As parents, we want our children to thrive in every aspect of life. However, sometimes, children may experience difficulties in certain areas, such as sensory processing. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how a child’s brain processes sensory information from their environment. It can cause children to overreact or under-react to different sensory stimuli, leading to difficulties in daily activities. Thankfully, occupational therapy assessment can help identify and treat SPD in children, ensuring they receive the help they need to succeed.
Sensory processing disorders (SPD) are becoming more commonly diagnosed in children today. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, SPD affects up to 16% of school-aged children. SPD can affect all areas of a child’s life, including social interactions, learning, and emotional regulation. Occupational therapy assessment can help identify and treat SPD in children, allowing them to participate fully in their daily activities.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes and responds to sensory information from the environment. SPD can affect all five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision. Children with SPD may be over or under-reactive to sensory input. Children with SPD may experience sensory integration, modulation, and discrimination challenges.
Definition of SPD
SPD is when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to sensory information. It can affect how a child experiences touch, sound, taste, smell, and visual stimuli. Children with SPD may be overly sensitive to certain stimuli, such as certain textures or sounds, while being under-responsive to others.
Types of SPD
There are three primary types of SPD: sensory modulation disorder, sensory discrimination
disorder, and sensory-based motor disorder.
- Sensory Modulation Disorder: This type of SPD refers to difficulties regulating the intensity, frequency, and duration of responses to sensory stimuli. Children with this type of SPD may be over or under-sensitive to sensory input.
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder: This type of SPD refers to difficulties accurately interpreting and distinguishing between different types of sensory stimuli. Children with this type of SPD may struggle with tasks that require them to differentiate between similar sounds or textures.
- Sensory-Based Motor Disorder: SPD refers to difficulties using sensory information to plan and execute motor actions. Children with this type of SPD may struggle with activities that require coordination or balance.
Symptoms of SPD
SPD can cause a wide range of symptoms in children. Some common symptoms include:
- Hyper-sensitivity: Children with SPD may be overly sensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures.
- Hypo-sensitivity: Children with SPD may be under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as not feeling pain or temperature changes.
- Sensory seeking: Children with SPD may actively seek sensory experiences like spinning or rocking.
Causes of SPD
The exact cause of SPD is unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Research has shown that children with a family history of SPD or other neurological conditions may be at a higher risk for developing SPD. Environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or stress during pregnancy or infancy, may also contribute to SPD. Finally, developmental factors, such as premature birth or delayed development, may increase the risk of SPD in children.
The Role of Occupational Therapy in Assessing SPD
Occupational therapy assessment is vital in identifying and treating SPD in children. Occupational therapists use various tools and techniques to evaluate a child’s sensory processing abilities and identify areas of difficulty. Some of the most common assessments used in occupational therapy for SPD include:
Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)
The SIPT is a comprehensive assessment that evaluates a child’s ability to process and integrate sensory information. This assessment includes a series of tasks that evaluate a child’s ability to detect, discriminate, and integrate sensory input.
Sensory Processing Measure (SPM)
The SPM is a parent/caregiver questionnaire that evaluates a child’s sensory processing abilities in daily activities. The SPM assesses a child’s ability to process and respond to sensory input in different environments, such as at home or school.
The Sensory Profile is a self-report questionnaire that evaluates a child’s sensory processing abilities. This assessment includes questions about a child’s sensory preferences, sensitivities, and behaviours in different environments.
Occupational therapists also use clinical observations to evaluate a child’s sensory processing abilities. This may include observing a child’s behaviour during play or daily activities and evaluating a child’s motor coordination, balance, and posture.
Treatment Approaches for SPD
The goal of occupational therapy treatment for SPD is to improve a child’s sensory processing abilities and help them participate fully in daily life activities. Once SPD is identified through an occupational therapy assessment, treatment can begin. Treatment approaches for SPD may include:
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) is a form of occupational therapy that focuses on improving a child’s ability to process and integrate sensory input. SIT may include activities such as swinging, bouncing, or playing in a sensory gym and activities involving touch, sound, and visual input.
Occupational therapists may also recommend environmental modifications to help children with SPD. This may include creating a sensory-friendly home environment, modifying classroom settings to reduce sensory input, or using noise-cancelling headphones or other tools to reduce sensory distractions.
Behavioural interventions may also be used to help children with SPD. This may include teaching children coping strategies, such as deep breathing or visualisation, to help them manage sensory overload.
Parent/Caregiver Education and Support
Finally, occupational therapists may also provide education and support to parents and caregivers to help them better understand SPD and support their child’s needs. This may include providing strategies for sensory regulation at home and support groups and resources for parents and caregivers.
Sensory processing disorder can significantly impact a child’s daily life activities, from social interactions to learning and emotional regulation. However, with early identification and treatment through occupational therapy assessment, children with SPD can receive the help they need to thrive. Occupational therapists use various tools and techniques to identify SPD and develop individualised treatment plans to improve a child’s sensory processing abilities. By working with parents, caregivers, and other healthcare professionals, occupational therapists can help children with SPD fully participate in daily life activities and achieve their full potential.