Hello and Good morning! 

I hope you’re all ready to talk about something other than coronavirus and quarantine, cause we sure are! Today, we’re going to begin exploring the world of neurodiversity.

Nuerodiversity is a word that has been around since the late 90’s but really gained traction in the last 3 to 5 years. It refers to “the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders)” (23).

If you’re new to the journey of nuerodiversity, it can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you’re struggling to get a grasp on what your little one may be struggling with. So we’ve compiled a beginner’s vocabulary list with the intention of helping you better understand the needs and challenges of a child with sensory processing disorder. We believe that understanding is the foundation for strong connections and proper care, the cornerstones of a healthy and balanced life.

This list and the words on it can be difficult to wrap your head around, so we divided it into three categories, each dealing with different concepts relating to sensory processing and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). We’ll circle back to this list and expand on these concepts and ways to address them at home in the coming weeks.

The Basics: What is sensory processing?

Sensory Processing: refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses in our bodies. (1)

Nervous System: A complex collection of nerves and specialized cells called neurons that send and receive signals to different parts of the body. The nervous system can be compared to a home’s electrical system, carrying ‘messages’ of electricity all over the house. (3)

Senses: Senses are the ways in which our bodies take in information about the world around us. There are actually 8 senses, not 5, that help us navigate the world: visual (sight), auditory (sound), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), vestibular, proprioception, and interoception (14, 15).

Vestibular Sensory System: The vestibular system is a complex system of structures located in the inner ear and is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, spatial orientation, and helps us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, maintain our posture and control our eye movement (15, 16). It is an essential part of movement and equilibrium.

Proprioception: The proprioception sensory system is the sense that lets our brains perceive the position, location, orientation and movement of our muscles and joints. It provides us with a sense of the relative position of neighboring body parts and the effort needed to move those body parts. The proprioception system runs throughout the body with receptors in the inner ear, joints and muscles. There are two kinds of proprioception, conscious and unconscious, each with its own distinct pathway of communication to the brain (15, 17).

Interoception: The sensory system that relays information to our brains about the physical or physiological condition of our bodies. Sensations of hunger and thirst are examples of the interoception system at work. This system’s primary function is to guide the regulation of our bodies through heart rate, respiration, hunger and elimination. Interoception tells us what our bodies are feeling by creating feelings like pain, temperature and itch, among others. There is some evidence to suggest that our feelings of energy, stress and well-being are based on sensations received from our interoception systems and interpreted by our brains (15).

Photo via Healthline Parenthood

Foundational Concepts

Bilateral Coordination: the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner. This can look one of three ways: both sides doing the same motions, alternating motions, or different motions on each side (11). Bilateral coordination is key to the development of gross motor skills (12).

Motor planning: the ability to conceive, plan and carry out a non-habitual motor task in the correct sequence from beginning to end (10).

Occupational Therapy (OT): a form of therapy that works with patients throughout the lifespan, to help them develop the skills necessary to complete tasks or activities of daily living (ADL) through the therapeutic use of daily activities. Some of the most common occupational therapy interventions include working with children with disabilities, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support to older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes (19, 20).

Praxis: The complex, multi step neurological process where cognition (thinking) directs motor action (movement) in our bodies (7). The process that is praxis is made of three distinct parts; ideation or the ability to conceptualize an activity, motor planning or the brain’s ability to organize and sequence novel (or unfamiliar) motor actions, and finally, execution, performing the motor action (8).

Sensory Inputs: The stimuli that is perceived by the systems of sensory receptors located throughout our bodies. Each system responds to different inputs or forms of stimuli. Anything that you perceive with your senses can be called sensory input.

Sensory Perceptual Disorders: Cognitive disorders characterized by an impaired ability to perceive the nature of objects, concepts or environments through use of the sensory organs throughout the body. (21)

Stimulation/Stimuli: Relative to Sensory Processing, stimuli is an object or event that is perceived by the senses and elicits a response from the body. The stimulus can be from light, heat, smell, taste or any form of information perceived by our eight senses (18).

Sensory Processing Disorder Patterns and Subtypes

Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD: A complex set of conditions that involve an inability to accurately intake and correctly process sensory stimulation, or information(13). Current research suggests that there are six subtypes of SPD that fall into three major patterns, each describing a different way sensory perception is affected (13). A child with SPD will perceive and respond to stimuli differently than a child without it (2). The brain misinterprets the incoming signals, causing it to misfire and give an inappropriate response (4). Imagine a child with poor eyesight trying to play baseball without their glasses. When the ball is thrown, their brain misinterprets it’s location, causing them to react too early, too late or maybe not at all. It can cause a great deal of frustration for the child and eventually lead to a meltdown. Sensory processing is just like this, except that it involves multiple senses at once, instead of just one (4). The three main patterns are Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Based Motor Disorder and Sensory Discrimination Disorder.

