Sensory processing disorder refers to a condition whereby the brain has difficulties receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. It may either be over sensitive or under sensitive, also known as hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive, and the disorder comes in a spectrum.
Children who suffer from sensory processing disorder may be affected in different ways!
Inability to control self
Children may be overstimulated and unable to control their actions; for instance, the sound of a new noisy toy may make them run off suddenly.
Lack of social skills
Depending on how severe is the sensory processing disorder, interaction with other children can be impaired. For instance, a child who is hyper-sensitive may feel too anxious and irritable to socialize while one who is hypo-sensitive, may ignore or play too rough with other children.
Inability to concentrate
Concentration is difficult if it is a constant challenge to adjust to new situations and environment. As the time taken to settle down can be much longer for children with sensory processing disorder, they may have a much shorter time left to learn and absorb what is being taught. Moreover, it can be stressful for the child to suddenly stop what he has finally settled down to do and to start something else.
Difficulty with motor skills
Children may have problems manipulating objects, be uncoordinated or bump into objects as they may be less aware of their body.
Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder
The signs and symptoms of sensory processing disorder vary on a spectrum from being hypo-sensitive to hyper-sensitive.
Hypersensitivities to sensory input may include:
Sudden, loud and sharp noises which are acceptable to other children may be intolerable to children who are hypersensitive. Changes to routine can be disturbing and trigger inappropriate response from the child.
Hypersensitive children may be fearful of hugs and touch, even from adults who they are familiar with. They may not do well in crowds nor being close to many strangers in a crowded venue. As preschools and schools often have many children in a confined area, it can be overwhelming for children who are hyper-sensitive.
Some children may be fearful of climbing or falling, have a poor sense of balance, or fearful of activities with new equipment or having to balance or to jump.
Hypo-sensitivities respond differently, for instance:
Hypo-sensitive children may always need to engage their sense of touch; for instance, touching others even when it is not appropriate. They may not grasp the concept of personal space and make others feel uncomfortable. They may also move about a lot, and not sit still and be considered difficult or even dangerous to interact with.
Insensitive to hurt or pain
It can be dangerous when the child is indifferent to pain as he may not get himself out of situations that cause pain. Similarly, he may cause harm to others as he does not grasp the hurt that certain physical actions can cause.
While it may seem common for children to display some of these symptoms once a while, the symptoms for a child with sensory processing disorder are considered be so severe to have a negative effect on his daily life. There is no identified cause for sensory processing disorder, though it has been associated with genetics and abnormality in brain activity under certain stimuli. If suspected, a medical evaluation can help to form a proper diagnosis so that treatment can be planned.
Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder
There are various avenues to seek treatment in Singapore. For instance, you can ask your child’s pediatrician if a specialist referral is needed. There are also occupational therapists and other therapy programs in public healthcare, under Singapore General Hospital, National University Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Certain charity organizations such as Care Corner Singapore Ltd also provides therapy services for children.
Sensory integration may be used in the treatment sessions to help teach the child in a fun and suitable way tailored for him, on how to respond in certain conditions. These sessions are customized for the child depending on how hyper or hypo-sensitive he is. At home, it may be helpful to give advance notice of changes, learn ways to reduce stress, help inform other caregivers and the school of potential triggers that may cause inappropriate actions, and support the therapists with the designed strategies for your child. Techniques that the specialist may recommend may include using order and consistency, visual cues, checklists and physical activity.
Sensory processing problems may also be a sign of other conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficits Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is important to seek treatment for the child so that help can be provided for the child to cope, with less likelihood of affecting his adult life. Moreover, children who are formally diagnosed may be given additional time or a quieter environment for school assessments. With treatment, children with sensory processing disorder can learn how to handle all kinds of situations and better cope with different sensations to lead a quality and happy life.