When your child’s brain has trouble processing information from all of their senses, it can impact their communication, coordination, behavior and mental health. Engaging in sensory processing disorder testing and treatment for children can be a way to help them cope with and overcome these challenges. Sensory processing disorder, previously known as sensory integration dysfunction, can make everyday tasks much more difficult.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder, sometimes called sensory regulation disorder, can make children overly sensitive to their environment, or they could also be under responsive. For instance, your child may get very upset or curl up when they hear loud noises. They may not be able to stand the feel of certain fabrics on their skin making it a challenge to get them dressed or keep them dressed. Or they may appear very clumsy because they have trouble figuring out where their limbs are in space so they bump into things or have trouble coordinating their movements.
Their brain has trouble receiving information from their senses and/or making sense of this information. Sensory processing disorder can affect one sense or multiple senses. Researchers are not entirely sure what causes sensory processing disorder but believe it is a combination of genetics and environment. Some studies estimate that it affects one in 20 children, while others estimate as many as one in six children.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your child may have a sensory regulation disorder or whether it’s just a phase they’re going through. Here are some signs to look for at different ages. Early detection can help you get your child the treatment they need to deal with these issues.
Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in Toddlers
Young children are still making sense of the world around them, but you may notice some of the following signs that could indicate a sensory processing disorder in your toddler:
- Trouble transitioning from one activity to another
- Very sensitive to wearing clothing and may seem uncomfortable
- Slow to respond to pain
- Doesn’t really like being held, cuddled, or touched
- Lacks the ability to self-soothe when they are upset
- Easily startled
- Always bumping into things or has a “floppy” body
- Has difficulty eating
- Has trouble falling or staying asleep
Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in Preschoolers
By the time your toddler becomes a preschooler, signs of a sensory processing disorder may become more noticeable:
- Seems overly sensitive to sounds, smells, or touches
- Struggles with activities that require fine motor skills
- Experiences sudden mood changes or tantrums
- Has difficulty with potty training
- Invades others’ personal space or is always touching things
- Has trouble coordinating their movements and frequently bumps into things
- Doesn’t seem to notice pain unless it’s very intense
- Is in constant motion or prefers not to move much at all
- Has trouble making friends due to aggressive or passive behavior
Exploring Sensory Processing Disorder Evaluation and Treatment Options
If left untreated, sensory processing disorders can lead to emotional, social and academic problems for children. Fortunately sensory processing disorder testing, evaluation and treatment options exist to help your child overcome these struggles by teaching them in ways that align with how they process information. An occupational therapist will evaluate your child to identify any sensory regulation issues and then develop an appropriate treatment plan to address their needs. Evaluation often involves both standardized and non-standardized sensory processing disorder testing, clinical observation, and interviews with parents and caregivers.
The occupational therapist will assess their response to tactile stimulation (touch), proprioceptive activities (awareness of body movements and where their body is in space), vestibular activities (ability to perceive movement), and praxis (how well they can come up with an action and then anticipate, time, plan, sequence and execute it). This will help the occupational therapist to come up with appropriate therapeutic modalities and sensory integration activities to create a more well-regulated sensory system in your child. Learning to respond more appropriately to different sensations can help your child to be more functional throughout all areas of their life.
If you’ve noticed signs of a sensory processing disorder, testing and treatment for children are available at PediaPlex. Don’t let your child continue to struggle when there is help available.