Identify Your Child’s Sensory Needs

sensory-needsIf you think your child has possible sensory issues or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), then you need to get your pediatrician to refer you to an Occupational Therapist (OT)–preferably an outpatient/clinic based therapist that is qualified in Sensory Integration therapy. That therapist can give you (the parent/caregiver) a questionnaire to fill out to gather information about your child’s sensory systems.

  • I prefer to use the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM). There is a home form for 2-5 year olds and 5 and up and there are school, music, art, and PE forms for school personnel to fill out as well.
  • If your child is younger than 2 years of age, I like to use the Sensory Profile Infant and Toddler form.
  • In addition to gathering this information, the OT should use clinical observations and may use other standardized assessments to measure visual motor, fine motor, gross motor and bilateral coordination skills.

Insurance looks for standardized scores sometimes for a child to qualify for OT services, but many times children can qualify for private based OT based on professional judgment as long as medical necessity is established in the OT report.

Sensory Modulation
When the OT is designing a treatment plan for your child they will look at what is your child sensitive to? Are they over-responsive, under-responsive or sensory seekers/cravers? Dr. Lucy Jane Miller with the SPD foundation is one of our leading researchers in the field for SPD. She poses these three 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.

Sensory Seeker Child
For example, a child that loves to spin constantly, is constantly moving, loves to jump and crash, give hard high fives is a child that is seeking vestibular and proprioceptive input to their bodies. Their treatment plan should include giving them both vestibular and proprioceptive input but also tactile, auditory and visual input as well. You don’t want to just give them the sensation that they are seeking, because they will habituate to this and it will not be as effective. Given the example of an ice skater, they can spin and spin and not get dizzy because they have habituated to this vestibular input, but we don’t want our kiddo’s to do this.

An obstacle course is one of the best activities to do with this child that is a seeker/craver. Put them on a swing (any type) move them in various directions, have them sit, lay on their stomachs, stand etc., then frog jump to the mini trampoline and jump and crash on the large crash pad, then crawl through a tunnel back to the swing and start over again. This provides them various sensory input while giving their bodies some of what they are seeking.

Over-Responsive Child
A child that presents as an over-responsive child may get scared on an elevator, cover his ears when a fire truck drives by, refuse to get on a swing at the park, or always complain about her clothes bothering her. This child needs a specific sensory program that slowly provides various sensory input to help modulate her system to raise her threshold. This is to be done with a trained occupational therapist.

Under-Responsive Child
A child that presents under-responsive is a child that is hard to motivate, a couch potato, they take longer to register sensory input and also need a specific sensory program designed by an OT to help lower their threshold and make them feel things more quickly or more normally.

You have to use a combination of sensory rich activities to help organize a child’s sensory systems and modulation. This may change from day-to-day, hour to hour. Every child is different and you will always want to consult an OT before developing a treatment plan for your child.

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Britt Collins, M.S., OTR/L About Britt Collins, M.S., OTR/L

Britt is co-author of Sensory Parenting and co-creator of OT DVD Series. She can be found at Sensory Parenting.