Sensory processing is a function of the human brain we begin to experience even before we are born. It is the process of our brain gathering, sorting, prioritizing and responding to information gathered from various stimuli our bodies sense. Obviously, this includes things seen, heard, felt, touched, or smelled. But it also includes more subtle interactions between ourselves and the world around us, including the pull of gravity on our bodies and internal indicators like a stomach ache.
As we grow, our sensory processing becomes more advanced as our brains learn better how to react to the world around us. This helps us to communicate, avoid dangerous or potentially painful situations, learn, and more.
Sensory Processing Disorders
However, some individual’s sensory processing may not develop correctly or as fully as is considered normal. In these cases where difficulties with sensory processing occur, the individual may be diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. This disorder is a condition in which the brain struggles to successfully receive and respond to information that comes through the senses and has different symptoms depending on the age of the person suffering from the disorder. It may cause either under- or over-reactions to certain stimuli.
Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder
In Infancy and early childhood –
- Fussiness, restlessness
- Poor head or limb control
- Delays in various movement milestones (i.e. rolling, sitting, scooting, crawling, walking)
- Picky eating
- Avoidance of movement or always moving
- Slow to show signs of a dominant hand
- Excessive or lack of emotional or physical reactions to environment
School age childhood –
- Trouble with handwriting or other activities requiring fine motor skills
- Difficulty listening and responding to questions or participating in conversations
- Difficulty organizing thoughts
- Easily distracted or has tendency to “zone out” and be slow to respond
- Struggle to maintain peer relationships
General symptoms –
- Being uncoordinated or often bumping into things (unaware of the body’s location in relation to other objects)
- Poor balance
- Difficulty with hand eye coordination
- Poor posture control or strength
- Poor tracking of stimuli (such as following an object with the eyes)
How to Assess Sensory Processing Disorders
If you are working with a patient who you believe (or whose parent or guardian believes) has a sensory processing disorder, a clinical assessment that compares their sensory responses to those of an accepted norm can allow you to make clinically sound recommendations about their current condition and any treatment they may require. One such assessment that is highly regarded amongst clinical professionals is Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT).
This assessment, designed for children ages 4-8, evaluates the visual, tactile and kinesthetic perception of a child as well as their motor skills. It features 17 brief tests, including space visualization, figure-ground perception and standing/walking balance and compares the results of the taker to norms based upon a sample of 2,000 children to better understand what difficulties with sensory processing exist and their severity. The assessment is easy to administer and score with computer scoring. It can be used to determine what type of treatment a particular patient may most benefit from going forward in relation to sensory processing.
After diagnosis, SPM (Sensory Processing Measure) Quick Tips is a great resource that offers highly specific intervention strategies which help children with sensory processing challenges. SPM Quick Tips provides a way to measure qualitative progress through staff responses, offers information in a way that a teacher can easily understand, and provides a data recording system to monitor the individual’s process along the way.