January 24, 2011

Sensory Processing Disorders and Your Child: Part I--Description

This is a Part I in a three part series on sensory processing disorders. On Wednesday, I will address why children develop these disorders and on Friday, you, as a parent, can learn more about what you can do for your child.

flyingMany children adopted internationally have what are known as Sensory Processing Disorders (SPDs). These children have problems processing and appropriately responding to stimuli, such as touch and noise. The SPDs can affect children’s behavior and emotions and may impact their ability to learn and socially function. SPDs are found in 5-10% of non-disabled children and in 40 to 88 % of children with disabilities. It is also more prevalent in children with ADHD.

There are different types of SPDs. Some children overreact to stimuli that most others do not find annoying. These are the kids who cannot stand tags in their clothes or being lightly touched; others may have a “melt-down” if their nails are trimmed or their teeth brushed. If the children have auditory processing problems, they may over react to the vacuum cleaner or other “normal” noises. Others with auditory processing problems can hear just fine but can have difficulty understanding what is being said. These are children who are told, “You are not paying attention.”

Then there are the children who may under-respond to touch, movement, or sound, which others would find offensive. Such a child may not feel pain or may create stimulation, such as engaging in head banging or rhythmic rocking—some may even be found “smelling...doorknobs” (Miller et al., 2004, p. 248).

Less common are children who cannot tell what an object is when it cannot be seen. Such a child can hold an apple in the hands but not know what type of fruit it is. Some children can have difficulty maintaining their bodies in a certain position and moving around appropriately. Others cannot adjust to new situations because they do not have the ability to plan or complete tasks.

Just as there are various types of sensory problems, there are different expressions in response to stimuli. These anxious children can become aggressive and may strike out, which can disrupt family life. Others may become quieter and avoid the stimulation. The sensory seeking children may become sluggish and uninterested unless there is a lot of stimulation.

If your child has an SPD, your child may have, lowered social ability, self-esteem, and confidence, as well as difficulty regulating behavior and emotions. Most likely you will notice your child’s behavioral problems before your child starts kindergarten, but these problematic behaviors can became more pronounced in a classroom setting.

Here is a great website to learn more about SPDs.


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Ben-Sasson, A., Carter, A. S., & Briggs-Gowan, M. J. (January 20, 2009). Sensory over-responsibility in elementary school: Prevalence and social-emotional correlates. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 705-716. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9295-9

Bundy, A. C., Shia, S., Qi, L., & Miller, L. J. (2007). How does sensory processing dysfunction affect play? The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61(2), 201-207. Retrieved from http://www.spdfoundation.net/pdf/HowDoesSPDAffectPlay.pdf

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Cermak, S. (2009, September). Deprivation and sensory processing in institutionalized and post-institutionalized children: Part II. Sensory Integration Special Section Quarterly, 32(3), 1-4.Retrieved from http://rx9vh3hy4r.search.serialssolutions.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/?sid=CentralSearch:ECT&genre=article&atitle=Deprivation+and+sensory+processing+in+institutionalized+and+postinstitutionalized+children%3A+part+II.&volume=32&issue=3&title=Sensory+Integration+Special+Interest+Section+Quarterly&issn=1093-7250&date=2009-09-01&spage=1&aulast=Cermak&aufirst=S

*Davies, P. L., & Gavin, W. J. (March/April 2007). Validating the diagnosis of sensory processing disorders using EEG technology. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 176-189. Retrieved from http://www.spdfoundation.net/pdf/Davies_Gavin_2007_Validating_sensory_processing_disorders_using_EEG_technology.pdf

Davies, P. L., & Tucker, R. (2010). Evidence review to investigate the support for subtypes of children with difficulty processing and integrating sensory information. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 391-402. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2010.09070

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Miller, L. J., Coll, J. R., & Schoen, S. A. (March/April 2007). A randomized controlled pilot study of the effectiveness of occupational therapy for children with sensory modulation disorder. The Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 228-238. Retrieved from http://www.spdfoundation.net/pdf/Miller_Coll.pdf

Miller, L. J., Robinson, J., & Moulton, D. (2004). Sensory modulation dysfunction: Identification in early childhood. In R. DelCarmen-Wiggins & A. Carter (Eds.), Handbook of Infant, Toddler, and Preschool Mental Health Assessment (pp. 247-270). Retrieved from http://www.spdfoundation.net/pdf/Miller_Robinson.pdf

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Schneider, M. L., Moore, C. F., Gajewski, L. L., Larson, J. A., Roberts, A. D., Converse, A. K., & DeJesus, O. T. (2008). Sensory processing disorder in a primate model: evidence from a longitudinal study of prenatal alcohol and prenatal stress effects. Child Development, 79, 100-113. Retrieved from http://www.spdfoundation.net/pdf/Schneider_Moore_SPD_in_a_Primate_Model_2008.pdf

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Wiggins, L. D., Robins, D. L., Bakeman, R., & Adamson, L. B. (13 March 2009). Breif [sic] report: Sensory abnormalities as distinguishing symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in young children. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorder, 39, 1087-1091. doi: 10.1007/s10803-009-0711

Wilbarger, J., Gunner, M., Schneider, M., & Pollak, S. (2010). Sensory processing in internationally adopted, post-institutionalized children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(10), 1105-1114. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02255

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