Occupational Therapy For Sensory Processing Disorder

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have a difficult time organizing and acting appropriately on information they receive from their senses. Consequently, they can show signs of anxiety, motor clumsiness, and behavioral problems. Some children perform poorly in school.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, but without treatment, the disorder can negatively impact a child's everyday activities. Because the brain of a child with SPD is wired differently, a treatment program that includes occupational therapy, which focuses on a sensory integration approach, can help the child respond better to the sensory information he or she receives within different sensory environments.

The Forms SPD Takes

Research suggests that the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the body's fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system – the body's relaxation response – are not working the right way in children with SPD. Therefore, because SPD affects the way the brain processes information, it also affects the way a child reacts to the information that his or her senses take in. While some children with SPD are over-responsive to the sensations they feel, other children are under-responsive. Still other children have difficulty processing sensory information, which can lead to problems formulating new goals and developing new motor skills.

Sensory Over-Responsivity

The nervous systems of children with SPD who are over-responsive to sensation feel sensation too intensely. Because they feel like they are being constantly bombarded with sensory information, they often try to avoid sensations, such as being touched, by withdrawing or responding in an aggressive manner.

Sensory Under-Responsivity

Conversely, the nervous systems of children who are under-responsive to sensation may not always recognize information the brain receives. These children usually are constantly on the move and may engage in risky behaviors, as they try to satisfy their need for more intense sensory stimulation. Along with being hyperactive, these kids often like loud noise, which they may show by behaviors, such as playing the television or music too loud.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder

Some children with SPD appear awkward and clumsy. They may have poor fine and gross motor skills, which can lead to trouble with handwriting or buttoning clothing and activities like catching or throwing a ball. Because children with sensory-based motor disorder also can have balance and coordination problems, they may prefer sedentary activities and avoid more active play.

Goals of Treatment

The job of an occupational therapist is to design a program that provides structured activities that are fun, yet continuously challenge a child in a way that allows him or her to be successful. The goals of treatment focus on building self-esteem and helping the child self-regulate so that he or she can take part in normal activities and function on an improved level at home, school, and within the community.

No matter what form SPD takes, developing sensory strategies that apply to a child's normal daily activities in different settings can help the child complete everyday tasks with less frustration. Transition items, fidget toys, the use of a timer that the child can see, intense physical exercise, and visual schedules are some of the sensory strategies that occupational therapists use by adapting them to a child's individual needs.

Where Treatment Takes Place

Initially, treatment takes place in an occupational therapy gym that has nets, therapeutic swings, rope ladders, rocker boards, tactile toys and balls, and other specialized equipment. Eventually, parents and teachers may work with the occupational therapist to learn ways for engaging the child in therapeutic activities in the home and school environments. Contact a treatment center, such as Bayonet Point Health & Rehabilitation Center, for more information.