Sensory Processing Disorder – what is it?
Sensory Processing is the way in which the nervous system receives sensory messages and generates them into responses. Most people are born with the capacity to receive sensory information and organise it into appropriate behavioural and physiological responses. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), or sensory integration disorder, is a term describing a collection of challenges that occur when the senses fail to respond properly to the outside world. Sensory information includes the things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD can affect all your senses, or just one. SPD usually means you’re overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not.
How can it effect people with a vision impairment?
People with a vision impairment can often perceive information inaccurately or seek addition sensory input to focus or calm themselves. Poor sensory processing can make it difficult for a people with sight conditions to perform functional tasks. Some children tend to be ‘sensory seekers’ and they underreact to sensory input or need more of it to function. Others are ‘sensory avoiders’ and they can overreact to sensory input and become overwhelmed and hyperactive.
Sensory seeking and avoiding behaviours
Vision impaired children can experience hyposensitivity to stimuli, resulting in sensory-seeking behaviours. Instead of being overwhelmed by stimuli, they feel underwhelmed. Those who seek sensory stimulation may underreact to stimuli or simply need more of it to function.
- Standing too close to other people
- Touch objects or people often
- Make loud noises or seek them out
- Rocking back and forth
- Chewing on non-food items (shirts, sleeves, pens, etc.)
- Repetitive movements such as hand flapping, finger tapping, toe walking
Children with sensory seeking behaviours crave intense sensory input in different settings, exhibit strong sensory preferences, demonstrate socially inappropriate behaviours, and have little awareness of danger as well as difficulty in completing tasks.
Hypersensitive individuals may feel overwhelmed by loud sounds, bright lights, and certain smells or tastes. Because they can’t tune the surrounding environment out, if they become overwhelmed, it may result in sensory avoidance. Common sensory avoidance behaviours include:
- Avoiding crowds
- Pulling away from physical contact
- Covering their ears to avoid loud sounds
- Avoiding certain foods (taste, texture)
- Avoiding certain clothes (texture)
- Avoiding rough and tumble play
How can we support our children who are displaying sensory processing disorder behaviours?
An occupational therapist is the professional to approach for support around this topic. They are the specialists that would design specific sensory based activities that are designed to help your child to regulate their sensory input. They can also make suggestions at home and in school that are practical but could potentially make a huge difference to certain functional tasks.
Sensory integration therapy, which it is sometimes called, aims to help young people with sensory processing issues. It does this by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way.
Below is an example of a sensory diet that can be used within the home. It is important to remember that the strategies detailed below are for a specific child who has her own set of sensory needs with individualised targets that are sought through this plan. As such, this plan is to be used as guidance only for the types of activities and equipment that can be used in order to:
- Improve ability to self regulate
- Improve poor registration
- Improve concentration and focus
- Improve independence and self care skills
- Improve motor and fine grip