Sensory processing issues are a common characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
NOTE: Throughout this blog post you will see a few flyers that address sensory issues in children written for parents and teachers as well as a teacher sensory processing checklist (please note their creators at the bottom of the pages). These are screening tools one can use if they feel there may be a possible sensory processing issue. If you believe your child has a sensory processing problem, please contact an OT experienced in sensory integration.
What is sensory processing? Sensory processing (also known as sensory integration or SI) is how the central nervous system receives incoming stimuli from a person's senses and translates that information into appropriate behavioral and motor responses.
What is sensory processing disorder (SPD)? Also known as sensory integration dysfunction; this occurs when sensory signals do not get organized into the correct motor or behavioral responses. A person with SPD finds it difficult to react appropriately to various sensory stimuli and these difficulties can affect ALL areas of development and all environments (information form SPD foundation website).
What is a sensory diet? A sensory diet is the sensory "food" your child may need throughout his day in order to regulate his sensory system as well as improve his ability to process incoming stimuli via various senses. A sensory diet is a carefully designed list of daily activities created by an occupational therapist certified or with experience in SI. An evaluation of your child's sensory processing skills is conducted and from there, this list of individualized activities are created and based solely on your child's sensory needs.
Sensory diet activities tend to result in immediate change in behavior for a child as their sensory system is being "fed" the proper nutrients for the child's central nervous system!
The hypersensitive child senses things at a much more intense level than you and I. Therefore this child may attempt to escape activities that are too intense for him. This child may avoid touch, textures, smells, noise, and visual stimuli (e.g. maybe the sun is too bright for this child and he requires the use of sunglasses, or puts his hood up, etc.). This child may response to light touches, soft tickles, quiet music, bland food with little taste/texture difference/smell, etc.
The hyposensitive child struggles to keep his body at the right level of awareness and tends to be a sensory seeker. This child be described as having no fear and may enjoy rough and tumble play, deep pressure, LOTs of movement, etc. in order to regulate his sensory system.
What does an example of a sensory diet look like? Head on over to Sensory Diet Activities website and scroll to the bottom of the page to check it out.
Remember this is an example only! Sensory diets should be individualized and designed, reviewed and updated by an OT that specializes in SI.
Do not be duped into thinking this area is not as important or necessary as other areas in which you would like to see improvements (such as academics, communication, etc.), because ALL OTHER SKILLS BEGIN WITH PROPER SENSORY INPUT!!!! Keeping that in mind, sensory activities have also been known to benefit children with numerous other diagnosis and disabilities as well!
Now you have a brief overview of what a sensory diet is and how it works. Please understand that this is one of the most (if not the most) important aspects that MUST be addressed for children with ASD as we learn EVERYTHING via our senses. If our sensory processing system is dysfunctional, our learning will also be affected.
As SLPs, what is our role in sensory processing issues?
Well I believe we have several rolls.
1.) The first of which is the roll of observer: we should be observing the child's behavior in various situations and how the behavior changes (improves or worsens) when various stimuli are presented or removed. A good example would be that we as SLPs may notice in the lunchroom a child may REALLY struggle with sitting, eating, talking, or just being present in the room as compared to our speech therapy room. Why is that? Well maybe the noise level is too overwhelming; maybe in our speech room we have less visual distractions as well. As an observer we can notice what environments are working best for our students and share that information with the OT and the rest of the multidisciplinary team so appropriate modifications and accommodations can be made.
2.) Support Staff: I believe a secondary roll we can play as SLPs because we see these children on our caseloads and have good rapport with them, is to be a supporting staff member to this child's sensory diet. I have many times, had OTs train me as well as the classroom teacher, aides, special educator and paraprofessionals, on how to implement the child's sensory diet so we as staff members who see this child on a regular basis can make sure his sensory needs are being met as an adult with which the child feels comfortable. I very much love this part as I immediately get to see the effects on spontaneous language production after a child receives the sensory input he is so desperately requiring.
3.) Consultant/Collaborator: I believe our third roll as SLPs is to be a consultant and collaborator with the student's OT. Some sensory activities that previously worked may no longer do so and we as SLPs may be the only individual who is taking note of this information. The OT must know if these activities are no longer working so the sensory diet may be updated and revised to fit the student's needs.
Do you have concerns about your child's sensory needs? If so, please contact an SI OT in your area for a consultation.
Also I recommend you checking out A Sensory Life's website. It's a FREE educational resource. There are a TON of great resources and videos for parents and professionals!!!
Enjoy and happy talking!