Sensory Activities for Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing is the integration and interpretation of sensory stimulation from the environment by the brain. In contrast, sensory processing disorder (SPD), sometimes called sensory integration disorder (SID), is a dysfunction in which sensory input is not integrated or organized appropriately in the brain. This results in over- or under-stimulated senses and can inhibit development, information processing, and behavior.

Sensory integration issues can result in behaviors such as rocking, spinning, and hand-flapping to cope with the lack of or overload of sensory stimulation. Behaviorally, the child may become impulsive, easily distractible, and show a general lack of planning. Some children may also have difficulty adjusting to new situations and may react with frustration, aggression, or withdrawal. SPD can also result in speech/language delays and in academic under-achievement.

May researchers believe that sensory integration failure stems from neurological dysfunction in the brain. Neurological dysfunction can occur from underdevelopment of the brain, injury, or infection such as PANDAS.

Sensory integration focuses primarily on three basic senses - tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. Tactile system dysfunction can present as withdrawing when being touched, refusing to eat certain 'textured' foods and/or to wear certain types of clothing, complaining about having one's hair or face washed, avoiding getting one's hands dirty (i.e., glue, sand, mud, finger-paint), and using one's finger tips rather than whole hands to manipulate objects. A dysfunctional tactile system may lead to a misperception of touch and/or pain (hyper- or hyposensitive) and may lead to self-imposed isolation, general irritability, distractibility, and hyperactivity.

Vestibular system dysfunction can present itself in two different ways. Some children might be hypersensitive to vestibular stimulation and have fearful reactions to ordinary movement activities (e.g., swings, slides, ramps, inclines). They might also have trouble learning to climb or descend stairs or hills; and they may be apprehensive walking or crawling on uneven or unstable surfaces. In general, these children appear clumsy. On the other extreme, the child might actively seek very intense sensory experiences such as excessive body whirling, jumping, and/or spinning. This type of child is continuously trying to stimulate their vestibular systems.

Proprioceptive system dysfunction can manisfest as poor gross motor skills or fine motor skills. Examples of gross motor skills are the ability to sit properly in a chair or to step off a curb smoothly. Fine motor skills include using a pencil to write, using a utensil to eat, tie one's shoes or button one's shirt. Another dimension of proprioception is praxis - the ability to plan and execute different motor tasks.

If your child seems to seek out certain sensations or avoid others, it can be helpful to complete a sensory checklist to get a better sense of your child’s sensory preferences. The “More Than Words” guidebook (Sussman, 1999) includes such a checklist, “My Child’s Sensory Preferences”, which can hep you to better understand your child’s sensory needs.

Below are some of the sensory-friendly activities we have found on the Internet. Please share these with anyone who is regularly involved in your child's life.