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Sensory/Motor Processing Disorder

Sensory integration dysfunction describes the inability of a child to process information that is communicated by the various body senses. The sensory processing disorders get classified into three categories namely sensory modulation disorder, sensory discrimination disorders and sensory-based motor disorder (Curtin, Molineux & Webb, 2009). Modulation is the brain’s regulation of own activity, in which a child may have sensory difficulty due to over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness. Children suffering from sensory-based motor disorder have a hard time navigating the world. Sensory discrimination disorder refers to the difficulty in discerning and assigning meaning to qualities of certain sensory stimuli, improper recognition, and interpretation of essential characteristics of sensory stimuli and poor detection of similarities or differences in qualities of stimuli. This section describes various types of sensory/motor processing disorders namely tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and auditory.
The tactile system is crucial in determining the mental, physical and emotional human behavior. Tactile stimulation is important for all people regardless of the age as it assists to keep us organized and to function. Tactile information is acquired through sensory receiving cells known as receptors inside our skin from head to toe. Any touch sensation of movement, pressure, temperature, vibration, and pain results in activation of tactile receptors.
Examples of behaviors when a child’s system has sensory under-responsiveness to tactile sense include the failure to react to tactile experiences such as injuries, being unaware of a dirty face and wet clothes and the constant touching of objects and people. When a child has over-responsiveness, they may experience tactile behaviors such as poor hygiene because of disliking the feel of water or a washcloth, Perceiving a simple touch as a threat, tags in clothing seem like needles piercing one’s skin and limited participation in art activities. Tactile discrimination experiences include poor fine motor skills, high pain tolerance, difficulty locating or naming items when one’s eyes are closed, the frequent dropping of items and poor speech articulation.
Family friendly activities to support the development of tactile sensory disorder
 Rubbing lotion on neck, arms, and legs using firm pressure
 Rubbing the skin briskly with a towel and wrap tightly in a towel for deep pressure after bath
 Carrying out sandwich activities such as placing the child in between couch cushions or mat and providing even pressure down onto their skin
 Doing art projects using different textures that include cotton balls, feathers, and foam
 Use of vibrating toys such as vibrating bug and bumble ball
The vestibular sense informs people of where their heads and bodies are concerning the earth’s surface. The system takes in sensory information about balance and movement from the eyes, neck, and body; then sends these messages to the central nervous system for processing and then assists in generating muscle tone that enables smooth and efficient movement (Wiener, Welsh & Blasch, 2010). An individual knows whether they are moving or standing still and whether objects are in motion or motionless concerning their bodies through communication by the vestibular system.
Vestibular dysfunction is associated with difficulties in processing language. Over-responsiveness in a child causes vestibular problems such as experiences of carsickness and avoidance of physical activities. Sensory under-responsiveness is linked to vestibular experiences such as failure to notice when one is being moved, failure to register movements effectively enough to decipher when one is dizzy and inability to notice when one is falling leading to decreased protective responses. Children who are sensory seeking may exhibit vestibular experiences such as the often love to spin and rock commonly known as roller coaster enthusiasts. Children who have vestibular-based discrimination have poor awareness of the body in space and failure to find out when they are falling.
Family friendly activities to support the development of vestibular sensory disorder
 Log rolling on flat surfaces or up and down an incline
 Blanket rides with the child pulling themselves towards the parents using a jump or other rope
 Therapy ball-bouncing on it in various positions, rolling over the ball on stomach or back with supervision
 Jumping up and down on a mini-trampoline
 Movement on swings with the child’s body placed in different positions and providing both linear and rotary input
Proprioception is the sensory information that informs us concerning own movement or the body position. The proprioceptive sense provides intake that assists in integrating touch and movement sensations. The receptors of the proprioceptive sense include muscles joint, tendons, ligaments as well as connective tissue and get activated by compression, elongation or traction (Ayres & Robbins, 2005). The proprioception plays a significant role in increasing body awareness, contributing to motor control and motor planning (praxis) as well as helps with body expression, the ability of a person to move their body parts economically and efficiently.
