Just as we see doctor’s offices with sick children booming with business, occupational therapy offices are getting more and more crowded. If you’re like me, you had never heard of sensory or auditory processing disorders up until a few years ago. Poor motor planning? Are you talking about my car or my child’s inability to navigate the local jungle gym? So once again, why is there a sudden run on good OT’s and why are we hearing these terms more and more? Here’s how I see it. When children are diagnosed with sensory processing disorder it is recommended that they go see an OT. So let’s take a step back, what the heck is sensory processing disorder to begin with? Here is one of the best definition I have found thus far given by the Star Center. http://spdstar.org/
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) acts like a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to understand and respond to sensation. People with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound, and movement. They may over-respond and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input unbearable. Or they may under-respond and show little or no reaction, not even to pain or extreme hot and cold. A third option is sensory-motor problems, including weakness, clumsiness, awkwardness or delays in acquiring gross and/or fine motor skills.
Let’s first take a look at the first line of the description. It is a neurological “traffic jam”. There are multiple theories and suspected causes of children with sensory processing disorder. Sometimes it’s impossible to find a cause, other times it can be linked to having a traumatic birth but once again these disorders can also be tied back to the health of the gut. If the stomach is compromised the messages that are sent to our brains regarding body movement, coordination, motor planning and following commands simply never get there or get distorted on the trip. The neurotransmitters or serotonin that we need to function effectively and normally either aren’t being made in the gut or it’s made and never reaches it’s final destination. The result is the neurological “traffic jam”. As I mentioned a few years ago, this wasn’t even on my radar. Now I see kids at the playground unsure of how to climb up the rope ladder. Other’s are shrieking in the corner at a birthday party with bright lights and loud music. These are tough clues to make sense of but if you investigate further, they could be the window to a greater issue.
The Star Center (http://spdstar.org/what-is-spd/#spdchecklist) has a detailed description of what Sensory Processing actually is and the signs and symptoms to look out for in your child.
____ My child has difficulty being toilet trained.
____ My child is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc.
____ My child is unaware of being touched/bumped unless done with extreme force/intensity.
____ My child has difficulty learning and/or avoids performing fine motor tasks such as using crayons and fasteners on clothing.
____ My child seems unsure how to move his/her body in space, is clumsy and awkward.
____ My child has difficulty learning new motor tasks.
____ My child is in constant motion.
____ My child gets in everyone else’s space and/or touches everything around him.
____ My child has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/ withdrawn).
____ My child is intense, demanding or hard to calm and has difficulty with transitions.
____ My child has sudden mood changes and temper tantrums that are unexpected.
____ My child seems weak, slumps when sitting/standing; prefers sedentary activities.
____ It is hard to understand my child’s speech.
____ My child does not seem to understand verbal instructions.
___ My child is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc.
___ My child is easily distracted in the classroom, often out of his/her seat, fidgety.
___ My child is easily overwhelmed at the playground, during recess and in class.
___ My child is slow to perform tasks.
___ My child has difficulty performing or avoids fine motor tasks such as handwriting.
___ My child appears clumsy and stumbles often, slouches in chair.
___ My child craves rough housing, tackling/wrestling games.
___ My child is slow to learn new activities.
___ My child is in constant motion.
___ My child has difficulty learning new motor tasks and prefers sedentary activities.
___ My child has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/ withdrawn).
___ My child ïgets stuck’ on tasks and has difficulty changing to another task.
___ My child confuses similar sounding words, misinterprets questions or requests.
___ My child has difficulty reading, especially aloud.
___ My child stumbles over words; speech lacks fluency, and rhythm is hesitant.