Making Sense of Sensations

Children with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, OCD and feeding challenges are among those who may have problems with sensory integration.

We all take in a variety of information from our senses all the time. As we walk down the street, we see and feel the surface we step on. We feel how our shoes fit … or don’t. We hear birds, traffic and conversations around us. We might smell flowers, the restaurants we pass and exhaust fumes.

For most of us, the ability to take in and organize all this sensory input is second nature. Our brains process sensory information so we feel comfortable and secure, and we are able to respond to our surroundings appropriately.

For some children, however, something goes wrong with this process, which experts call “sensory integration.” Children with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, OCD and feeding challenges are among those who may have problems with sensory integration. But occupational therapists can help them take control of their environment and learn how to adjust, cope and develop successfully.

Symptoms of sensory integration problems may include:

  • Sensitivity to sensory stimulation
  • Inappropriate responses to stimulation
  • Difficulty responding to senses
  • Avoidance of sensory input
  • Being unsure of body position
  • Poor coordination
  • Limited attention skills
  • Excessively high or low activity level

“There is no simple or quick answer to improving the lives of children with sensory integration disorders,” said Jennifer Cryan, occupational therapist at CHKD, who works with children with sensory integration disorders at CHKD’s Therapy Center in Virginia Beach. “We find that a combination of therapy, parental involvement and good medical care works best. Our goal is to improve each child’s functional daily living abilities by working primarily through play activities to develop appropriate responses to experiences.”