Sensory Processing

Top 10 Signs for Sensory Modulation Disorders

Dr. Jean Ayres, often considered the “founder” of sensory processing theory, defined modulation as the “brain’s regulation of its own activity”. It involves facilitating some neural messages to produce an enhanced response and inhibiting other messages to reduce activity. She highlighted the role of the vestibular system in modulating the activity of the other systems.

Modulation has also be referred to as the process that keeps brain activity in harmony with all the other functions of the nervous system.

1.) Excessive difficulty falling asleep

2.) Excessive / extreme tantrums

3.) Difficult controlling emotions

4.) Aggressive behaviors

5.) Excessive difficulty staying asleep

6.) Sensitivities to touch input

7.) Sensitivities to movement input

8.) Sensitivities to sounds and/or visual input

9.) General irritability

10.) General anxiety

Sample Sensory Diet

Here we have a sample sensory diet. Please note that each child’s sensory diet should be created in conjunction with the therapy team and be tailored to meet each individual child’s needs.

EXAMPLE: Let’s take Hope for example. Hope is a 3 year old girl demonstrating signs of tactile defensiveness as well as some vestibular sensory seeking behaviors. Hope struggles with increasing the variety of foods she eats as she mainly eats dry cereal, chicken nuggets, crackers, and milk. She also struggles with engaging in seated tasks like coloring, playing
simple card games with the family, and staying near her parents in public. Hope
spends her days at childcare 5 days a week. After examining Hope’s routines and
finding the times she struggles most, the parents, preschool teacher, and Hope’s
OT had a group meeting and came up with the following sensory diet.

6:30 am – Wake up
6:30 – 6:45 – Hope plays in the living room and usually does well entertaining herself
as she seems to calm at this time of day.
6:45 – 7:00 – Breakfast. Prior to sitting down, the family will get Hope dressed
and provide her with

Lotion rub , massage with vibrating massager on her arms and legs, or complete pillow squishes
While eating breakfast, Hope will be encouraged to put her new weighted lap pad on her lap or across her shoulders.

7:00- 7:30 – More play time before leaving for preschool. Hope tends to get into
trouble this time of day as she gets into places she’s not supposed to. Try heavy
work tasks to help with organization.

Push weighted laundry basket around upstairs bedrooms while parents finish getting ready
Roll 8 lb medicine ball around bedroom
Help water indoor plants with gallon jug

7:30- 8:00 – transition to Preschool
8:00 – 8:15 – Greeting time at preschool. Hope struggles […]

Help with sleeping problems

Working with the 0-3 age group, I hear parents so frequently talk about difficulties with sleep, both bedtime and naps.  Over the past few years, I’ve come to two conclusions: Sometimes, we really do have to wait for their neurological system to mature such that they are able to self calm better.  Don’t stop reading yet!  I know that’s not a great answer, but I’ve found sometimes it’s the truth.  That being said, I have picked up a few tricks from some very incredible parents and foster families.  Here is a list I would start with:

1. Establish a routine.
Routine: A set of customary and often mechanically performed procedures or activities.
I know a lot of parents (including myself) have heard this suggestion and say “I have a good routine set up, moving on…”  I challenge families to get a very strict, regimented bedtime routine set up when you’re really ready to commit to work on improving night time sleeping (which could make for a long couple of nights…).

Here is an example of a bedtime routine

6:00-6:30   Family dinner (no TV, no music)
6:30-6:50   Bath (consider turning bath lights down low, adding classical music, and lavender in the water.  If the running water is loud and difficult for your child to tolerate, get the bath water ready prior to bed)
6:50 – 6:55 Lotion rub with lavender lotion – long, slow, firm strokes on arms and legs.  Can be followed joint compressions if parent is trained by OT.
6:55 – 7:10 Three bed time books
7:15 – 7:20 Lights out, child in bed alone

2. Consider the bedroom environment. I had a parent tell me ” I thought I had a great space set up, but I went in there one night when she was sick and I […]

How do I know if it’s a “Sensory Issue” or something else??

I think the answer to this question is very popular and yet very hard to answer. It can be very difficult to see a child for an hour session that includes observations as well as parent interview and then be able to determine if the child has Sensory Processing Disorder. Actually, I would say it’s almost impossible. Yet, what we can do is look to see if a set of behaviors are interfering enough with the child’s and family’s daily life such that we think intervention / further support is needed.

