May 9, 2019

"Often these behaviors can be perceived as negative behaviors in a child, and confused to be attentional difficulties or hyperactivity."

Is your kid just clumsy and unaware of personal space, or is it something else?

It’s parent teacher conference time, and your child's teacher mentions that he may have some sensory issues. What? What do you mean, sensory issues?

The teacher goes on to describe some behaviors that he is exhibiting — trouble sitting still even for a brief lesson, constantly fidgeting with pencils and rubber bands, chewing on erasers, bumping into other children in line, being too rough during play, meltdowns when sounds are too noisy, and having difficulty with transitions, especially unplanned ones.

Your child’s teacher recommends an evaluation by an occupational therapist, who can determine if your child has a sensory processing disorder. SPD is a neurological disorder when sensory information is incorrectly processed and produces abnormal responses. When a child has SPD, their sensory systems may be over or under sensitive to certain types of sensory input related to touch, sight, smell, taste, hearing, movement, and body awareness.

They have trouble taking in sensory information, therefore displaying inappropriate behaviors. For example, with sounds, a child may be overly sensitive to certain types of noises that typically would not bother a child or be distracted and unable to focus in a noisy environment.

Another child that may be under sensitive to movement and requires extra movement opportunities throughout the day. This may look like them constantly moving, wiggling in the chair, and difficulty keeping their place in line.

Often these behaviors can be perceived as negative behaviors in a child, and confused to be attentional difficulties or hyperactivity. Before a diagnosis of ADHD or behavioral disorder is mistakenly given to your child, please talk with your child’s pediatrician and then consult with a child psychologist and occupational therapist.

These professionals will then use questionnaires, interviews, and observations for an evaluation or screening to determine what these behaviors indicate.

A study by Ben-Sasson, Carter, and Briggs-Gowan (2009) looked at sensory oversensitivity of kindergartners in school, and found that 1 in 6 children had sensory processing difficulties that were negatively impacting functional performance in the school environment. SPD can present alone, but is also found in children with ADHD, autism, and other developmental disabilities. This is the reason why these behaviors must be investigated by trained professionals.

Occupational therapists are the primary professionals who are trained to provide intervention at home, school, and clinic to address sensory processing deficits. Treatment planning will be different for each child, however, it should always begin with an occupational therapist who is trained in sensory processing, and one who is able to establish a trusting and good rapport with the child and family.

The occupational therapist should also provide ongoing education and support, strategies for ways to adapt the child’s environment, and a variety of functional therapy activities to address the underlying sensory difficulties.

Below are some red flags to look out for that are indicative of sensory processing disorder:
    - High pain threshold
    - Dramatic responses to sensory input (such as noises or clothing)
    - Aversions to anything messy
    - Difficulty falling asleep
    - Dislike being held or rocked
    - Too rough with peers, pets, and toys
    - Dislikes hairs and nails cut
    - Poor personal space awareness
    - Constantly seeking out sensory stimulation
    - Fidgety and frequently moving
    - Delayed milestones
    - Awkward or clumsy
    - Difficulty learning new motor tags

If you think your child is demonstrating some of these behaviors ask your child’s teacher or pediatrician for a recommendation for an occupational therapist trained in SPD.


Kimberly Bradley, MS, LOTR, is a pediatric occupational therapist and owns Kim4Kids in Metairie. 504.517.5437. kim4kidsnola.com.

Read more Wiggle Room articles here.

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