For most of us, we don’t even notice the process of sensory integration. Skills for sensory integration will develop normally and information is gathered and organized easily. But for some with Sensory Integration dysfunction, this process is disrupted. Those with SI dysfunction may avoid certain smells, sounds, and situations that are overwhelming to their senses; while other children may seek out certain sensory inputs to figure it out.
With the normal development of sensory integration, children learn about new sensations and become more confident about their skills, refine their ability to respond to sensory experiences, and are thus able to accomplish more and more.
Children who have sensory integration dysfunction may display behaviors showing that their senses are being overloaded. Some may gag and become nauseous when they smell certain overpowering smells. Some children may not like when their hands become dirty or when they touch glue or something sticky. When in a load and crowded place, the child may panic at the sensory overload and have trouble functioning properly. Sometimes these behaviors can be misunderstood by outsiders and the unwanted attention can make things even more overwhelming causing a meltdown which can be embarrassing for those accompanying the child in public.
Some other symptoms can include:
• Either be in constant motion or fatigue easily or go back and forth between the two.
• Withdraw when touched.
• Refuse to eat certain foods because of how the foods feel when chewed.
• Be oversensitive to odors.
• Be hypersensitive to certain fabrics and only wear clothes that are soft or that they find pleasing.
• Dislike getting his or her hands dirty.
• Be uncomfortable with some movements, such as swinging, sliding, or going down ramps or other inclines. Your young child may have trouble learning to climb, go down stairs, or ride an escalator.
• Have difficulty calming himself or herself after exercise or after becoming upset.
• Jump, swing, and spin excessively.
• Appear clumsy, trip easily, or have poor balance.
• Have odd posture.
• Have difficulty handling small objects such as buttons or snaps.
• Be overly sensitive to sound. Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, hair dryers, leaf blowers, or sirens may be upset
• Lack creativity and variety in play. For instance, your child may play with the same toys in the same manner over and over or prefer only to watch TV or videos.
If you have noticed that your child is displaying some of these behaviors, it is important to seek the help of an Occupational therapist or physical therapist. They will conduct the necessary sensory integration therapy that will aid your child in learning to cope and respond to sensory input appropriately. You may also find that this therapy can decrease many of your child’s problem behavior.
Other ideas to consider:
• Give your child noise cancelling headphones to wear; this will block out and lower the intensity of the hearing senses making it easier for him or her to cope.
• Sensory seekers tend to be very active children, who are on the go. They often respond positively to very intense forms of sensory stimulation and look for ways to move, jump, fall, crash, kick, push, etc. Creating ways to incorporate these needs into safe and fun activities that provide the desired intensity may allow your child to come to a calm and focused place. Think about ways your child can safely push, pull, kick, hang, jump, and lift. (For example, bowling, playground monkey bars, trampolines, pushing a "heavy bag" back and forth with you, pulling a heavy wagon.) Children who are sensitive to certain sensations (sounds, lights, smells) may like activities that provide intense deep pressure to the skin, resistance to the muscles, and Bath time: Scrub with washcloth or bath brush, try a variety of soaps and lotions for bathing, play on the wall with shaving cream or bathing foam, rub body with lotion after bath time (deep massage), sprinkle powder onto body and brush or rub into skin.
• Meal preparation or baking: Let your child mix ingredients, especially the thick ones that will really work those muscles. Let child mix and roll dough and push flat. Allow child to help you carry pots and pans, bowls of water or ingredients (with supervision, of course). Let your child tenderize meat with the meat mallet.
• Grocery shopping: Have your child push the heavy cart (as long as the weight is within their capability). Let your child help carry heavy groceries and help put them away.
• Mealtime: Encourage eating of chewy foods and drinking out of a straw. Try having your child sit on an air cushion to allow some movement. A weighted lap blanket may be helpful as well.
• Household chores: Allow the child to help with the vacuuming or moving the furniture. Let the child help carry the laundry basket or the detergent. Let the child help with digging for gardening or landscaping.
• Play time: Reading books in a rocking chair or beanbag chair may be beneficial. You can help your child make up obstacle courses in the house or yard using crawling, jumping, hopping, skipping, rolling, etc. Listen to soft music. Play the sandwich game (child lies in between two pillows and pretends to be the sandwich, while you provide pressure to the top pillow to the child’s desired amount). Ask them "harder or softer?" as you push on the pillow. Some children will like much more pressure than you would expect. You can also go for a neighborhood walk with a wagon and have your child pull it (make it semi-heavy by loading it with something the child would like to pull around). You can do the same with a baby-doll carriage. Swimming in a pool is a wonderful activity if you have that available, as are horseback riding and bowling. Mini or full-size trampolines are excellent for providing sensory input as well. Make sure the child is using them safely. Sandboxes, or big containers of beans or popcorn kernels can be fun play-boxes too, if you add small cars, shovels, cups, etc.
• Errands and appointments: Before visiting the dentist or hairdresser try deep massage to the head or scalp (if tolerated), or try having your child wear a weighted hat. Try chewy foods or vibration to the mouth with an electric toothbrush. Let your child wear a heavy backpack (weighted to their liking with books and with the straps padded as needed). Be sure to give the child ample warning before any changes in routine or any unscheduled trips or errands. Many children with SPD need predictability.
(Ideas taken from the Sensory Processing Dysfunction Foundation website. www.spdfounation.net)