Proprioceptive Dysfunction refers to the inefficient processing of sensations perceived through the tendons, ligaments, muscles, connective tissue and joints. A child with poor proprioception experiences difficulty in interpreting sensations about the position as well as the head and limb motions. A child will have a poor sense of body awareness and body position. Proprioceptive discrimination is associated with experiences such as being rough with peers, clumsier as compared to peers of the same age, having difficulty using the correct force when picking up objects and also frequent pumping into objects. Children who have sensory seeking exhibit proprioception experiences such as bumping or crashing into and throwing themselves into furniture and may also be wearing tight clothing. Children who have over-responsiveness exhibit proprioception experiences such as distress caused by the necessity to move and avoidance of tight hugs or steps.
Family friendly activities to support the development of proprioceptive sensory disorder
 Allowing the child to climb/hang on things that include monkey bars, rock walls, climbing ropes and hanging rings
 Carrying, pushing and pulling objects such as stacking or moving chairs/books and riding a bike as it creates a calming sensation
 Playing games such as Twister and animal walks
 Playing with fidget toys such as play-doh, rubber bands, and stress relief balls
 Use of resistive surfaces such as sidewalk chalk on the driveway.
Vision is essential in the sensorimotor development of young children. Together with the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, it is responsible for providing feedback mechanism through which children develops, refine, self-monitor and integrate sensorimotor skills into daily functioning. When observing a baby who is sighted or who has low vision, it is easy to see the role the vision plays in the facilitation of sensorimotor development. It is the role of vision to stimulate, guide and verify an infant’s interactions with the environment.
Children with sensory over-responsiveness may experience visual related challenges such as distress caused by fluorescent lights, sensitivity to colors and also stress as result of flashing lights. Sensory under-responsiveness is associated with visual experiences such as staring into bright light, lining up toys/objects and also being overly drawn to spinning or stimulating objects.
Family friendly activities to support the development of visual sensory disorder
 Avoid sunlight and any other bright light by wearing sunglasses or hat inside and outside.
 The child may get motion sickness from too much visual input
 Avoid participation in activities with too many children as the children moving around stimulates the visual system
 Allow child to take frequent breaks so as to avoid eye strain and enhance focus
 Optometric vision therapy that involves eyes exercises
Auditory processing disorder entails of the presence of normal hearing and the brain difficulty in interpreting what it hears.
Children with sensory over-responsiveness may experience auditory-related challenges such as voices seeming to be louder, may get bothered by high pitched sounds and frequencies and may get startled by unexpected sounds including doors slamming. Sensory under-responsiveness causes auditory problems such as failure to respond to noised or to call a person’s name and also may speak loudly.
Family friendly activities to support the development of auditory sensory disorder
 Engage child in finger plays, songs, and rhymes
 During play with the child, model and also encourage utilization of environmental and animal sounds
 Promote the use of sign language and gestures so as to facilitate the child’s attempts at communication
 Label items in the child’s environment as they expand their vocabulary
 Encourage the child to imitate facial expressions and movements with lips and tongue in a mirror.
Personal Reflection
Children who have sensory/motor processing disorders usually face a broad range of challenges because they are misunderstood, misguided, misdiagnosed and frustrated. Children with these disorders that include tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and auditory can be helped and supported through different interventions and strategies. Parents can keep data about the child’s progress with an individual intervention/strategy by observing the improvements of the child’s condition. Parents play a crucial role in enabling the success of an intervention/strategy in managing a child’s condition; thus it is essential to develop a proper plan and assess its outcome frequently. Parent training enables parents to understand their children conditions and how to deal with them.

Ayres, A. J., & Robbins, J. (2005). Sensory integration and the child: Understanding hidden sensory challenges. Western Psychological Services.
Curtin, M., Molineux, M., & Webb, J. A. (2009). Occupational Therapy and Physical Dysfunction E-Book: Enabling Occupation. Elsevier Health Sciences.
Wiener, W. R., Welsh, R. L., & Blasch, B. B. (2010). Foundations of orientation and mobility (Vol. 1). American Foundation for the Blind.

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