“Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively” (SPD Foundation) 1
According to Winnie Dunn, Ph.D. OTR, FOATA, there is a hypothesized interaction between the neurological thresholds continuum related to sensory systems and the resulting behavioral response continuum. A neurological threshold, according to Dunn “is the amount of stimuli required for a neuron or neuron system to respond”. Within this continuum an individual may have a very high threshold, indicating that more stimulation is required to trigger a reaction. With a low threshold, it takes very little stimulation to trigger a reaction. Dunn defines behavioral response as “the way people act in consideration of their thresholds”. On the behavioral response continuum, individuals respond in accordance with their neurological threshold or at the other end of the continuum, they respond to counteract their neurological threshold, hoping to reach a sense of stability. (Sensory Profile 1999)
If an individual’s sensory processing is functioning effectively, neurological input to a sensory system is more likely to stimulation an appropriate action or behavior. If the neurological threshold is too high or too low, the response will be impacted in some way which will interfere with the most efficient (or comfortable) way to manage or process information.
It is important to understand how our senses impact learning and the ability to respond appropriately since these skills are foundational to so many life skills. Think about it, academic success, self-help skills, play skills, and social skills are all dependent on the ability to take in sensory information in inappropriate ways. We have six sensory systems: touch, movement, body position, visual, auditory, and taste/smell. Though it is obvious how an individual is effected when there is a hearing or vision impairment, challenges with the sense of where we are in space, or the ability to tolerate touch or textures can also be very debilitating if left unaddressed. Sensory integration disorder treatment alleviates sensory challenges through correcting thresholds (in some cases) and teaching strategies for self modulation in others.
One excellent program, The Alert Program for Self-Regulation (Williams OTR/L and Shellenberger OTR/L), teaches “awareness of how children regulate arousal states and then teaches sensorimotor strategies to manage levels of alertness”. Occupational therapists with training and experience related to sensory integration disorders can evaluate and treat a child with sensory challenges. For more information about the Alert Program, or sensory integration disorder treatment, visit www.speechandot.com or call 972-424-0148. An experienced occupational therapist will be happy to answer questions about sensory processing.