The child with dysfunction of sensory integration (DSI) gets confused signals as the brain is interpreting information from the senses. This can cause all kinds of difficult or unusual behaviors in your son or daughter. (To understand the basics of sensory integration disorder, click here.)
We have more than five senses, including the vestibular sense, which is input from the inner ear, along with visual, auditory, and movement receptors that travel to the brainstem, reticular formation, and cerebellum for processing. This input provides information about balance and movement, and how the size of our body relates to the sizes of other objects. When a child is overreactive or underreactive to vestibular input, you might notice some of the following symptoms:
The child who is overreactive to vestibular input may crave constant physical support from adults, such as being held, rocked, guided, etc. He may be afraid to do physical things such as go up or down stairs, lay on the floor, or lean back backwards to rinse hair in the bathtub. He will probably get car sick frequently and generally dislikes rides in the car. The child may be controlling, manipulative, and uncooperative as a coping device to avoid sensations that are distressing.
The child who is underreactive to vestibular input doesn’t seem to get dizzy even after spinning for a long time, and seems to enjoy fast movement like swinging. She may be clumsy, and may stumble or fall frequently. She may not make an attempt to catch herself when she falls, and may have trouble holding her head up while sitting, and tires frequently. The child doesn’t tend to do well in sports. She may have trouble tracking a moving object, and may find it difficult to copy something visually like words on a chalkboard. It is hard for her to do things which require action from both sides of the body. She may have an awkward gait, or unusual movements of the trunk when moving arms or head. Delays in reading, writing, speech, and visual-spatial perception are typical.
What can be done?
Sensory integration therapy can be provided by an occupational or behavioral therapist. First the child must be assessed to develop a sensitivity profile, in order to begin treatment. Ask your child’s pediatrician or contact the school district to request an assessment. As the parent, you can also make your own determination of your child’s levels of sensitivity, which can assist the therapist. (See my blog: What is your child’s sensitivity profile?) Typically a child can receive one to two sessions per week, where fun, playful activities are used to help integrate the child to sensory stimuli which would otherwise be overwhelming or lacking. Most parents report that sensory integration therapy has been very helpful and they have seen improvement in behaviors in their children.
To read more articles related to sensory integration dysfunction, click here.
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