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Every child misbehaves now and then. How can you tell whether a student’s inappropriate behavior stems from behavioral issues or sensory dysfunction that can cause inexplicable reactions to everyday happenings to be confusing and even heartbreaking to endure?

 About Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory integration (SI) is the organization of sensory input and sensations to produce appropriate responses to situations, events, emotions and expectations. SI involves not only the five commonly-known senses, but also the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The former relates to movement sensations, such as swinging or going down a playground slide, while the latter provides critical information to the muscles and joints. For instance, the proprioceptive system directs a person’s legs to apply more pressure when climbing stairs versus walking on flat ground.

The brain takes information from the body’s sensory systems and arranges so that the body can make sense of its surroundings and react properly to them. SI needs to be processed, organized and acted upon in order for a person to behave appropriately and learn efficiently. If sensations can be well managed, the brain can form perceptions, then concepts, and then deliver meanings. SI provides a crucial foundation for normal learning and behavior.

For most children, SI occurs automatically and effortlessly. But for some, the process is inefficient and is called sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration dysfunction.

Signs That It’s SPD

In children with SPD, extensive effort and attention are required for SI to occur; in fact, it may not occur at all. The result is inappropriate behavior and for SPD sufferers, goals that most people take for granted often are out of reach.

SPD is a neurological problem which impacts motor skills, social skills, and other abilities critical to basic academic success and childhood accomplishments. Daily functioning does not come naturally. Children with SPD must expend vast amounts of energy just to pay attention to their teachers, follow directions, acclimate to their environment, or focus on the task at hand. What should be a routine function becomes the source of severe exhaustion and frustration.

Behaviors exhibited by children with SPD include:

  • Inattentiveness and distractibility.
  • Non-compliance and lack of cooperation.
  • “Out of control” behavior.
  • Hyperactivity or constant motion.
  • Signs of tiredness, fatigue or disengagement.
  • Over or under-responsiveness.
  • Squirming or fidgeting.
  • Difficulty stabilizing the body when sitting, i.e., leaning on others, laying down or moving around.
  • Crashing to the ground or into walls or other people.
  • Aggressiveness or poor impulse control.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Nervousness or anxiety.
  • Irritability, inflexibility or tantrums.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Withdrawal, especially when feeling challenged.
  • Disorganization or wandering.
  • Sensitivity to sounds or visual stimulation.
  • Difficulty in making transitions, making friends, standing in line or interacting with peers.
  • Speaking in an inappropriately loud voice.

Recent studies show that SPD may impact as many as five to 10 percent of children. These children are not intentionally misbehaving. They need the adults in their lives to advocate for them and help with strategies and accommodations so they can be successful – and enjoy something as simple as a birthday party, a reading lesson or a trip down the playground slide.

To learn more about techniques and developments to enhance your school-based therapy career, read our related posts or contact the experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.


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