Many children who end up in state care (domestic foster or international adoption) have sensory processing issues. While these issues create additional complexity for families caring for orphans, recent research and therapy advances have made sensory processing issues much less scary and easier to address.
Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Sensory processing disorder (“SPD”) 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 SPD is not treated effectively.
Symptoms of sensory processing disorder occur across a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic and they may disrupt everyday life.
Sensory processing disorder can affect people in only one sense – for example, just touch or just sight or just movement – or in multiple senses at once. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive.
Children with sensory processing disorder often have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed for school success and childhood accomplishments. As a result, they may become socially isolated and suffer from low self-esteem and other social/emotional issues. Most children with SPD are just as intelligent as their peers. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information, and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs.
The root causes of SPD are not known but research has shown that both environmental and biological impacts play a role in the development of SPD. Families who are adopting children who have been institutionalized for a period of time should expect that the child may experience varying levels of SPD, even if not noticeable in early meetings. Even children who are adopted at birth may have SPD depending upon prenatal experiences, biology and other unknown factors. In short, SPD is a condition that may be experienced by a wide range of families who adopt.
Once children with sensory processing disorder have been accurately diagnosed, they benefit from a treatment program of occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach.
Project HOPEFUL has developed resources to help you parent a child with SPD.