Sensory Integration And Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory integration is the capacity of an individual to receive, process, and make sense of information provided by the senses.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses.

Sensory Integration or Integrative Therapy is designed to provide various sensory experiences to help the individual with autism spectrum disorder elicit a more adaptive response to sensory challenges. In other words, how to cope with his or her sensory problems and sensitivities.

So a person with hypersensitive hearing may cope better with loud or unexpected noises. A person with poor discrimination of sounds may be able to distinguish between more subtle differences in tone.

As most of this web site is going to be based on my personal experiences as a mother of a young child on the Autistic Spectrum. However, you must remember that not all children with autism spectrum disorders have sensory processing difficulties and careful assessment is required before starting any type of therapy.
I was already aware that not only is my son on the Autistic Spectrum but he is on the side where he has heightened sensory issues to the extreme that he is a child clearly with Sensory Integration Dysfunction. I discovered this when I visited an Occupational Therapist who happened to specialise in Sensory Integration Issues. She asked me to read a book about Sensory Integration and on reading this book I discovered that my son had these sensory integration problems. However, I asked my Paeiatrician to refer me to see an Occupational Therapist and I then went on to see an Occupational Therapist through the NHS who really did not understand what I was talking about and my son was discharged from occupational therapy! So it is very important that an Occupational Therapist who has sensory integration specialty sees the person affected.

My child along with many children on the Autistic Spectrum does frequently encounter problems with their sense of smell, touch, hearing and taste. Some with their site too.
My son has a very strong sense of smell and can smell certain foods and odours even before I can smell them. His hearing (although when he was younger had a few hearing problems) is quite remarkable. This can also be coupled with difficulties in movement, coordination and sensing where one’s body is in a given space.
My son currently is constantly hugging and squeezing me and his other family members much more. he is craving for tight hugs.
Reading books on sensory integration has led me to believe that this is a very common disorder for individuals with neurological conditions such as an autistic spectrum disorder.
It has been said that individuals may be overly sensitive to certain textures, sounds, smells and tastes, while wearing certain fabrics, tasting certain foods, or normal everyday sounds may cause discomfort.
The opposite to overly sensitive is also possible. My child for example, feels very little pain and actually enjoys sensations that neurotypical children would dislike such as being squeezed very tightly and with hugging with great strength. My son enjoys intense cold feelings such as eating and touching freezing ice (yes!) and especially loves to eat snow. This reminds me of one of the scenes from “Snow Cake” where the Autistic woman loved to eat snow!

The reason for all of this is that the brain seems unable to balance the senses appropriately in cases of Sensory Integration Dysfunction. The brain may not be able to filter out background stimuli yet admit what is important, so the individual may have to deal with overwhelming amounts of sensory input day and night.

Sensory Integration Therapy for Children
This involves occupational therapy with the child placed in a room specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. During the session, the therapist works closely with the child to encourage movement within the room. The therapy is driven by four main principles:

1 Just Right Challenge (the child must be able to meet the challenges through playful activities)
2 Adaptive Response (the child adapts behavior to meet the challenges presented)
3 Active Engagement (the child will want to participate because the activities are fun)
4 Child-directed (the child’s preferred activities are used in the session).

Children with lower sensitivity (hyposensitivity) may be exposed to strong sensations, while children with heightened sensitivity (hypersensitivity) may be exposed to quieter activities. Treats and rewards may be used to encourage children to tolerate activities they would normally avoid.
For more information on Sensory Integration Dysfunction, see the Sensory Integration Therapy Guidelines for children with heightened sensitivity
These guidelines may help in more appropriate touch with autistic children who have hypersensitivity: The child finds it easier to initiate hugging than receive it. Touch is more tolerable when the child anticipates

My son also likes the feeling of tactile sensation include water, rice, beans and sand. Children on the autism spectrum often enjoy a sense of firm overall pressure. I do wrap up my son with a blanket or his quilt and he really enjoys this sensatio with pillows, blankets and firm hugs.

Proprioceptive system
The Proprioceptive System helps children (and adults) to locate their bodies in space. Autistic children often have have poor proprioception and will need help to develop their coordination.
Vestibular system
The Vestibular system is located in the inner ear. It responds to movement and gravity and is therefore involved with our sense of balance, coordination and eye movements. 

The above post was written after reading an inspiring article from http://mcchen030.blogdrive.com/archive/387.html

I hope this helps some parents who have a child like mine with hypersensitivity or heightened sensitivity. I wish that it enables you to understand why certain individuals do things such as squeezing and tight hugging. Ouch! Never mind, I am his mother after all.

To Learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit this site, click here

To all carers, mothers, relatives and people affected by autism

Sofina