Sensory Processing

It is difficult to know if an individual is having sensory processing difficulties because these abilities cannot be seen. The individual who is having these difficulties may sense that something is wrong but is often not able to tell others what it is. Worse yet, these individuals may end up being judged or misunderstood because of their perceptual differences. Consider the following scenario of a boy with unidentified color perception difficulties who cannot see the color purple. A teacher instructs the boy’s class to go to the front of the room and get a purple piece of paper. The boy may respond in one of several ways:

He does not get up because he doesn’t know what to get

He lags behind his peers, watching what they do and then trying to pick what they pick

He grabs any piece of paper without concern for the color


In all three cases, it is likely that the teacher will question why he is not getting the purple piece of paper. If the boy is unaware of his deficit, he may not be able to answer. A teacher who does not consider the reason for this may think he is being difficult, lazy or defiant. It is therefore important to be aware of some of the common behavioral responses to sensory processing deficits. Here are some common behaviors associated with sensory difficulties:


Hyper-sensitive to Sensory Input:

  • Picky eater (e.g., only eats a few foods, wants crunchy foods versus mushy food)

  • Refuses to wear certain clothes (e.g., socks, tags in shirts, jeans)

  • Reactive to or avoidant of grooming (e.g, haircuts)

  • Avoids certain activities that involve textures (e.g., won’t touch sand on the beach)

  • Overstimulated or afraid of crowds

  • Reactive to certain sounds

  • Trouble sleeping through the night


Under-responsive to Sensory Input:

  • Dare-devil behaviors (e.g., jumping off high furniture, running in the street, always on the go)

  • Difficulty potty-training

  • Always on the go (e.g., can’t sit down for dinner, won’t leave playground)

  • Trouble falling asleep

  • Over-eats (e.g., over-stuffs mouth, doesn’t notice food on face)

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Poor body awareness (e.g., crashes into things, walks over toys/items)


Motor Abilities

  • Poor posture, including slouching and slumping

  • Uncoordinated body movements and fidgeting

  • Clumsiness, including tripping and stumbling

  • Lack of body awareness; walking over items on the floor, bumping into things

  • Confusion of right and left; mixed hand dominance

  • Poor sense of rhythm

  • Messy handwriting

  • Difficulty with organization and structure

  • Often confused about location and direction

  • Poor athletic abilities

Luckily, sensory perceptions can be improved with proper input. Therapies work to help the body more accurately perceive input from the environment. Once this happens, behaviors automatically reduce or disappear.

 

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