What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory Processing is the neurological processing and interpretation of sensation within one’s own body and from the environment. In short, it is the brain’s organization and interpretation of the sensory input for everyday use, hence behavior. This is a complex interrelationship of processes known as sensory integration. Modulation is a term you may hear describing the neurological process which the child’s Central Nervous System appropriately regulates (continually adjusts) behavior responses to continually changing external and internal sensory stimuli.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
If this modulation is not working well the child may seem under responsive, over responsive (seeking stimuli), or both, or overwhelmed to sensory stimuli. When this behavior interferes with a child’s “occupation” in life (social, emotional, play, school, attention, body mechanics, self care, etc.) then it is termed a disorder, known as sensory processing /integration disorder. It is important to note that anyone and everyone has some sensory processing or integration problems from time to time because any kind of sensory stimuli can temporarily disrupt ones normal functioning.
The three main sensory systems we are referring to are tactile/touch (influencing motor control and emotional development), proprioception (sense obtain through one’s own muscles, ligaments, deep pressure to the skin therefore giving a sense of body position, organization, and calibration of movement), and Vestibular (sense of movement and gravity specifically postural control, muscle tone, coordinated use of both sides of the body, coordinating eye movements, etc.). Other sensory systems include olfactory (smell), auditory, visual, gustatory (taste).
Sensory Processing Disorder is individual to each child diagnosed with it. Some may be mildly affected while others have greater difficulty functioning in life. It is important to note that symptoms vary and not all need to be present. Also it is a marker of neurological dysfunction that a child may show symptoms one day or with one activity and not the next. The main type of therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Disorder is with a Sensory Certified Occupational Therapist who is trained in diagnosing and treating. Treatment includes a safe and challenging level of sensory stimulation encouraging movement to focus the child on tolerating and integrating sensory input and be driven by the child’s interests and the “occupation” of play. In addition, therapy includes focusing on making environmental adaptations (such as in the home and school).
Some Symptoms of SPD:
As mentioned above making adaptations within the child’s everyday life is also a part of understanding the child. One of the child’s “occupations” is self care including dressing.
DRESSING FOR SUCCESS!
Every child deserves to feel comfortable and adorable in their clothing. What if that same clothing could offer qualities that address sensory discomfort and therapeutic input? The child’s image of themselves and how they feel in their environment can enhance the social and emotional quality of life when that child feels organized and calm. We all have sensory qualities that make us who we are however when these neurological qualities interrupt our participation in life in a negative way it should be recognized. There are many children with an array of “diagnosis’s” that are subject to sensory hyper or hypo sensitivities, motor difficulties, and social differences, such as with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disabilities (SPD), Anxiety, and many other Developmental Disabilities. Why not make their clothing possess some of the very neuroscience qualities that could help enhance their social and emotional well being? As a mother of a child who suffered from sensory processing disorder and as a long time Sensory Pediatric Occupational Therapist and advocate I know first- hand it is not easy for our children.
Many sensory sensitive children suffer from preoccupations with tactile discomfort, a desire to chew, difficulty with spatial awareness, disorganization, difficulty with motor skills, hyper or hypo activity, as well as social and emotional difficulties.
Parents, therapists, and educators often express to me the benefits of weighed garments, chew objects, compression garments, and a child’s desire for soft materials however they frequently state that what is offered to them is so” therapeutic” looking and therefore stigmatizing. It’s hard to use many of these garments throughout “normal” life.
Options that are beautiful, functional, and unique should be given to parents and their children when considering the design of the child’s apparel and play products, It is important that as many of their personal characteristics are taken into consideration as well as the ability to take some therapeutic qualities along with them anywhere all day long.
When a garment is being constructed to address children who suffer sensory processing difficulties specific consideration should be made to address ease of function, tactile sensitivity, relevant design, safety, consistency in design for spatial orientation, and proprioceptive input (the unconscious awareness of sensations coming from receptor’s in one’s joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments). This helps promote independence as well as organization, alertness, and simplicity where quickness of dressing is often expected throughout the child’s day. When choosing a weighted vest or blanket for instance, it is significant to hear the child ask specifically for the “soft one”, or the “cool one”, or the nice one. It is as significant to give their parents beautiful, easy to use, and superior fabrics that are relevant and stylish. It is the right of the child and their parents to have non-stigmatizing products.
Effectively utilizing sensory strategies can help a child with Sensory Processing Difficulties. .Considering the aspects in their clothing is just another way a parent can simply use a non-invasive strategy aimed at helping their child and letting the child know you understand and accept what they are feeling!
Respect, pleasure, playfulness, comfort, and a feeling of security are aspects that can be inherent in their clothing! Fashion with therapeutic value should also express the darling nature and playfulness inherent in children.
Today’s guest post was authored by Susan Donohoe OTR/L, Certificate in Sensory Integration, who is the founder of Prince’s Sensory Delights, which specializes in clothing for children with SPD and special needs.