Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

SPD is a neurological disorder in which the individual has difficulties with organizing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. There are two primary types of sensory processing challenges; hypersensitivity (which can lead to sensory avoiding behaviours) and hyposensitivity (which can lead to sensory seeking behaviours). Individuals are not always one or the other but often a combination of both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. 

What are sensory avoiding behaviours?

Individuals who demonstrate sensory avoiding behaviours may react negatively to a wide range of environmental triggers resulting in outburst or avoidance of certain stimuli. Some examples of triggers can include loud sounds, uncomfortable clothing, crowded spaces, or certain food smells or textures. Individuals who demonstrate sensory avoiding behaviours may be easily overwhelmed by people and places, seek out quiet areas in noisy environments, are easily startled by sudden noises, refuse to wear certain clothes or resist being touched or hugged.  

What are sensory seeking behaviours?

Individuals who are undersensitive to stimuli will often demonstrate sensory seeking behaviours. Examples of sensory seeking behaviours include; constantly touching objects, playing roughly or taking physical risks, a high tolerance for pain, frequently squirming and fidgeting, constantly moving, invading other people’s personal space, or being clumsy and uncoordinated. 

How can an occupational therapist help address SPD?

An occupational therapist can help to address the concerns associated with SPD by developing a specific program tailored to the individual to either increase or decrease the tolerance for sensory exposure. For individuals that exhibit tendency in hypersensitive, the basic approach involves presenting the child with sensory challenges of gradually increasing difficulty to reduce or extinguish the extreme reaction to specified stimuli. For individuals with hyposensitive reactions, a sensory diet (activities designed to provide the nervous system with the sensory input required to stay focused and engaged) would be established to placate their sensory seeking behaviours. 

Fine Motor and Handwriting Difficulties

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills involve the ability to effectively and functionally use the smaller muscles of the hands and fingers to engage in everyday activities. Some examples of the use of fine motor skills include; fastening buttons, opening lunch boxes, tying shoe laces, using pencils for printing and handwriting and using scissors. Fine motor skills are essential for performing every day self-care tasks, academic skills, and leisure activities.  

Does my child have fine motor difficulties? 

If your child has an awkward or immature pencil grasp, produces messy, slow or laborious drawings or writing skills, demonstrates difficulties with scissors, has trouble performing self-care tasks independently (including buttons, zippers or tying shoes), or tires easily when engaging in tasks that involve fine motor abilities, he/she may have fine motor difficulties.

What is involved in the occupational therapy session?

The first session would involve an initial assessment to determine areas of difficulty. Following assessment, the occupational therapist can assist and address some of the underlying pathology that may be contributing to the fine motor difficulties. Through engagement in fun and exciting activities, the program can improve the primary components that ultimately affect the child’s ability to engage in fine motor tasks. Some areas commonly addressed to improve fine motor ability include; hand dominance, bilateral integration, finger isolation and hand and finger strength. 

What is the expected outcome of a fine motor occupational therapy program?

Through a combination of specialized and individualized therapy sessions and with home/school programming, your child should improve in school readiness, academic performance of coloring, drawing, writing, cutting and pasting skills and mastery of self-care tasks.  This will help maintaining and developing a positive sense of well-being that is related to school confidence as well as fine motor play skills with peers.