Imagine having a child who shudders at the sounds of a cabinet closing, or vomits when the car starts. Or having a child who doesn’t notice the dark bark or recoils from the feeling of their clothes. These are symptoms related to having a sensory processing disorder which can be difficult to diagnose. One of the more complex disorders in this world that affects the normal daily routines of children every day. But one way occupational therapists are helping children with this disorder is through the wonders of sensory play.
Below we’ll provide you with an understanding of what exactly is sensory processing disorder and how sensory play can help kids suffering from it.
Sensory Processing Disorder: What is it?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), unfortunately, is not a disorder recognized by medical professionals. While not much research has been completed on this specific disorder, a 2009 study completed by members of the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group reported that 1 in every 6 children will experience sensory symptoms strong enough to disrupt their daily lives. Often confused with symptoms of autism, SPD exists on a spectrum of pain and discomfort experienced by children and even adults.
SPD occurs when sensory signals become confused when processed through the nervous system. These signal can either go undetected or are organized into the wrong responses. When gone untreated or undetected, SPD can go on to affect the children dealing with this disorder well into their adult lives.
Recognizing Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing disorder doesn’t affect all of the sense always. It can affect only one at a time or multiple senses. Because SPD exists on a spectrum, children can be hypersensitive to touch, audio, or visual sensations while other may hardly respond at all. This disorder can often affect posture as well as motor functions, causing children to appear clumsy or relying on supporting themselves.
Due to the spectrum of severity, this disorder can often go misdiagnosed as ADHD or mild forms of autism. Early signs of SPD show fussy babies, clumsy toddlers, and pre-school aged children, and can lead to an anxious personality through aging. Symptoms can consist of:
- Problems eating
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Uncomfortable in clothes
- Doesn’t notice/slow to respond to pain
- Trouble calming self with usual measures
- Constantly overreacts to feelings, smells, noises, strong sights
- Unaware of being touched
- Prefers sedentary activities
- Trouble with motor tasks
- Trouble with Handwriting
Treatment for SPD
Occupational therapy for children with SPD can greatly improve the effects of the disorder. Sensory play is popping up to help kids understand the different stimuli around them. This type of play stimulates children’s senses in sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, as well as helps them develop their fine motor skills. Also referred to as sensory integration, sensory play involves working with an occupational therapist in using different methods such as sensory bins and floor play.
Sensory bins are deliberately created to target the different senses your child needs assistance with. Sensory bins are fairly easy to construct as well. After meeting first with your occupational therapist, you can easy create these special activity bins by yourself. All you need is a large Rubbermaid bin and different types of mediums and toys to fill it with. This can include rocks, string, water, sand, rice, shaving cream, yarn and so much more. Add pops of color to the bins by throwing in some of your child’s favorite toys. This will also encourage them to engage with the bin more as well.
Floor play is also another great form of treatment for children with SPD. This involves children engaging with simple play technique with the occupational therapist or parent in an open comfortable space. Therapists and parents should let their children take the lead to observe how they interact with different stimuli. This helps test their comfort and tolerance level of different extremes of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch stimuli.
Benefits of Sensory Play
Since professionals still don’t recognize this as a proper disorder, there are not currently any medical treatments available. If a child is having trouble coping with, learning, or developing proper sensory reactions, then sensory play is probably the best form of treatment. Sensory plays benefits children in:
- Motor Skill Development
- Social Interaction
- Building stronger nerve connections to combat confusion in the nervous system
- Language development
Probably the best part of sensory play is the open-ended format. Children tell their therapists and parents what they need and how they are going to get there. This allows for children to take the lead and develop at their own pace.