Did you know that right now as you're reading this article, you are functioning with at least 3 different senses-your senses process what you see, understand and touch and help your brain receive the message that lets you comprehend the message being sent. Your senses also help you understand the environment around you-the background noise while you sit at your computer, the sensation of the chair that you are sitting on, the clothes that are on your body...you get the picture?
Let me explain this further. Typically your brain receives thousands of inputs from body parts as well as from the outside world. The brain in turn acts like a computer that processes these messages and transmits appropriates responses. These messages transmitted by the brain affect functions such as muscle movement, coordination, learning, memory, emotion, behaviour and thought. So, for example, every time you lift a pen, your eyes have seen it and registered it and sent the message to your brain, and in turn your brain processes this information and sends a signal to your hand to either pick it up or not.
Individuals with sensory processing disorder however send mixed messages to the brain, and therefore cannot receive appropriate responses. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration dysfunction occurs when certain parts of the brain do not receive the necessary sensory information to complete the task as required. It can be likened to a traffic jam in the brain where the right response cannot be sent the way it has been intended to. Children with this disorder therefore can have difficulty coping with the stress of daily organisational demands. And the frustration of these day-to-day challenges often manifests as behavioural difficulties.
Recognising Sensory Processing Disorder
If your child occasionally loses focus when you're telling her something, it's perfectly normal, as almost all children have a limited attention span. However, if she keeps moving in her seat, struggles to make eye contact, gets unusually bothered by loud noises, feels like her clothes are hurting her, doesn't like the smell or textures of certain foods, then it may be advisable to consult your doctor to determine whether these challenges fall within the norm or are likely to be a sensory processing disorder. The disorder is usually recognised by the third year of a child's life and is said to affect 1 in 20 children. Children with developmental delays, attention and learning problems, and autistic spectrum disorders could also display symptoms of sensory processing disorder. But like with most neurological disorders, the spectrum of sensory challenges can be wide. Some children may be affected by one sense, like taste, while other children could be impacted by multiple sensory challenges. SPD can occur in two forms: it can either be hypersensitive or hyposensitive, which means your child may either overreact to sensory stimuli-like touch smell or sound or under react-making her exceptionally resilient to falls, or have unusually clumsy behaviour.
Children with SPD often have difficulty with motor skills that other children seem to master quite easily. For example while most children might master climbing up and down stairs easily by the age of 2 to 3 years, a child with SPD may have a more difficult time doing so, because she cannot process the depth of each step. And that is just one problem area among the others she has to cope with every day. As a result, a child with SPD may also display behavioural challenges and even suffer from low self-esteem that can affect their school and social life.
Which is why early recognition of the disorder and appropriate management are key for a child's success in life. It is best to consult your paediatrician to understand how you can work towards managing the disorder, once you recognise it. This will help you aid your child to experience life normally as any other child would. After all, every child deserves to reach her full potential no matter what challenges lie ahead!