Sensory Integration Disorder (sometimes called Sensory Processing Disorder) is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Children with good sensory integration can easily filter out the important from the unimportant stimuli in their world (for e.g., paying attention to the teacher talking and ignoring the noisy kids in the hallway). Children with sensory integration challenges have difficulty ignoring unnecessary sensory information and may find different sights, sounds, tastes, smells, or textures to be aversive, distracting, or irritating.
Children do not have to have Sensory Integration Disorder to experience sensory challenges. Children may be hypersensitive to sounds, smells, or textures, and display exaggerated behavioral responses (e.g., crying, eloping, withdrawing) as a result, a term called sensory over-responsivity. In fact, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Selective Mutism, often experience sensory challenges.
Trouble responding to sensory information can be a cause of problematic behaviors, such as distraction or impulsivity, and anxiety for children at school (for e.g., noisy lunch rooms or recess areas; too much text or writing on worksheets). The following lists are commonly recommended sensory tips to address challenges in each sensory domain (Information adapted curtesy of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/sensory-integration-tips-to-consider):
1. Limit the amount of visual material on walls.
2. Organize and label all material to identify where it belongs.
3. Put pictures on containers for individuals with poor visual memory.
4. Use picture templates of where items belong in places (i.e., desk, room).
5. Use a lamp instead of overhead fluorescent lighting.
6. Use a touch screen instead of computer mouse.
1. Minimize verbal directions.
2. Use ear plugs or head phones.
3. Allow time to listen to favorite music.
4. Use social stories about what might happen or sounds that can be heard in the home.
5. Desensitize a child to an area/place by slowing integrating him or her on numerous visits.
1. When a child says a touch “hurts” or pulls away, acknowledge his or her pain and stop touching.
2. Experiment with types of clothing that are comfortable (i.e., terry cloth, all cotton, several times washed, no labels).
3. Provide easy access to small hand fidgets (i.e., squishy, soft, textured).
4. Refer to occupational therapist for further ideas (i.e., weighted vest, utensils)
1. Keep all poisonous substances locked up safely.
2. Talk with a nutritionist about diet.
1. Have a scented lamp, candle, lotions, liquid soap, scented markers, or stickers available to smell.
2. Use minimal amounts of perfume or cologne.
3. Be aware of soaps or detergents used – use scent free laundry products.
1. Engage a child in up and down movements (i.e., jumping rope, bouncing a ball, trampoline).
2. Back and forth movements (i.e., swinging, sitting in rocking chair) may be calming.
3. Use stress balls, theraputty, and fidget toys.
4. Allow chewing on crunchy, chewy items (i.e., bubble gum in freezer, licorice sticks, pretzels, carrots).
5. Designate an area in the home to stomp feet or pace.
6. Never take movement activities away from a child (i.e., need deep pressure activities like running).
1. Slowly move from extreme positions (i.e., sitting on floor to standing).
2. Slow down our own movements.
3. Use bands across front legs of table or desk.
4. Allow child to sit on a wiggle cushion or ball.
5. Allow frequent breaks throughout the day.
6. Have child jump on trampoline.
7. Play games using repetitive alternating and rhythmic movement.
8. Reinforce dominant hand use.
If you are interested in receiving testing for sensory processing concerns, please contact Psychological and Psychoeducational Assessment Services (PPAS), Interact’s assessment department, at 215-487-1330 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Lauren Steinbeck, M.A.