gathering this information via questionnaire, the OT will further assess the child via clinical observations and if needed, may use other standardized assessments to measure visual motor, fine motor, gross motor and bilateral coordination skills.
Oftentimes, insurance companies look for standardized scores to qualify for OT services.
When the OT is designing a treatment plan for your child they examine your child’s individual sensitivities and sensory needs. The OT will be asking, “Is the child over-responsive, under-responsive or a sensory seeker?”
Dr. Lucy Jane Miller of the SPD Foundation is one of the leading researchers in the field Sensory Processing Disorder. Dr. Miller poses these three sub-types of sensory modulation and encourages OT’s to use clinical observations to help parents recognize when their child is displaying a certain type of sensory modulation challenges. Let’s take a look at these sub-types.
The Sensory Seeker
A child who constantly spins, is forever on the move, loves to jump and crash into things, or gives hard high fives is a child that is seeking vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input. The treatment plan for the sensory seeker should include both vestibular and proprioceptive input and also include tactile, auditory and visual sensory input as well.
Use caution in only providing the sensory seeker with the sensation that they are seeking as the sensory seeking child will habituate to that input and it will lose it’s effectiveness. Think of the figure skater who can spin and spin for extended periods of time and not get dizzy. This is because their sensory system has habituated to this vestibular input. It works for the figure skater but we don’t want to impact the sensory seeking child.
Build an Obstacle Course
Building an obstacle course is one of the best activities to do with a sensory seeking child.
Encourage the child to hop on on any type of swing and move him in various directions.
Too Cold Outside to Swing? Warm Up with a Yoga Sequence
Next instruct him to sit, lay on his tummy, or stand and then frog jump to the mini trampoline.
Wrap up the obstacle course by encouraging him to crawl through a tunnel back to the swing and start over again.
This type of obstacle course will provide the sensory seeking child with a variety of sensory input while giving his body some of what they are seeking.
The Sensory Over-Responsive
A child that presents as an over-responsive child may get scared on an elevator, cover her ears when a fire truck drives by with sirens blaring, refuse to get on a swing at the playground, or always complain about her clothes bothering her. The sensory over-responsive child needs a specific sensory program that slowly introduces various sensory input to help modulate her system with an end goal of raising her sensory threshold. It is most recommended that this specific sensory integration therapy be administered by a trained occupational therapist.
The Sensory Under-Responsive
A child that presents under-responsive is a one who is hard to motivate, a bit of a couch potato, and may take longer to register sensory input. A sensory under-responsive child also requires a specific sensory integration program designed by an OT to lower the sensory threshold. The sensory diet developed by the OT will introduce sensory experiences to modulate his sensory system so that he can feel sensations more quickly or more normally.
Summing It Up
A combination of sensory rich activities helps to organize a child’s sensory system and the ability to modulation sensations. The ability to modulate senses may change from day-to-day and even hour to hour. Remember, every child is different and it is highly recommended that parents an caregivers consult an OT to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for a child’s individual sensory needs.