Jan 232013

Sensory Integration Disorder, Sensory Overload, and Sensory Integration Issues

If you have a child that seems fussy about clothes, noises, food textures or tastes, active environments, bright lights, etc., you may have a child with Sensory Integration Disorder. The NIH defines Sensory Integration as “The involuntary process by which the brain assembles a picture of our environment at each moment in time using information from all of our senses. Children with learning disabilities or autism have difficulties with sensory integration.”

On a practical level, it means your child can have difficulty coping with various stimuli that come to him from the environment he is in.

For children with Sensory Integration Disorder, coping with a traditional school environment can be very difficult. There are bright lights, lots of movement from all of the people, visual input everywhere, and noises that can overwhelm the senses of you child. Sensory Integration Disorder makes it nearly impossible for your child to process everything he is experiencing. When the environment is overwhelming, learning can be significantly hampered in a traditional school.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to have Sensory Integration Disorder, check out “What it’s like to have Sensory Integration Disorder.”

As a parent, what can you do? The first step is to arm yourself with knowledge about Sensory Integration Disorder. You can watch this video for a clearer understanding of Sensory Integration Disorder (opens in a new window):

Sensory Integration Disorder (SPD) Dr. Lucy Jane Miller

If you need or want to know more about SPD, you might want to buy one of these books or see if your library has them:

The Out of Sync Child
Books about Sensory IntegrationSensory Integration Disorder

FIrst acquire a better understanding of sensory integration issues and how to deal with the coping issues your child has. Then you will need to consider how best to meet his needs educationally. Most likely, you will want to find a local provider who can help with sensory integration therapy. Contacting the nearest children’s hospital or a child therapy center would be a good place to begin seeking a provider.

If your public school has exceptional special education provisioning, they may provide therapy at school in a low-key learning environment. If they provide sensory management, they might help control your child’s learning environment sufficiently to enable learning to take place.

Your child can still be overwhelmed by the stimuli encountered in traveling to and from the school if he travels by bus. He can have difficulty going from the classroom to other areas of the school. Any number of other issues in the traditional school environment can cause significant stress. If you find your child cannot cope well with the stimuli, then you will have difficult decisions to make.

As with many other disabilities, home schooling a child who has Sensory Integration Disorder can be of great benefit, particularly when your child is young. At home, you will be able to control your child’s learning environment much better than a school can. Then learning is likely to be improved by the calmer, more familiar environment when your child is at home.

Keep in mind also, your child needs to be able to learn the foundational skills of reading, writing, and math while he is young. If possible, he should learn them without getting far behind peers. If your child has Sensory Integration Disorder, you may want to consider homeschooling throughout elementary school to provide your child the best possible learning environment while he is learning essential academic skills.

As a child with Sensory Integration Disorder gets older, he usually improves in his ability to process and cope with incoming stimuli. Once your child reaches a certain level of maturity and sensory issues aren’t overwhelming him on a daily basis, you might place your child into a small, traditional school environment. Doing so can be helpful for further enhancing his coping skills, but only after your child’s learning foundation is solid.

If you do decide to place your child into a traditional program of any kind, you will want to be certain his sensory needs are understood. You never want your child to be punished or belittled for being unable to cope with the stress Sensory Integration Disorder causes. Your child must have supportive, reassuring interactions when he is overwhelmed. Otherwise, the environment will cause unnecessary stresses.

If your child has particular sensitivities he is not yet able to manage, it is a great idea to be sure his teachers are aware of potential areas of difficulty in coping. Be sure your child’s teacher understands what Sensory Integration Disorder is.

Organizations which may be of additional assistance with your child’s Sensory Integration Disorder:

Sensory Integration Disorder Foundation

Pathways Medical Roundtable on Sensory Integration Disorder