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Sensory Processing Problems

3 February, 2017

  • Does your child have trouble sitting up straight?
  • Does your child dislike loud, sudden noises like fireworks?
  • Is your child a fussy eater?
  • Does your child fall over without any tears or sign of pain?
  • Does your child have trouble organising himself / herself?
  • Is your child a poor sleeper?
  • Does your child have difficulties with running, jumping and drawing compared to other kids their age?

Your child might have a sensory processing problem, whereby they are either sensing the world too much, not enough or abnormally processing the input in some way.

What are our senses?

We can all recognise our five basic senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Did you know that these are just our external senses? We also have receptors that detect movement, position and posture. This information comes from our inner ears (vestibular system) and the joints and muscles (proprioception).

Additionally, we collect information from our body organs in a process called interoception. For example, sensing how full our bladder is in order to not overfill.

What are sensory processing problems?

Some people (adults and children alike) find it difficult to process the incoming information from their body. This interferes with their ability to interact with their environment - to move, socialise and learn.

This is a very broad area which encompasses many labels. An umbrella term used is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is commonly divided into three key areas:

Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

Experiencing either decreased or increased responses to stimulation or seeking out sensory input.

Example of SMD:

  • A child might get agitated when going to the supermarket with the bright, flickering lights or become upset by the noise of a busy gathering.
  • Sensory seeking includes biting non-food objects, thumb sucking, spinning, always touching and feeling, uses loud voice, enjoys busy & loud environments

Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

Difficulties interpreting messages from the senses.

Example of SDD:

  • A child who has poor appreciation of distance and timing resulting in difficulties catching and throwing a ball.
  • A child with difficulties distinguishing between similar sounds such as cap and cat.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

Problems with stabilising, planning and sequencing movements in response to the input from their body’s joints, muscles and inner ears.

Examples of SBMD:

  • A child who has difficulties running, jumping and drawing compared to kids of their age
  • A child having difficulties with tasks involving multiple steps. Brushing your teeth involves opening the toothpaste and putting it on the brush before even starting the brushing action.

Sensory processing difficulties can present in isolation or accompanied by other labels such as learning difficulties, anxiety, bed wetting, ADHD, ASD and other neuro-developmental disorders.

What does it mean for your child?

You know your child best. If something doesn’t feel right, follow it up. Sensory processing difficulties are not well recognised by many health practitioners. Some health practitioners have experience working with these kids and adults, whilst others may be completely unaware. As always, listen to your gut instinct and get an assessment from a practitioner you know and trust or who is recommended to you.

Appointments available in Moonee Ponds or online.

About the Author

Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Paediatric-Trained Chiropractor & Paediatric Sleep Coach

Dr Cassie is a paediatric-trained chiropractor, sleep coach and, most importantly, mumma to Master H. She loves seeing newborns grow into inquisitive toddlers and busy school kids. She assesses for neurological development (primitive reflexes), posture, sleep health and movement patterns. She's an eager learning just like the kids she sees.

"It's better to grow healthy children than fix injured adults."