Sensory Processing Problems

Sensory Processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. For most children sensory processing develops throughout the course of childhood activities, being performed automatically without effort. But for some children it does not develop as it should do, requiring great thought and effort, it is inefficient, with no assurance of success. As a result day to day tasks and interaction with their environment become difficult – this is known as Sensory Processing Disorder. Behavioral problems and difficulties with learning, and motor skills may result when sensory processing is disordered.

There are different forms of Sensory Processing Disorder, including:

  • Somatosensory Impairment
  • Sensory Modulation
  • Sensory Defensiveness
  • Sensory Integration
  • Sensorimotor: Various conditions and factors contribute to sensorimotor problems, including:

✔Autism and other developmental disorders
✔Learning disabilities
✔Brain injury
✔Genetics
✔Fragile X syndrome

Symptoms of somatosensory impairment include:
  • numbness
  • pins and needles / tingling
  • pain (affecting daily activities such as walking)
  • reduced sensation in one or more areas of the body, (unable to develop tactile sensation, for example tell the difference between cloth and fur)
    *Symptoms will differ greatly according to the severity of the injury or condition.
    What can physical therapy do to help?
    Physical therapy treatments can help improve your child’s ability to interpret, differentiate, and perceive sensations to the skin in a more effective and accurate way. At Stroke & Diabetes Center our specialist therapists will provide a thorough assessment before tailoring a treatment program unique to your child’s needs. This will likely including somatosensory retraining techniques such as:
  • Direct verbal and visual feedback
  • Massage
    Symptoms of sensory modulation disorder (SMD):

    It is often difficult to distinguish symptoms of SMD from other problems/conditions. Children with sensory modulation disorder may demonstrate a number of different behaviors, including:

  • Being over-responsive to sensory information (for example crying at loud noises, vacuums, motors etc., and being aggressive to tactile input)
  • Being under-responsive to sensory input (for example being unresponsive to pain, overwhelming need for movement stimulation, etc.) children affected by sensory modulation often vary between these two extremes
  • They often have problems with behavioral / emotional control
  • Children are frequently oblivious to sights, touch, smells, pain, sounds or movement
  • May display sensation-seeking behaviors
  • They are often very defensive and in “fight or flight” mode; this defensiveness stimulates the autonomic nervous system and causes a strong negative, emotional response
  • Overreactions to movement, touch, tastes, odors and sounds, may result in distress, avoidance and distractibility
What can physical therapy do to help sensory modulation disorder?

Treatments employed to develop sensory modulation concentrate on sensory integration therapy. These treatments regularly include activities that involve sensory and proprioceptive input, and vestibular stimulation, for example using:

  • Swiss balls
  • Obstacle courses
  • Swings or heavy work of some sort
  • Finger paints, sand, waterSymptoms of sensory defensiveness:
  • Symptoms of sensory defensiveness include:
  • Tactile defensiveness: aversive reactions to clothing, waistbands, labels, brushing of hair and avoiding activities involving body contact
  • Olfactory defensiveness: agitation and distress due to certain smells, for example toys, clothing, people
  • Auditory defensiveness: fearful reactions to noises, for example crying or covering their ears to loud noise (vacuum, sirens, toilet flushing)
  • Visual defensiveness: hypersensitive to light or aversive to eye contact
  • Vestibular defensiveness: also known as gravitational insecurity, children display irrational fear of changing position – often aversive reactions to swinging or any movement where their feet are not firmly planted
  • Sensory defensiveness influences the functioning of children in all situations of everyday life. Children with this sensory defensiveness may steer clear of, withdraw, or even act out aggressively at any stimulus they interpret to be negative. These displays of behavior can minimize chances to interact with peers, explore their surroundings, and communicate their needs to others.

What can physical therapy do to help sensory defensiveness?

Initially we will assess your child to identify what the problem is, and create a treatment program that best suits your child’s needs. At Stroke & Diabetes Center we can offer your child a rich sensory environment. Our specialist pediatric physiotherapists for example, may introduce your child to interaction and play with water, finger paints, sand etc. which can reduce excessive responses to tactile experiences. We will work to develop your child’s sensory processing in their daily life, whilst accommodating your child’s needs in a safe environment. At Stroke & Diabetes Center our physiotherapists can provide advice and education to parents regarding how to manage your child’s condition as well as recommending how to play with them. We can also go to your child’s school to advise staff on how best they can help.

Symptoms of sensory integration disorder:
Symptoms of sensory integration disorder will vary, and children will experience them in different ways. It is difficult to distinguish symptoms from other conditions or problems. Symptoms of children with sensory integration disorder include:

  • Distracted very easily / reduced attention span
  • Unable to calm themselves down
  • Enjoy strong rhythmic movements
  • Difficulty with balance and poor saving reflexes
  • Hypersensitive / hyposensitive to movement, sound, touch or sight
  • Delayed academic achievement / specific learning difficulty
  • Abnormally high / low activity level
  • Emotional problems
  • Social difficulties
  • Problems organizing their movements and actions
  • Clumsiness or noticeable lack of care
  • Lack of self-control
  • reduced body awareness
  • Delay in motor skills, speech, or language development
  • What can physical therapy do to help sensory integration disorder?

    Physical therapy can also offer a sensory integration programmer. School based and home activities are far more beneficial for some children, rather than utilizing special rooms with equipment. Children might benefit more from using a sensory integration approach whereby the specialist physiotherapist or occupational therapist can offer guidance regarding activities which can be carried out in the comfort of school and home surroundings.
    Some practical activities that can be used to promote the vestibular or proprioceptive senses include:

  • rebound therapy
  • massage
  • swinging in a blanket/hammock/swing
  • hydrotherapy
  • increasing body awareness
  • stretches
  • rolling/ bouncing on a gym ball
  • experiencing large movements and movement through space
  • Crawling/climbing under and over large cushions, bean bags, apparatus, etc.
  • Symptoms of sensorimotor problems:

    Children with sensorimotor problems may show a number of symptoms, including:

  • Poor body awareness
  • Gait problems (for example toe walking)
  • Avoidance of tactile experiences
  • Self-stimulating behaviors (e.g. hand flapping, rubbing the hands together, chewing on clothing or skin, rocking) that provide them with additional feedback from their senses.
  • Motor co-ordination problems
  • Speech and language delays
  • Hand-eye coordination difficulties
  • Abnormally anxious or emotionalSensory motor problems affect sensory information being understood properly, resulting in difficulties with motor planning and sequencing of movements. A number of factors may contribute to sensorimotor problems, such as brain injuries, developmental disorders and genetics. A number of symptoms may be displayed, including avoiding tactile experiences, poor body awareness, and self-stimulating problems. Physical therapy techniques can help sensorimotor problems