Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory integration is a normal, neurological process which begins in utero and continues throughout life. It is the process by which our brains take in sensory information received from the body and our environment; and synthesize, organize and process that information in order to provide a goal directed response.

Sensory integration occurs in the following ways:
  • Our central nervous system takes in the information
  • The brain organizes the information and makes sense out of it
  • This enables us to use it and act accordingly within our environment to achieve goal directed actions.
Sensory integration is important for:
  • Social interaction
  • Motor skill development
  • Focusing and attending so learning can occur
Sensory Integration occurs through our senses which includes:
  • Tactile – sense of touch
  • Vestibular – sense of movement
  • Proprioception – sense of position
  • Auditory – sounds
  • Visual – sight
  • Taste – relating to input to the mouth
  • Olfactory – smell

What is the significance of our senses?

Tactile System

tactileThe tactile system is our system of touch. Touch makes us feel safe and comfortable, and allows us to bond with those around us so we can develop socially and emotionally. There are two parts to the tactile system - one is the protective system and the other is the discriminative system.

The protective system lets us know when there is danger and causes a “flight, fright, fight” response. The discriminative system lets us know where we are being touched and what it is that is touching us.

When the tactile (discrimination) system is not working properly the following can occur:

  • Difficulty with fine motor and self-care skills
  • Difficulty articulating sounds
  • Decreased visual perceptual skills
  • Difficulty understanding basic concepts
  • Exhibit the need to touch everything, have difficulty keeping hands to self

When the tactile (protective) system is not working properly the following can occur:

  • Withdrawal from group situations
  • Misperception of touch even when it is not threatening
  • Overreaction to clothing or food textures or tastes
  • Under-responsive to pain
  • May not like to be held or cuddled
Vestibular System

vestibularThe vestibular system encompasses our sense of movement and gravity. It lets us know which way is up, down, horizontal, and vertical. It also lets us know if we are moving, what direction we are moving, and how fast we are going. The vestibular system helps us to develop proper muscle tone, posture and bilateral coordination. This system is imperative to the functioning of the central nervous system and allows for other sensory inputs to be processed.

When the vestibular system is not working properly the following may occur:

  • Difficulty making sense of visual information
  • Difficulty with tasks that require two hands
  • Difficulty with coordinated movements and development of gross motor skills
  • Difficulty with sequencing and timing
  • Extreme need for activity and movement/difficulty sitting still
  • Lack the desire to engage in movement activities
  • Fearful of movement experiences
  • Inappropriate emotional responses
  • Speech and language deficits
  • Difficulty using words to reflect what they know
  • Difficulty with nonverbal communication/body language
Proprioceptive System

proprioceptiveThe proprioceptive system consists of receptors located within our joints, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. Proprioception occurs when we stretch and tighten our muscles against the pull of gravity. Sensations that come through the proprioceptive system are closely linked to the tactile and vestibular systems. The proprioceptive system tells us where the body is in space, how our body parts relate to each other, how much and how quickly our muscles are stretching, and how much force our muscles are using.

Disruption in the proprioceptive system can result in:

  • Decreased body awareness/bumping into objects
  • Postural instability
  • Difficulty with motor planning
  • Difficulty grading movements — using too little or too much force
  • Motor incoordination
Auditory System

The auditory system works together with the vestibular system as sound and movement are processed. The auditory system is the first sensory system to develop. The auditory system is not only responsible for hearing, but also for balance, coordination, flexibility, and equilibrium.
There are two components of the auditory system. The first is the defensive component which occurs when we are startled by a loud or unexpected sound. As we develop we learn to tune out sensations that are not threatening. The second component is the discriminative component. The discriminative component helps us determine the "what" and "where" of sounds.

Children who have difficulty with auditory processing may exhibit:

  • Irrational fears of household appliances and noises
  • Become distressed by sudden noises, thunder, sirens, or alarms
  • Difficulty responding to their name being called
  • Difficulty following directions, frequently asking “What did you say?”
  • Difficulty attending in a noisy environment
  • Difficulty differentiating between speech sounds, words, or phrases
Visual System

The visual system is responsible for what we see in our environment. The visual system also has two components which consist of the protective and discriminative components. These two systems work together, allowing us to see clearly. These systems also enable us to understand the objects we see, where they are, and how they feel (without touching them).

