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Sensory integration difficulties

Sensory integration difficulties, also called sensory processing difficulties, is a term for conditions where a person has trouble making use of information from the senses.

For example, auditory processing disorder causes hearing or listening problem because the brain doesn't process sounds correctly.

Most people don't have to think about information received from touch, hearing, vision, taste and smell, as well as movement and body position. Processing this information happens automatically.

Nerves send information to the brain and the information is used to understand what is going on in the body and the environment around us. These automatic processes usually develop during childhood.

Stages of sensory processing include:

  • Registering
  • Orientating
  • Organising
  • Interpreting
  • Responding

Processing this information is important for learning, everyday activities and socialising.

How do sensory integration difficulties affect people?

If the brain doesn't use and process sensory information correctly, it can lead to development and behaviour problems.

Sensory processing difficulties can affect people in different ways - including the severity and the senses affected.

This can range from being intolerant to some clothing fabrics to ignoring the warning signals from something that is very hot.

One person may be afraid of heights while another seems to have no fears at all.

A person with sensory integration difficulties may be accident prone because of balance problems, or may not be able to tell the taste of good food from bad. A child may be a fussy eater.

Some people seem to have too few sensations while others are extra sensitive.

There are three main categories of sensory integration difficulties:

  • Sensory modulation disorder - with problems grading or regulating responses to senses.
  • Sensory discrimination disorder - when a person has difficulty interpreting specific aspects from the senses, such as speed and duration.
  • Sensory-based motor disorder - including dyspraxia-related problems with sequencing, organisation and motor skills - and postural disorder affecting balance and core stability. Posture may be affected and a child may be fidgety.


Diagnosis of sensory integration difficulties

Sensory processing disorder may be noticeable in very young babies or may not be detected until a child is older.

It may be diagnosed as a separate condition, or alongside autism spectrum disorders.

A child with sensory integration difficulties may be educationally gifted, while another may have learning difficulties.

It isn't known what causes the condition, but there may be some inherited components, complications before or at birth or environmental factors.

What should you do if you think your child may have sensory integration difficulties?

Talk to your GP or health visitor for younger children.

A child may be referred to a professional therapist such as an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or speech and language therapist for an assessment.

If sensory integration difficulties are diagnosed, a tailored programme of therapy will be planned.

Special activities may be arranged at home and school to help a child and their parents.

Certain changes to a child's environment may be recommended to help them cope with sensory integration difficulties.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 22, 2016

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