Sensory processing delays
Valley View Hospital
Imagine yourself riding a bike. It’s a cool day and wind is blowing your hair in your face, and an occasional gust makes you hold on a little tighter to your handlebars to maintain your balance. You ride off the curb and onto the ramp across the street. Oh, and you don’t forget to look for cars as you cross the street and wave at you neighbor on the sidewalk.
This is all made possible by your sensory system, which is busy gathering and processing incoming information to execute the task of riding a bike safely through town. You must maintain an upright position and keep your balance, your legs have to keep peddling, and your eyes and ears have to be alert to avoid traffic and say hi to familiar people. Your hair is tickling your face, but you can block out the sensation because you know that information is not important right now.
Sensory processing 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.”
Our sensory systems allow us to function in our world in an effective and safe way. It protects us from harm and motivates us to participate in activities. But what happens if your sensory system is not working in an optimum ways? Sensory processing delays are generally detected in the childhood years. Some of the signs include:
• Extreme sensitivity (or under-reaction) to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
• Social and/or emotional problems
• Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
• Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
• Impulsivity, or lack of self-control
• Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
• Inability to unwind or calm one’s self
• Delays in speech, language or motor skills
• Delays in academic achievement
If your child exhibits some of these symptoms, you can arrange for an evaluation by an occupational or physical therapist trained in sensory processing delays. The evaluation usually consists of both standardized testing and observations of responses to sensory stimulation, posture, balance, coordination and eye movements.
Children with sensory processing delays may have frequent meltdowns or may demonstrate avoidance behaviors.
“It’s important to learn your child’s triggers and understand his sensitivities so that you can modify the environment and teach your child self-regulation skills,” said Liane Anderson, an occupational therapist at Valley View’s Silt Medical Center.
Occupational therapists are trained in the evaluation and treatment of individuals, most often children, with sensory processing delays. The occupational therapist can determine the extent of the sensory delays and which system appears most affected.
Recommendations are made to help the child develop the sensory system and to assist the child with self-regulation through sensory activities.
Regular playground-play with opportunities to swing, climb, slide and play with sand and rocks are beneficial for both sensory development and social development in the young child, said Anderson. However not all playgrounds are created equal, so she suggests looking for a playground with a variety of equipment both for swinging and climbing but also for quiet play under a covered structure. Look for equipment that requires joint effort to operate to improve social interaction with other kids and for equipment that require turn taking.
Some kids can show minor signs of sensory processing delays while some can have a more serious condition known Sensory Processing Disorder. SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction” is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses.
According to the Sensory Processing Foundation, pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.
“Usually a team of physicians will diagnose a child with sensory processing disorder,” said Anderson. “Sensory processing delay is a broader term. One does not have to have a diagnosis to have some sensory processing delays. Often I see kids who have not been diagnosed yet. I have screening tools that help identify the delays.”
The Valley View Hospital Foundation issued a grant to the Silt Care Center rehab department for the expansion of its sensory clinic. “Thanks to the Valley View Hospital Foundation, the new equipment and resources help to provide quality sensory based treatment for local children and their parents,” Anderson said.
For more information, contact Valley View’s Silt Care Center at 970-876-0900.
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