For example, if a child is showing sensitivities to playing in sand and requests a napkin right away when his hands get messy during eat, I’m not ready to say this boy has tactile processing delays. After more questions and observations, though, it is revealed this boy struggles with registering when his bath water is too hot, he likes to wear long sleeves at all times, he struggles with brushing teeth such that his parents have actually stopped working on the task because it was too stressful, and he does not seem to register pain. With this added information, it seems this boy is struggling with registering different tactile inputs correctly such that he is showing both over responsiveness (hypersensitivity) to some input AND showing under responsiveness (hyposensitivty) to other tactile input…remember pain and temperature are registered through tactile receptors.

So, how do we know if it’s a sensory processing delays or not? We continues to observe the child in a variety of settings and look for red flags for processing delays. We also need to examine the child’s mental, social, and emotional abilities to see if there are contributing factors. I saw a child […]

Sensory Modulation and Sensory Processing Disorder

Another area of sensory processing is the referred to as sensory modulation.

Dr. Jean Ayres, often considered the “founder” of sensory Processing theory, defined modulation as the “brain’s regulation of its own activity”. It involves facilitating some neural messages to produce an enhanced response and inhibiting other messages to reduce activity. She highlighted the role of the vestibular system in modulating the activity of the other systems.

Modulation has also be referred to as the process that keeps brain activity in harmony with all the other functions of the nervous system.

Possible Signs of Modulation deficits:

Getting aggressive–pinching or spitting, usually in a taunting way
being extremely silly
Being unresponsive
Laughing uncontrollably
Losing control of his body–getting extremely limp and/or clumsy
Resists new situations
Can be very impulsive or distractible.
Becoming either hyper- or hypo-sensitive to pain and other physical stimuli
Humming and clicking while wandering around aimlessly

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

To understand Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), it is important to first understand what sensory processing is.  Sensory processing, formerly described as sensory integration, is the ability of our nervous system to take in information from our own bodies as well as the environment, process that information, and then make an appropriate response. Think of sensory processing like your brain’s super highway, with hundreds of pieces of information whizzing by each second in an organized, yet fast paced way.  Your brain then takes in all those hundreds of pieces of information and helps you make an appropriate motor response. For example, if you are getting ready to push a door open, your body instantaneously responds to the weight of the door and your body knows when to push hard on a heavy door, or when to push gently on a light door.

Now, imagine that super highway has construction and those hundreds of pieces of information are getting backed up.  Or, imagine that those cars’ GPS systems are malfunctioning and each car is taking the wrong exit. This is similar to what happens when a child is experiencing Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Basically, SPD is when a person has an immature or delayed response to sensory input. The information they are receiving from their bodies as well as from the environment is not getting to the brain in an organized, efficient way. As a result, the response the person gives does not tend to match the information received.

For example, if a child touches a sticky wet substance (finger paint), they may have difficulty perceiving that input as a safe, wet substance and instead misinterpret that touch (tactile) input as unsafe and threatening. […]

Top 10 red flags for Sensory Processing Disorder

I wanted to put this list out there because one of the most common questions I get from parents and other professionals is “What should I look for if I think it’s a “sensory” issue?”.  This list is by no means inclusive of all of the difficulties a child can have as a result of processing delays but does hit on some of the most common symptoms we see with SPD.

1.      Difficulty with grooming tasks, specifically having teeth brushed, hair and nails cut, and washing hair and body. We are talking about SIGNIFICANT dislike…so much so that it might take multiple adults to hold the child down to cut nails, the family has stopped even attempting to give the child hair cuts, or the child is unsafe in the bath tub because they have such huge fits when getting washed/handled in the water.

2.      Picky eater. Refusing certain food textures (smooth, crunchy, lumpy) or resisting certain flavors / temperatures.  Unfortunately, this can be hard because lost of toddlers are picky eaters.  But, again, we are looking for  pretty significant difficulties with feeding, so much that the family routine and/or child’s nutrition are being disrupted.  We might see a child only wanting crunch foods (pretzels, chips, crackers) or not eating foods with multiple textures (peanut butter and jelly sandwhich). Sometimes children show a tendency to want only beige starch foods (french fries, bread, crackers).  Other children might resist certain temperatures (only want food at room temperature, NOTHING cold).

3.      Extreme difficulty with having face and hands get messy during feeding and play activities. I hear parents say “He will shake his hand and whine until I wipe his hand clean if he gets any food on it […]

What is Sensory Processing?

This brief video provides a concise summary of what sensory processing is, as well as “red flags” for sensory processing delays.

Sensory Made Simple from Krista Murphy on Vimeo.