Parents of children with Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, know very well that besides sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell there are other senses many forget. Depending on how you want to count it, there are between 14 and 20 different senses.
Two that I will talk about today are: vestibular and proprioceptive. Those last two senses have to do with balance and coordination.
Vestibular sense, or sense of balance or also known as sense of equilibrium, detects motion, gravity and provides us with our sense of balance. Our vestibular sense tells us which way is up, how our body is oriented in relation to up, and how our body is moving in space. The two items that cause this awareness are gravity and movement. The inner ear contains parts (the nonauditory labyrinth or vestibular organ) that are sensitive to acceleration in space, rotation, and orientation in the gravitational field.
A child diagnosed with an Autism disorder with a hypersensitive response to movement may refuse to participate in physical activities wishing only to watch from the sidelines. Hypersensitivity to movement and fear of movement are both indicators of a Vestibular Disorder.
To help an autistic child who in hypersensitive to movement, parents and caregivers can encourage much needed movement stimulation through play. Cushioning the child between two adults to give him security and then moving at various speeds will allow him/her to experience movement.
On the other side of the coin, we have children who are hypo-sensitive to movement and cannot get enough. Children who excessively crave movement and appear never to get dizzy, also may have disorders of the vestibular system. These children crave and need the vestibular stimulation that movement provides. They become the hyperactive, rough players putting themselves often in risky situations by bumping into things, climbing, spinning, swinging for long periods of time.
For these movement seekers, the best way is to allow and encourage movement but in a safe environment. Have a ‘safe room’ to move, jump, spin, climb, swing… There are many toys and wearable items that are commercially available for vestibular stimulation but the important thing is to ensure your child’s safety.
Proprioceptive sense or the kinesthetic sense provides the brain with information to be able to sense the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and its parts. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.
Neurologists test this sense by telling patients to close their eyes and touch the tip of a finger to their nose. Proprioception is what allows someone to learn to walk in complete darkness without losing balance. The proprioception “receptors” are located within our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues.
If this proprioceptive sense is not receiving or interpreting input correctly, then it is referred to as Proprioceptive Dysfunction.
As a result of proprioceptive dysfunction, some children are under responsive to proprioceptive input. Children with difficulties may perform slowly, or not be able to perform at all, when asked to follow multi-stepped directions. These children may sit still for hours if left alone. To make them more alert, caregivers must aid them to move by engaging them in pushing, pulling and stretching and contracting their muscles.
Some children with Proprioceptive Dysfunction, will be unable to stand on one foot and have difficulty with any balancing tasks. Others might have difficulty learning to go up and down stairs. You will see difficulties in activities such as skating, running, riding a bike, skipping or hitting a ball.
The child who is a Sensory Seeker is the child who might crack his knuckles, bite his nails until they bleed, chew on his fingers, chew on erasers, pencils, clothing collars, sleeves, or other inappropriate objects that bring into question safety and hygiene. This is where our Kid Companions step in as an Occupational Therapist recommended oral-motor tool. Your sensitive child can chew safely, discreetly and their fashionable shapes let your child blend in with his peers.
In an earlier post I wrote about a Sensory Diet. The professional, who will work with parents to plan a Sensory Diet for their Autistic children who need sensory input, will advise them of their child’s individual needs, help them plan activities and will recommend tools/toys that will benefit their child. So you have an idea of such products, I have shown you four.
Have you made accommodations in your home for your Special Needs child?