Answering Common Questions About Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms & Therapy
1. How can I tell if my child’s difficulties are related to sensory processing?
The therapy process begins with an initial evaluation that will look holistically at your child and his/her skills and abilities. This evaluation will uncover any underlying sensory issues and explain how these sensory issues may be impacting your child’s specific areas of concern.
2. Can my child be both over and under responsive to sensory input?
A person may be hypersensitive in one sensory system but hypo-sensitive in another. Also, a person can respond differently to different types of input in the same sensory category. Sensory input does not come in a one-size-fits-all package. Each sensory system takes in different types of input. For example, tactile input can be smooth, bumpy, wet, or dry. You can take in this input through many places on your body. A child may crave or enjoy playing with certain textures but strongly dislike others. Your child may like to manipulate tactile input with his hands but have difficulty tolerating certain textures on his body. He may enjoy tactile input when it is expected, invited, and controlled but have a difficult time tolerating unexpected touch. There are different types of movement input, sound input, and visual input, all of which a person has their own unique way of receiving and perceiving.
3. How long does it take for a person’s sensory systems to integrate?
There is no specific timeline for sensory integration to occur, although factors such as early intervention, consistent therapy, and a home program can positively impact progress. Some children make significant gains in the early stages of treatment then plateau for a brief period. Timing depends on the involvement of the sensory systems, consistency with home activities and treatment, and responsiveness of the individual child. Factors such as diet, medical diagnoses, environmental changes, and even adolescence can affect progress.
4. Will my child outgrow his/her sensory issues?
An individual does not usually “outgrow” sensory processing difficulties without addressing them with sensory integration therapy. Sometimes, people learn to compensate for their specific sensory needs, but the underlying difficulty does not go away on its own. Whether or not we realize it, we all have our own sensory preferences. We seek things that help us feel alert, calm, and ready for the daily tasks we need to complete. Sensory processing challenges can be addressed and greatly improved through sensory integration treatment. Your therapist will work closely with you and your child to develop a modulated sensory system, while teaching your child to identify his/her own arousal state and develop strategies to self-regulate. These tools will last well beyond therapy. Your child may not completely “outgrow” their SPD, but they can develop the valuable tools needed to be functional and successful in life.
5. How long will my child have to attend therapy?
The therapy process includes a formal re-evaluation to monitor progress and determine what changes need to be made to the treatment plan. Since every child is different and learns at his/her own speed, treatment may be as short as six months or last for many years. Attending regularly scheduled appointments and following through with the occupational therapist’s instructions for home follow-through will enhance therapy performed in the clinic and facilitate progress.
6. How do I know if my child’s actions are related to sensory issues or behavioral issues?
This is a question that is asked often and doesn’t have a direct answer because it is based individually on the child and the circumstance. Sometimes, children exhibit behaviors that are associated with their age and typical development, while other behaviors are greatly influenced by sensory needs and overload. Your therapist will work with you and your child to teach you strategies to decrease sensory sensitivities and overload, which can help decrease undesired behaviors.
7. How does sensory processing disorder affect personality?
Personality is defined as a set of characteristics that form our character. SPD is often confused with behavior or personality due to the early onset of persistent symptoms. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder are often confronted with social, emotional, and educational challenges and receive negative labels, such as hyperactive, class clown, sensitive, or antisocial, and are often perceived as uncooperative or disruptive. These traits can significantly change during the therapeutic progress, indicating they are coping mechanisms for too much or too little stimulus and the need to get to a place of self-regulation throughout the day. Many children exhibit a shift in mood and behaviors when given the right kind of sensory input at intervals throughout their day. An example is the child that appears shy and withdrawn, who is avoiding others due to tactile hypersensitivity. This avoidance is perceived as a personality trait yet diminishes after treatment.
8. Is it common for a child to begin exhibiting new behaviors or emotions that were not present before treatment started?
We have definitely seen this. As your child starts to process new/unfamiliar and varied types of sensory input, it is understandable that he/she may respond in unfamiliar ways. Part of the therapy process is to help provide strategies to help both you and your child cope with these changes.
9. Why is it so hard for my child to sit still and pay attention?
There are many skills that influence a child’s ability to sit still and focus. When a child has difficulty sitting still, there could be underlying factors, such as low muscle tone, poor postural stability, and/or retained primitive reflexes. These foundational skills influence the ability to do things like focus and attend. Your therapist will work closely with you and your child to determine what foundational pieces are affecting your child’s ability to function and teach you therapeutic techniques to do at home to help the process.
10. How can my child do something one day but not the next or even within the same day?
If a person has a problem with sensory integration and modulation, he/she may not be able to access particular skills on a consistent basis. Collaborating with your child’s therapist to help your child establish efficient modulation and age appropriate self-regulation will help your child be more consistent with his/her functional performance.
11. What can I do at home to calm my child?
The therapists at Life Skills will work with you, the parent or caregiver, to identify your child’s arousal level and what to do to get him/her to the “just right” functional place. We believe in a holistic approach, and what might be “calming” for one child may be “alerting” for another. For example, some children may be calmed with rhythmic bouncing, while others may be overstimulated by any sort of movement; some children may be calmed by deep pressure, and others may be overstimulated by any kind of touch. The therapist will work with the parent to understand the child’s “calmers” and teach the child and the parent how to use those calming strategies.
12. What else can I do to help my child outside of therapy sessions?
Work with your child’s occupational therapist to understand your child’s specific sensory issues. Understanding can go a long way in helping your child. Also, work with your child’s occupational therapist to develop home activities that can be used as part of a sensory diet (see question 13).
13. What is a sensory diet?
Just like we need a variety of foods to nourish our brains and bodies, we also need sensory input. A sensory diet is a way of providing regular sensory input throughout your child’s day to help him/her function at his/her best. Developing a sensory diet is an ongoing, evolving process that will take some detective work by you and your child’s therapist. Your therapist will help you identify your child’s individual sensory needs, and then you can work together to find ways to satisfy these needs for your child at home and in the community. You will need to track what works and what doesn’t and adjust as needed. The idea is that you are not waiting until your child is in the middle of a difficult time but rather providing the sensory input at regular intervals to support your child and prevent difficult times.