Sensory Disorders can be hard to understand in children. After all, sometimes kids are very energetic and excited or want to play for hours without stopping to eat. But, you may have noticed things in your child and wondered: how do I check for sensory disorders in children?
They are usually called Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) or sensory integration disorders. Here, this is a basic explanation of the different types of sensory disorders and what that looks like in children. To help you moms out there, I am going to make most of this a bulleted list, so you can read it quickly and easily.
Note: I am not a doctor or psychologist. Posts on this site are for informational purposes, and parents are encouraged to seek their physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or another medical professional for a thorough examination of their child.
My Sources for Learning about Sensory Disorders in Children
Much of this information I have obtained from a lovely site/organization called the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing.
First, the founder of the Star Institute and the SPD Foundation is Dr. Lucy Jane Miller. Dr. L.J. Miller made a nationally recognized standard for assessing sensory disorders in preschool children, called the Miller Assessment for Preschoolers (MAP.) Since then, she has continued her research into assessing and treating sensory disorders in children and adults. If you want to read more about her background, you can click here.
Also, I will be using some info from Pathways.org. Just so you know, Pathways.org is a free resource for parents, which checks all the latest research with a team of medical professionals and is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Plus, I have used some information from Healthline.
Just so you know, I make a point of checking the history, credentials, validity, etc. of each site or professional that I use on my posts. I do not want to contribute to false information that can harm others.
Basic FAQs About Sensory Disorders in Children
Are there various types of sensory disorders?
Yes, there are 3 main types and at least 8 subtypes.
Can my child have more than one type or subtype of sensory disorder?
Yes children can have multiple different types of sensory conditions.
How can there be so many subtypes?
Well, SPD can affect each of the senses or only some of the senses.
Wait, don't we only have 5 senses?
Of course, there are 5 externally related senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. But there are other senses too.
So what are the other senses?
Then, the other senses are “vestibular, interoceptive, and proprioceptive”
What does vestibular mean?
So, “The vestibular sense, also known as the movement, gravity, and/or balance sense, allows us to move smoothly. We are able to maintain our balance while engaged in activities because of this sense. While the vestibular helps us with balance while we walk and run, it also helps us stay upright when we sit and stand.” Pathways.org
What does interoceptive mean?
“This is a sense that helps us know what’s going on inside our body. Interoception helps us realize that we’re hungry, tired, or too hot or cold.” Pathways.org
Also, this can be a sense that tells us when we have to use the bathroom. Basically, it's dealing with the internal organs.
What does proprioceptive mean?
So, “Proprioception is the body awareness sense. It tells us where our body parts are without having to look for them. This helps to know where body parts are relative to each other, which strengthens our coordination skills. It also tells us how much force to use when we’re holding, pushing, pulling, or lifting objects.” Pathways.org
The First Pattern of SPD: Sensory Modulation Disorder, a Sensory Disorder
So you know, this means “Difficulty regulating responses to sensory stimuli” The Star Institute
Subtype: Sensory Over-Responsive
- Compared to others, this person feels things are too much: too loud, too bright, etc.
- They may have a flight or fight response.
- Also, they could possibly have to cover ears, withdraw to avoid touch, etc.
- Furthermore, they may scream when clipping nails, brushing hair or other simple tasks
Subtype: Sensory Under-responsivity
- May be quiet, withdrawn, passive, disengaged
- Also, they may not notice pain or hot/cold objects
- Because they don't have a tactile response, they may have “poor body awareness” and appear clumsy or uncoordinated
Subtype: Sensory Craving, a Sensory Disorder
- For this child, they will seek or crave sensory stimulation
- May be “constantly moving, crashing, bumping, and/or jumping“
- Plus, they may need lots of affection or may get into people's personal space often
- Thought to have ADHD or ADD, though they may not have it
- Of note, additional sensory input may not regulate this child
Pattern 2: Sensory-Based Motor Disorder
“Difficulty with balance, motor coordination, and the performance of skilled, non-habitual and/or habitual motor tasks” Star Institute
Subtype: Postural Disorder, a Sensory Disorder
- This child may have “difficulty stabilizing his/her body during movement or at rest”
- Could not be able to “reach, push, pull, etc.”
- Also, they may not have “good resistance against force”
- They “often do not have the body control to maintain a good standing or sitting position.” Star Institute
Subtype: Dyspraxia/Motor Planning Problems
- For this child, typically struggle with new tasks
- Typically look “clumsy, awkward, and accident-prone.”
- “May break toys, have poor skill in ball activities or other sports, or have trouble with fine motor activities.”
- Plus, some may avoid sports or try to hide their struggles with talking or with fantasy play. Star Institute
Pattern 3: Sensory Discrimination Disorder
“Difficulty interpreting subtle qualities of objects, places, people or other environments” Star Institute
Auditory Discrimination Disorder (DD), a Sensory Disorder
- For this child, usually have difficulty interpreting or understanding things that are heard
Visual Discrimination Disorder (DD)
- By definition, trouble understanding visual cues and things that are seen
Tactile DD, a Sensory Disorder
- For this child, they can struggle to understand things that are touched/felt
- This includes stereognosis (identifying 3D qualities of an item by touch) and graphesthesia (recognizing symbols drawn on the skin)
- By definition, they can have trouble understanding the “movement of the body through space or against gravity”
- May affect “moving smoothly“: walking on stairs, riding a bicycle
- Also, this can affect “maintaining balance: riding in a moving vehicle, rocking back and forth”
- Plus, they may have trouble sitting/standing up: “sliding down a slide and staying upright“, upright posture while standing
- This child may not know where body parts are in relation to other body parts or how to hold or catch things
- May have difficulty brushing hair (reaching the right spot on head, using the right pressure to brush)
- Plus, they can be unsure how to hold an egg, so it doesn't crack
- Not knowing how far to kick to reach a ball in sports, where to extend an arm to catch a ball
- Also, this child may break pencils or crayons while using them because they do not know how much pressure to use in writing.
- Furthermore, they “may engage in rough play, with pushing, biting, or kicking.”
- Typically, this is not understanding or misinterpreting what is tasted
- Basically, they may misinterpret something that they smelled.
- What this means is, they may not understand what their internal organs need
- They may not feel the need to use the toilet
- Also, they could have “frequent…complaints such as stomach aches”
- Maybe not feel hungry or thirsty, though they have not eaten or had a drink in some time
- In addition, some children may not feel afraid
- They may not understand when they are tired and need to sleep.
- Plus, they could not recognize the need to cool off on a hot day.
Summary, Plus a Checklist
- In conclusion, Sensory Processing Disorders have many different subtypes
- Plus, children can have several of the subtypes of SPD
- Here is a checklist to help you with looking into your child's behaviors
- Remember, this post and the above checklist are just guides. I encourage you to find a medical professional to help with diagnosis and treatment.
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