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  • Writer's pictureDr. Stephens-Sarlós Erzsébet

"Sensory processing" in nine points

small child with paint on their hands

Dear Parents!

I receive many questions about so-called "sensory processing." I will try to summarize the most important information in 9 points.

1. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has difficulties in receiving, processing, and responding to sensory stimuli from the body and the environment.

2. The problem can manifest in the areas of vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, as well as in the perception of movement and body position, the sensing of internal organ function (visceroception), the perception of the position of body parts relative to each other and the head (proprioception), and in the area of balance perception.

3. There are three main types of sensory processing disorder:

  • Sensory Modulation Disorder: This includes an excessive or weak response to stimuli, or the seeking of certain stimuli. For example, when a child wants to smell or touch everything, or fidgets excessively.

  • Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Individuals have difficulty distinguishing sensory stimuli or cannot interpret them accurately. This includes difficulties in auditory discrimination, processing issues related to vision, problems with taste and nutrition, and the "do I need to go to the bathroom or not?" issue.

  • Sensory-Based Motor Disorder: This affects coordination, motor skills, abilities, and balance (especially in static situations) due to difficulties in sensory processing.

4. The symptoms of SPD are quite diverse. It may be that a child dislikes loud noises and covers their ears, but it can also be a symptom when they enjoy listening to music or stories very loudly. They may have difficulty distinguishing shapes from the background, or parts from the whole in a given task. They want to touch, feel, or fidget with everything, or, conversely, dislike having dirty or sandy hands. They want clothing tags to be cut off. Although they love spinning and twirling, they may flatly refuse to sit on any moving play equipment, including swings. Their fine and gross motor coordination is weak. They don't feel when they need to urinate and as a result wet the bed at night, or do so even when they are immersed in playing. Others don't feel the urge to have a bowel movement and withhold their stool for days, which can become so hard that it causes pain during eventual elimination.

Sensory processing disorder often leads to emotional and behavioral problems, as well as difficulties in adapting to a changing environment. The list above is far from exhaustive!

5. The exact causes of sensory processing disorder are not known, but research findings indicate that both internal factors (genetics, maternal drug consumption, perinatal oxygen deprivation, stress during pregnancy) and external factors (environmental pollution, food additives, under- or overstimulation of the child, early use of mobile phones and other digital devices, etc.) can influence its development.

6. How does a child become "sensory"? I have written many times about the significant importance of primitive reflexes during infancy. Now I will discuss it again. One of the primary roles of primitive reflexes in infancy is to initiate, refine, and perfect sensory perception. These reflexes help the baby to touch, turn their head so that they don’t only look forward, hear clearly, have proper balance perception, and the list goes on.

When a primitive reflex can be triggered in a child after the age of 2.5-3 years, it indicates that in order for their nervous system to mature, it still needs the movements induced (caused) by that reflex. Therefore, the child needs to perform sensorimotor exercises that will result in the inhibition of that reflex. These movements transform into electrical signals in the nervous system and will stimulate the appropriate areas of the cerebral cortex, thus "maturing" it. If this does not happen, the child remains "sensory" and immature.Top of Form

young girl on the swing

7. From the above, it follows that in most cases, SPD can be alleviated with targeted sensorimotor exercises. The main goal of these exercises is to help the child process sensory information better and more accurately, select and ignore irrelevant stimuli, and organize important stimuli. This is sensory integration.

8. The earlier that exercises are begun for addressing sensory processing disorders, the more effective they will be. Since no two individuals are exactly alike, and the severity of symptoms varies, there may be differences in the results.

9. The literature always emphasizes the importance of the role of families, parents, and caregivers in addressing and resolving the problem.

For those experiencing sensory processing disorder, I strongly recommend daily performance of targeted exercises. Of course, it's essential to first rule out the possibility of any underlying organic (physical) conditions or illnesses.

On my website you can find a video package of exercises specifically designed for SPD - also accessible through the trailer video below. Additionally, it is advisable to perform one or two sensory exercises or games daily from my book The Stephens-Sarlós Program. The sensory exercises start on page 355.

I wish you successful exercising!


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