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What is Sensory Integration Disorder?

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What is Sensory Integration Disorder?

NB This article is written for the parents of children who have SID and related problems. We publish it here because we know that therapists like to give their client's caregivers as much information as possible.

By: Debbie Woodward

So what is Sensory Integration Disorder?

Sensory Integration Disorder (or SID) is a condition that affects how the central nervous system processes stimuli from the five senses. Sensory Integration disorder is usually associated with children suffering from autism or Asperger’s but is is also seen in children with other disabilities such as cerebral palsy or ADD/ADHD. SID can affect things such as coordination, attention arousal levels, emotions and even memory.

Some of the simplest tasks that many of us take for granted can be very challenging for kids with an SI dysfunction. Lindsey Biel gives a phenomenal example of what SI Dysfunction might feel like in her book “Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues”

To paraphrase Nancy’s story:

Imagine yourself making a spaghetti dinner. You use your eyes to see and locate the necessary ingredients and cooking utensils. You hear the “whoosh” of the refrigerator door as you open it and smell the garlic as you peel it. You sample a piece of green pepper and enjoy the sharp taste of the fresh, crunchy vegetable. What seems ordinary and even pleasurable to you can be grating or even terrifying to a child with an Sensory Integration dysfunction. Now imagine that your senses aren’t working as efficiently as they should…. The fluorescent lights in the kitchen seem so bright that they are giving you a headache. You are looking in the pantry and see all of the food items stacked on the shelves, but you can’t find the cans of tomato sauce, even though they are right in front of you. The smell of the garlic is so overbearing that you are feeling queasy. The lettuce feels slimy and you are so repulsed that it is a challenge just to get through fixing the salad. To top things off, you don’t hear the water boiling over on top of the stove.

Think of this now in the context of a child with these same sensory issues. Imagine their frustration of having people around them not understanding or relating to they way they feel and worst of all labeling them as “difficult”, “spoiled” or “overreacting”.

Thankfully, the effects of SID can be managed with the proper therapy and understanding. You will find yourself having to push back the frontiers of your child’s sensory experience daily and take comfort in even the smallest victories. For instance, we considered it a real milestone when our daughter was able to tolerate the noise from the vacuum or blender and it was a huge relief when she would finally eat chicken nuggets from more than one restaurant.

If you are concerned that your child may have an issue with sensory integration, here are some signs that you can look for:
  • Are they oversensitive to everyday sounds like motors or vacuum cleaners?
  • Do they have an unusual fascination with spinning, swinging or jumping?
  • Are they sensitive to the material, stitching or labels in their clothing?
  • Are they an overly picky eater?
  • Are they overly sensitive to normal smells?
  • Do they have an exceptionally high pain tolerance?
  • Do they tire easily?
  • Are they unusually resistant to new situations?
  • Do they have problems with muscle tone, coordination or motor planning?
  • Are they very impulsive or easily distracted?
  • Do they walk on their toes more often then not?

Some of these symptoms may be harder to spot if the child has no siblings and therefore you have no “normal” point of reference. Many times parents mistakenly pass these symptoms off as just their child being quirky or cute. If you find that your child has more than one of the above characteristics, make sure to bring it to the attention of your pediatrician so that a proper screening can be arranged

Article Reprinted with Permission of Debbie Woodward

Tags: Sensory Processing Disorder OT Article