Children who have difficulty processing visual information may exhibit:

  • Covering of the eyes when in direct sunlight
  • Preference for watching spinning and/or shiny objects
  • Difficulty following a moving object (i.e. catching a ball)
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Difficulty with discrimination (puzzles, letters, colors)
  • Difficulty developing spatial and temporal concepts
  • Poor eye-hand coordination
  • Difficulty with coordination and balance
Sensory Processing Disorder
  1. Type I – Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) Over and under-responsivity to sensory stimuli and sensory seeking. Sensory modulation refers to the ability of the central nervous system to convey information about the intensity, frequency, duration, complexity, and novelty of sensory information. (Gravitational insecurity, sensory defensiveness, sensory registration)
    • Child may be fearful, anxious, or hesitant about learning/exploring/social interactions
    • Child may exhibit stubbornness, low frustration tolerance, inflexible
    • Child may become self-absorbed in activity and have difficulty engaging/interacting
  2. Type II – Sensory Based Motor Disorder (SBMD) Motor actions are affected by inadequate processing of sensory information.
    • Postural instability/insecurity
    • Dyspraxia
    • Coordination difficulties (clumsy, loss of balance)
  3. Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) Discrimination of sensory information is inaccurate.
    • Visual and auditory processing difficulties


Vestibular Activities

Calming: When you provide slow, predictable, rhythmic sensation you get calming.

Alerting: When you provide rapid, irregular and/or unpredictable sensation you get increased arousal. - Do not swing or spin a child for a long period of time, as it may have negative effects.

Activity Ideas
  • Have your child lie on or sit on a blanket and pull them around
  • Blanket rides with your child pulling them self towards the parent utilizing a jump rope or other rope
  • Log rolling on flat surfaces or up and down an incline
  • Roll the child up in a blanket and unroll the child quickly
  • Movement up and down slides
  • Rotational movement on sit n’ spin, lazy susan disc in both clockwise and counterclockwise rotation
  • Movement on scooter board while on stomach, and seated to provide linear movement while the head is in a variety of positions
  • Therapy ball- bouncing on it in various positions, rolling over the ball on stomach or back with supervision
  • Walking across a balance beam forward, backward, sideways and crawling
  • Balancing on a tilt/rocker board in standing, sitting and tall kneeling while reaching for objects or toys
  • Wagon rides
  • Jumping up and down on a mini-trampoline
  • Dancing or marching in time to music
  • Running, climbing, hanging upside-down, jumping, galloping, hopping, skipping
  • Jumping jacks
  • Rocking horses
  • Sledding
  • Roller skating/rollerblading
  • Imitating head movements
  • Movement on swings with the body in a variety of positions, and providing both linear and rotary input
  • Blanket swinging- have your child lay down in the center of a large blanket or sheet. With two adults, lift up the ends of the blanket and swing them back and forth, while they are laying inside of the blanket
  • “Bowling” activities, but with the head inverted. Roll the ball between the legs, while standing backwards with head pointing down towards the ground
  • Riding on moving equipment or surfaces – waterbeds, ride on toys, elevators
  • Have child sit on a therapy ball rather than in a chair so they get a sustained challenge to their vestibular system. This can significantly enhance attention and task performance.
  • Sitting on uneven surfaces such as placing a “move ‘n sit” or a slightly inflated beach ball on a chair seat

Movement can be very scary for some children that exhibit gravitational or postural insecurity. For those children, it is important that they feel safe during movement activities. Start slow and never force an activity. Make them feel safe by combining movement with deep pressure or by holding them tightly. The movement should be slow and gentle.

