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Sensory Processing Disorder

"Something is not right... Something is different... Why does he do that... I'm at a loss... How do I understand and help my child... Why is everyone telling me it is my fault and to stop letting him control me... I'm exhausted!"

"Why is this child so disruptive in class... Why is he so different than the rest of the children... Why is learning so difficult for him... Why can't he write legibly... Why is he so fearful... Why won't he play with the other kids... How do I even begin to understand and help him?"

 

Sensory integration is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and continues throughout one’s life. Although, it is important to note, the most influential developmental time is in the first seven years of life. Sensory processing is the process by which our brain takes in sensory input and interprets this information for use.

 

When talking about typical sensory processing, a productive, normal and “adaptive response” happens as:

 

our neurological system takes in sensory information 

 
the brain organizes and makes sense of it 

 
which then enables us to use it and act accordingly within our environment to achieve “increasingly complex, goal-directed actions”. ** It is this “adaptive response” which facilitates normal development.** 

We, therefore use our sensory processing abilities for: 

 
social interaction 

 
motor skill development 

 
focusing and attending so we can learn 

 

If this neurological process becomes disrupted somewhere in the loop of intake, organization or output, then normal development and adaptive responses will not be achieved. 

Learning, physical and emotional development, as well as behavior will therefore be impacted; sometimes severely! It is this disruption which yields a neurological dysfunction called Sensory Integration Dysfunction/Sensory Processing Disorder. 

 

Keep in mind, sensory processing functions on a continuum. Please understand that we all have difficulty processing certain sensory stimuli (a certain touch, smell, taste, sound, movement etc.) and we all have sensory preferences. **It only becomes a sensory processing disorder when we are on extreme ends of the continuum or experience “disruptive, unpredictable fluctuations which significantly impact our developmental skills or everyday functioning”.** 

That being said, it is important for us to break the sensory integration dysfunction symptoms down into categories based on each of the senses. These categories are: 
 .
 

Hypersensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware, or other noises that seem unoffensive to others
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn’t like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Has poor balance, may fall often


Hyposensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space even when same-age peers are old enough to understand it
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • An extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain
  • Often harms other children and/or pets when playing, i.e. doesn’t understand his or her own strength
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and can be dangerous at times


These difficulties put children with SPD at high risk for many emotional, social, and educational problems, including the inability to make friends or be a part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, and being labeled clumsy, uncooperative, belligerent, disruptive, or "out of control." Anxiety, depression, aggression, or other behavior problems can follow. Parents may be blamed for their children's behavior by people who are unaware of the child's "hidden handicap."

 

Most children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are just as intelligent as their peers. Many are intellectually gifted. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information, and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs.

 

 

(sometimes called "sensory integration" or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or "sensory integration."


From the mouth of a child

 
'Sometimes my arms and legs won't listen to what I need them to do. They go their own way. I fall. I trip. I bump into things. Kicking a ball is hard. Cutting with scissors makes me mad. Then I shout at my sister.'

'At parties with my friends the noise and games makes my brain go into crocodile brain and I want to run away and hide...I go to the toilets and stay there where it is quiet...I can sit and hum to myself and then I feel better. Trouble is then I can't come out. I stay there till someone finds me. They call me Lucy Loo.'

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