As we receive information from the world, we rely on our sensory systems. We rely mainly on our 5 senses: smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound. However, our nervous system also has unconscious senses such as touch, movement, force of gravity, and body position. Children with autism spectrum disorder may have a dysfunctional sensory system. Sometimes, one or more senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation.
There are several symptoms that are associated with a dysfunctional sensory system. An example would be if a child is overly sensitive to touch, movement, sight, or sounds. The child could withdraw from being touched, avoid certain textures of clothing or foods, or even exhibit a fearful reaction to ordinary movement activities. Activity levels may be unusually high or low. The child may be moving constantly or may be slow to join movement-inducing activities and fatigue easily. Problems with coordination can also be seen. These can be gross or fine motor skills. Some children could have unusually poor balance, while others have difficulty with motor coordination when learning a new task. Typically, a child with a sensory integration disorder will show more than one of these symptoms.
If it is suspected that the child has these symptoms, an evaluation can be conducted by an Occupational Therapist (OT). The evaluation consists of not only standardized tests, but also structured observations of responses to sensory stimulation, eye movements, coordination, balance, and posture. From this evaluation, the results will indicate whether or not the child has sensory integration disorder, as well as give the parent a full profile of the child’s needs in a number of sensory processing areas.
If the child is recommended therapy, the OT will then use different activities in therapy to challenge their ability to respond appropriately to sensory input by making a successful, organized response. These activities are designed to meet the child’s specific needs for development. The goal of sensory integration therapy is to help a child’s sensory processing disorder by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way. It is thought that over time, the brain will adapt and allow them to process and react to sensations more efficiently. If the therapy is successful, the child will be able to automatically process complex sensory information in a more effective manner than before. There are also improvements on gross and fine motor skills. Also, for children who exhibit over- or under-responsiveness to sensory stimulation, they tend to develop more normal responses which can lead to improved interpersonal, social skills, emotional adjustments, or a greater self-confidence. A child can receive therapy anywhere between 6 months to 2 years, however this is dependent on the severity and type of problem your child has, and the rate and degree of progress seen.
Parents can easily promote sensory integration in their child, as well. The most important way of doing this would be the parent recognizing that this problem exists and that it plays an important role in their child’s development. This way, the parent can provide an enriched environment that will promote healthy growth and maturation.
Are you interested in Occupational Therapy services for your child in the Chicago area?
Contact us or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children at Chicago Occupational Therapy, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.