Specifically, what is sensory processing disorder?
Sensory processing is the brain taking in information via the senses in an organized manner. The disorder occurs when the information isn’t being taken in properly. Sometimes there is too much information coming in and it’s all jumbled and much of it gets lost, or sometimes the brain needs more information in order to feel organized.
1) Eyes/ Visual
Children with a visual processing disorder either can’t see the forest for the trees or they miss the trees for the forest. When a child with sensory issues looks in his drawer overflowing with stuff, he can’t find anything because he sees everything. He can’t find the milk in the fridge because it is full of many different foods. Or he is focused on details and misses the big picture, he sees what’s right in front of him and doesn’t think to look beyond that.
2) Ears/ Auditory
Kids with auditory processing disorder test normal on their regular hearing test, but they still don’t hear you. They miss some parts of words or sentences, and even some musical notes. Some of what they hear is more emphasized than the rest and that’s what gets processed. A child with sensory issues is constantly saying “What?” when you speak to him, and although he can probably repeat back to you what you just said, he hasn’t had time to process it.
3) Nose/ Olfactory sense
Many children with sensory processing disorder have an extra sensitive sense of smell, like my son MeMe. This morning he insisted he smelled eggs and we all thought he was making it up, and then later on in the day we heard a report that there was a weird egg smell in our neighborhood. He’s always using his nose to tell us what’s for dinner and what he smells when he comes into the house. Some children will easily detect a sharp odor and miss the sweet scents while others do the opposite.
4) Mouth/ Tongue- Taste/Oral sensation
Because their sense of smell is off, children with sensory issues decide which foods they like based on the way food feels in their mouths as opposed to how it tastes. Also, some of these children will crave oral sensation and will constantly be mouthing toys, chewing strings, biting nails, have their sleeves in their mouths, and anything else that looks like it chews good. 🙂 Or, they’ll do the opposite, and won’t let anything near their mouths! That becomes a slight problem when it’s meal time.
A very common issue with children with sensory issues is when the foods on their plates touch each other, and they refuse to eat their entire plate. Or sauces, gels, mayonnaise, and ketchup might turn them off to eating their food. Sometimes kids will get hung up over the shape of their food or they’ll choose to eat their two favorite foods every day and nothing else. Extreme picky eater, in short.
5) Hands/ Touch/ Tactile sensation
Children with sensory issues either hate touching different textures. A kid not wanting to get their hands dirty, or not wanting to touch play dough, finger paint, is typical. Or the opposite- they will always be touching all different types of stuff, and as much as you beg them not to, they won’t stop (even though they know they should).
Another side to this is how they feel when they are touched- some children hate being touched while some crave touch. Typically, the child will either be avoiding all touch- even hugs from their parents, or they’ll be hugging everybody all the time. It’s not hard to miss. 🙂
6) Vestibular function
This sense is the body’s balancing system. When it’s off, we can get dizzy, off balance, car sick, etc. The vestibular system effects the visual and auditory senses as well. Typically, children with sensory issues who are trying to get their vestibular awareness regulated, will do things like stand on their heads constantly, swing incessantly, spin around and never get dizzy. These kids love the swings on the playground, the merry-go-round, any ride that will keep them in motion. Or the opposite may be true- they may get motion sickness at any hint of motion and so they try their hardest to remain in a static standing position which is comfortable for them.
This sense is how we feel ourselves in space, how heavy we are, where we are in proximity to other people or things around us. In a sentence, not knowing where your arms or feet are without looking at them. When this sense is dysfunctional, children with sensory issues will either bump into everything and everyone or widely avoid them. These kids are known to be clumsy. They also can’t feel where the floor is under them so instead of walking, they stomp. Instead of running, they crash. Motor skills can also be very difficult for them- tying their shoes, riding a bike, climbing. Motor planning can be tough too- figuring out the steps one must take in order to complete a specific task. Proprioception gets its own page because it is such a major part of sensory processing disorder.
8 ) Interoception
This sense is responsible for the signals our bodies send us to notify us that something is going on- that we are hungry, sick, in pain, or need to use the bathroom. It also makes one aware of his emotions, feelings, and moods.
This is one reason why some children are not ready to be toilet-trained at the same time their peers are. It also may be the reason why when you ask a child how he feels about something, and he says “I don’t know.” He really may not know because he is disconnected from his feelings.