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Sensory processing disorder (that is also referred to as sensory integration disorder) can be explained as abnormal motor and behavioral responses to sensory stimuli. In the early 1970s, Dr. A. Jean Ayres defined the basic concept of sensory processing disorder as “neurological traffic jam” that impedes the normal flow of sensory information to certain areas of the brain. According to the data presented by Roianne R. Ahn the prevalence of sensory processing disorder in children under 6 years is 5.3%. In another study conducted by A. Ben-Sasson author suggested that one on every 6 children has sensory processing disorder.

Sensory processing disorder, just like other neuro-developmental conditions is idiopathic (no cause can be ascertained). However, some researchers also believe that the pathogenesis of sensory processing disorder is mainly multi-factorial (a complex interplay of environmental, inherited and nutritional factors). Other risk factors that are also implicated in the development of sensory processing disorder are low socio-economic conditions and living with a single parent.

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The key symptoms of sensory processing disorders vary in severity and presentation in different children. Make sure to keep a record of all the symptoms manifested by child at home or at school in order to devise functional strategies and to discuss with the occupational therapist. Common symptoms manifested by most children are that the child often responds uniquely or somewhat differently to noise, crowd, strong smells and variations in temperatures. All the sensory, visual and tactile stimulations significantly alter the response, reasoning and functioning of child and may interfere with day to day activities like learning, eating and playing. Children often present with difficulties in getting potty trained, getting dressed and other minor motor skills, repetitive behavior like crashing or bumping into things and objects, trouble in interacting with other children of the same age group, emotional disability, frustration and anger issues are often displayed by child due to blockade in the sensory integration and/or sow self esteem due to difficulty in performing at school and maintaining social interactions.

Occupational therapy for sensory processing disorder should be initiated as early as possible (preferably during childhood) for fruitful results. Ideally, it is recommended to speak to an occupational therapist for a step wise and schematic approach. Occupational therapy is needed to promote normal childhood development and to promote normal eating, sleeping and playing habits while preparing the children to interact with parents, peers, teachers and other people in their surroundings.

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Occupational therapists design functional and reasonable goals for the child. For example, occupational therapist promotes execution of simple activities like teaching how to fasten buttons, initiating and promoting messy play, development of appropriate and functional pencil grip, and encouraging self and group play for example catching a ball.

Occupational therapists also work with parents in the formulation of a routine for your child, so that you can continue the therapy at home too but in a playful manner that does not interfere with the confidence and self-esteem.

Occupational therapists also initiate sensory diets (that involves introduction of certain activities that stimulate sensory system of children). This includes active participation of parents, siblings, teachers and other members of the community who interact with child.

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Occupational therapists work with children to promote sensory development in a structured and organized atmosphere (also referred to as sensory gym) that is designed to stimulate the brain of child persistently. The children are kept stimulated via games and activities that are interesting, stimulating and challenging. Clinicians and therapists also employ specially designed listening devices and other equipment to promote sensory processing and integration by mental training and exercises.

The research report presented by Jane Case-Smith concluded that improvements in the behavioral patterns are observed when sensory integration approach is utilized in children with sensory integration disorder. Smith employed goal directed mastery play techniques in 5 children and identified that three of 5 children showed remarkable improvement in social interactions and motor planning with occupational therapy for 3 weeks only. In addition, 4 of 5 children showed a significant decrease in the episodes of “nonengaged behavior”.

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Speak to an occupational therapist if your child is also displaying features of sensory processing disorder, autism or other developmental defects.

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