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Sensory Integration Disorder

What is it?

The nervous system receives and processes information from the senses. This process is called sensory integration. Sensory Integration Disorder describes the situation where the process is not working well. The condition is sometimes also called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

For example, if the processing of touch is affected a person may over-respond or under-respond to physical contact. If processing of the sensory messages from the muscles is affected motor skills can be affected. A child with Sensory Integration Disorder may have difficulty reacting appropriately to light or sound. Any one, or multiple senses can be affected.

Dr. A. Jean Ayres, the leading figure in understanding the disorder, described the condition as a “neurological traffic jam” preventing sensory information from getting where it needed to go.

Children with Sensory Integration Disorder are not intellectually impaired, however if they are not helped then their ability to succeed academically can be hindered by the condition. As well, the stress caused by the condition can lead to anxiety, depression or behaviour problems.
The symptoms can be confused with ADHD, and so it is always important that children get a proper diagnosis so that they can get the proper treatment.

What causes it?

The causes of Sensory Integration Disorder are not known; it is probably the result of both genetic and environmental factors.

Treatment considerations

Occupational Therapy can help the child manage whatever challenges they face. The basic approach is to present the child with sensory challenges of gradually increasing difficulty. Other therapies may be helpful depending on the specific goals of the child and their parents.

Developmental considerations

Sensory Integration Disorder is not strongly associated with any other developmental issues.

Looking down the road

If children are helped to manage around their sensory problems then there should be no insurmountable problems. However, adults who have not been diagnosed or treated may have struggled with the condition their whole lives leading to underachievement or depression.


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