Sensory Integration Disorder

What exactly is sensory integration disorder?

In defining any disorder, it is important to clearly delineate what exactly are the symptoms, causes of and prognosis of anyone who has received this diagnosis for themselves, or most likely for their children.

First let us ask what are the symptoms that characterize sensory integration disorder?
Sensory integration disorder is a neurological problem. Simply put, it is the brain’s inability to put together (integrate) the signals it gets from the five senses. Hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell are commonly thought of as the senses. All children to some degree during their development have issues with sensory integration, but this does not necessarily mean that they have this disorder. As children mature, they begin to make sense of the world using their senses. It begins with their ability to smell their mother’s breast as a way to get nutrition so they can thrive. Even before they can visually focus, infants can differentiate between the smell of their mother and that of other females.

Sensory integration disorder is an inconsistent disorder. There are days where the child affected is able to effectively communicate with his parents, but not at school. There are times the child is a well behaved, non impulsive, compliant person and others when the child cannot sit still, pay attention or get along with his classmates. Another characteristic of sensory integration disorder often is the lack of desire to eat. Food holds no pleasure for these children, they eat only when forced to, and then they can be characterized as picky eaters.

All new parents worry (especially first time parents), that their newborn is “normal”. Using the criteria that they have read in all those baby books, they go to the pediatrician for those well baby visits and it is there that they have the opportunity to express their concerns about their child. If the child’s sensory, motor development does not fall within certain guidelines; the parents are concerned that something is wrong with their child. The “failure to thrive” syndrome, where the child just is not of normal height and/or weight compared to other infants their age, is often the first marker that perhaps their child is not “normal”. Testing of infants with sensory motor difficulties is not unheard of, in order to placate the parents that this infant is not mentally retarded.

If the tests show, that the infant is of delayed development, there are steps the parents can take at home and with specialized therapists to try to assist the child. The child is sometimes labeled as language delayed or even autistic and these diagnoses are alternative ones to the larger sensory integration disorder diagnosis. Many physical therapists and occupational therapists, do not classify children with the sensory integration disorder, without ample observation, in varied settings.

The big issue for many parents is can this child thrive in a society that often has zero tolerance for people who are “different”. Can this child go to school? Interact with other children? Not be a behavior problem? All of these questions run through a parent’s mind, when they think that that there is something “off” with their child.

Schools are not totally insensitive to the inclusion of less than adept students from attending their institutions. Often an IEP (Individual Education Plan) is drawn up clearly delineating goals, and services that will have to be provided this child to achieve these goals. Perhaps the child stutters, or has problems with the pronunciation of certain vowel sounds, and then a language therapist might be assigned to work with this child. Similarly if the child has problems with fine motor skills, an occupational therapist would be assigned to this child.

When the real problems occur, is if the child’s behavior is totally inappropriate for his age level. If he is still wetting himself at the age of 10, during the day, if he routinely bangs his head against the wall, then it is unlikely that a mainstream school is the best place for him. Special education classes have certain criteria for inclusion, if the child does not fit the criteria, often a special school; geared to his “disability” or the parents will opt to try to manage him at home. Sometimes, despite all good intentions, parents often have to make the hard choice to send this child to an institution, in order that the family can remain intact.

Sensory integration disorder children are stressful for the parents to deal with. There are different degrees of sensory integration problems; the more overt the difficulties, the more stressful the lives of the parents can become. By and large, people, even well meaning medical professionals are judgmental to a degree. They want to find out for themselves if their advice is being followed by the parents, they may do surprise visits, if they are a social workers, to assess the degree of compliance by the parents. Their only concern really is the child’s adjustment into a more “normal “existence.

If the issues of sensory integration are not addressed when the child is young, there is a distinct possibility that their sensory integration will only get worse when they mature into adults. There are syndromes that present themselves in adults that have their roots in sensory integration difficulties. Asperger’s syndrome which is characterized by the inability to pick up social clues from those around them is linked to autism and problems in sensory integration.

Often these adults eschew social situations, because they cannot effectively function in them. They intentionally isolate themselves from others in order to have a measure of peace in their lives. They often suffer from sensory overload, and cannot handle too many people or too much noise in their immediate worlds. They generally cannot form close relationships with other people. Because they do not care to and they feel ostracized by others, due to the way they deal with the world. They are of higher than average intelligence, but keep themselves away from others for their protection.

Also check out, “Financial And Community Supports For Children With Autism