Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses and turning the information into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a sandwich, riding a bike, or reading a book, your completion of the activity requires accurate processing of sensation.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Neurological “traffic jam” 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 many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.
Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to things in their environment. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming. The light touch of a shirt may chafe the skin. Others with sensory processing disorder may be uncoordinated, and bump into things.
One study shows that at least 1 in 20 children’s daily life is affected by SPD. Another research suggests that 1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions. Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, like those of most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children, adolescents, and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic, and they can significantly disrupt everyday life.
Sensory processing problems are usually identified in children but they can also affect adults. People who reach adulthood without treatment also may experience significant symptoms and continue to be affected by their inability to accurately and appropriately interpret sensory messages. In adults, some may have difficulty performing routines and activities involved with work, close relationships, and recreation. Because adults with SPD have struggled for most of their lives, they may also experience depression, underachievement, social isolation, and/or other secondary effects.
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect people in only one sense– for example, just touch or just sight or just movement – or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to touch sensation and find clothing, physical contact, other tactile sensory input to be unbearable and/or they may respond to visual or auditory or another sensory input. Another person might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold, or may be slow to respond to the sensation.
In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These children have postural disorder and are the “floppy” children who prop themselves up on walls when standing, lean over on their hand when writing and love to hang out, but not to move.
For kids with sensory processing issues, dealing with sensory information can be frustrating and confusing, and can affect certain skills such as:
- Resistance to change and trouble focusing: It can be a struggle for kids with sensory processing issues to adjust to new surroundings and situations. It can take them some time to settle into activities. Sometimes they also show signs of frustration when asked to stop what they’re doing and start a new task.
- Problems with motor skills: Kids who are under sensitive to touch may avoid handling objects. This is a problem because playing with and manipulating objects is a crucial part of development—one that helps kids master other motor-related tasks like holding a pencil or buttoning clothes. They also, might appear clumsy due to poor body awareness.
- Lack of social skills: Oversensitive kids may feel anxious and irritable around other kids, making it hard to socialize. Under sensitive kids, on the other hand, may be too rough with others. Other kids might avoid them on the playground or exclude them from birthday parties.
- Poor self-control: Children who feel anxious or overstimulated may have trouble controlling their impulses. They might run off suddenly or throw a noisy new toy to the side without playing with it.
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