Proprioceptive Activities

Heavy work activities are generally calming

  • Carrying, pushing and pulling objects such as…
    Groceries, heavy backpacks, stacking or moving chairs/books, using a watering can, shopping carts, laundry baskets, tug-o-war, toy vacuum, mopping, sweeping, wrestling, shoveling snow, raking leaves, riding a bike
  • Jumping and bouncing on/with items such as...
    On a trampoline, mattress, bean bag chair, pogo stick, therapy ball, horseback riding, jumping rope, hippity-hop ball, backyard bouncers, potato sack races
  • Climbing/hanging on things such as...
    Monkey bars, hanging rings/trapeze, rock walls, rocks or trees, ladder, slide, climbing ropes/nets
  • Squishing activities such as...
    “Sandwich” the child between pillows or cushions and provide deep pressure. Roll child up in a heavy blanket as a “hot dog”. Wrap up child tightly in a warmed towel after bath. Use extra blankets, sleeping bags, and/or quilts prior to bedtime or at bedtime. Roll an exercise ball on top of the child using consistent/firm pressure.
  • Games such as...
    Twister, Animal walks (bear, crab, snake, elephant, frog, kangaroo, penguin), tug-o-war, hop scotch, leap frog
  • Working at/on vertical surfaces (at or above eye level) such as...
    Table top or floor easels, erasing, coloring on a chalkboard or dry erase board, tape paper to the wall, washing windows, using window markers, wiping down the shower, bathtub paints while in the bathtub
  • Resistive tools or toys such as...
    Clothespins, spray bottles, scissors (cut paper, notecards, paper bags, play-doh, etc.), rolling pins to flatten play-doh, crush crackers, color on sand paper or other textured surface, paper hole punches, tongs, tweezers, spray nozzle on garden hose.
  • Fidget toys such as...
    Silly putty, thera-putty, play-doh, stress relief balls, rubber bands, Rubex cube
  • Resistive surfaces such as...
    Sidewalk chalk on driveway, sidewalk, or side of house. Color pictures taped over sandpaper/cardboard, brush the dog/cat, use a sanding block to sand wood.

Tactile Activities

Alerting: light touch, quick, rough, cool, unexpected touch

Calming: deep pressure touch, tight wrapping, firm rubbing, warmth, anticipated touch

Activity Ideas
  • Rubbing lotion on arms, legs and back, utilizing firm pressure-- unscented is generally best
  • Slowly stroking down extremities, back or head in a soothing fashion
  • Rubbing the skin briskly with a towel and wrap tightly in a towel for deep pressure after a bath
  • Wrapping your child up in blankets, towels, clothing (spandex) or lycra to provide even tactile pressure
  • Sandwich activities- place child in between couch cushions or a mat and provide even pressure down onto the skin
  • Playing “Simon-says” that involves touching the arms, legs, back and head to provide discrimination to the tactile system
  • Playing with play-doh, clay or putty
  • Play with various wet textures such as finger paints, shaving cream, Jell-O, pudding, slime, sponge paint
  • Hide objects in dry tactile media such as sand, rice, beans, unpopped popcorn or other highly tactile stimuli
  • Activities that involve lots of tactile sensations and use of hands or fingers to poke, draw and open and close items. Fill a ziplock bag with hair gel and draw shapes, designs into the bag which can be erased by holding the bag up and starting again.
  • Make art projects using various textures such as cotton balls, glue, foam, feathers, etc.
  • “Paint” body parts with a dry paint brush, large sponges or paint rollers to apply touch pressure
  • Spray various body parts with water and rub dry with different textures, such as terry cloth and/or sponges
  • Rub various textures on body parts without looking and try to identify them i.e. corduroy, velvet, cotton, to improve discrimination
  • Rolling heavy therapy balls or bolsters over the body
  • Rolling in the grass, over carpet, over blankets with varying textures
  • Deep hugs
  • Movement through a tunnel made out of lycra material or other tight spaces to provide deep pressure to the skin
  • Sitting or lying under sofa cushions
  • Wearing heavy fabric
  • Jumping into and being pulled through a ball bath
  • Create a bin that has a variety of tactile toys, such as a variety of textured balls and fabrics to explore on the skin
  • Vibrating toys such as a bumble ball or vibrating bug
185 S. Marley Rd. New Lenox, IL 60451