Photo via spdstar.org

Sensory Modulation Disorder: a pattern of sensory processing disorder where a chronic and severe problem involves the ability to turn sensory information into behaviors that match the nature and intensity of the sensation. Children with Sensory Modulation disorder fall into three subcategories: Sensory Over Responsive, Sensory Under Responsive, and Sensory Craving, or can display a mixture of the three. Sensory modulation difficulties can affect all eight senses and can cause disruptions to more than one sensory system at a time (5). 

Sensory Over Responsive / Sensory Defensive: Children who are sensory defensive experience an over response from their body to sensory stimulation. These children experience sensory messages more intensely, more quickly and/or for a longer period of time than a child with typical sensory perception. As a result, they are in a heightened state of arousal more often than a typically developing child. This means that sensations that are harmless and even pleasant for you or me, can be overwhelming and even painful to a person who is sensory defensive, or over-responsive. This can cause children to become anxious in environments and situations with too many sensory stimulants at one time, like a graduation ceremony or airport, for example (5).

Sensory Under Responsive/Lethargic: Children who are under responsive to sensory stimulation have less of a response to stimulation than what is required. They may take longer to react, or require longer or more intense forms of sensory stimulation before their body can produce a response. Sometimes called sensory seekers, individuals who are under responsive may fail to notice activity going on around them, people speaking to them, something touching them, or even their own body sensations like being too hot or too cold. Sensory seekers may display an insatiable desire for sensory stimulation and will require guidance about appropriate ways to get what they need (5). 

Sensory Craving: Sensory Craving is a subtype of SPD that falls into the pattern of Sensory Modulation Disorder. Children who are sensory craving actively seek out sensory stimuli and can display an unquenchable desire for sensory input. Unfortunately, the input often results in disorganization and does not satisfy their need for more (13).

Sensory Based Motor Disorder: a pattern of sensory processing disorder where a child has difficulty with balance, motor coordination, and the performance of skilled non-habitual and/or habitual motor tasks (13). There are two subcategories of Sensory Based Motor Disorder: Postural Disorder and Dyspraxia.

Postural Disorder: Impaired perception of body position, poorly developed movement patterns that depend on core stability, thus making the individual weak and/or low endurance. A child with Postural Disorder has difficulty stabilizing their body during movement or while at rest in order to meet the demands of a given motor task or environment. When a child has strong postural control they can reach, push and pull with the appropriate amount of resistant force. When postural control is weak, a child may not have the body control to maintain a proper standing or sitting position (13).

Dyspraxia: a condition where an individual has difficulty with the praxis process, most often in the motor planning stage. The underlying disruption is usually caused by a deficit in tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular sensory processing. These three senses are the foundation for developing a body percept, an essential – and unconscious – part of understanding how our bodies work and their physical limitations (8,9).

Sensory Discrimination Disorder: A pattern of sensory processing disorder where a child has difficulty accurately precieving the qualities and/or characteristics of sensory stimuli they recive (13). This manifests as difficulties discerning what they are seeing, hearing, feeling and even what they are doing with their bodies, and creates perceptual questions like, “Do I hear ‘cap’ or ‘cat’?, Is that a quarter or a dime in my pocket?, and Am I falling backwards or to the side?” Sensory Discrimination Disorder can interfere with processing information from any of the eight sensory systems (13).

Photo via ParentMap.com

Still with us? That was a lot, we know! Feel free to bookmark this page, and use it to refer back to as you begin your journey with nuerodiversity. It’s a lot of information to take in, so don’t beat yourself up if after a once over, you still feel overwhelmed. That’s why we broke it up for you. Start with The Basics, and don’t move to the next section until you feel like you really understand those concepts. Take it a day at a time, a section at a time, or even a word at a time, if you need to. We’ll be here waiting for you.

SOURCES:
Featured photo via Today’s Parent

  1. https://www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder 
  2. https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-faq/ 
  3. https://www.livescience.com/22665-nervous-system.html 
  4. https://www.artcsandiego.org/blog/the-difference-between-sensory-processing-disorder-and-autism?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5bbSmuzM6AIViP5kCh3R8wXzEAAYASAAEgI1_vD_BwE 
  5. https://www.irvinetherapyservices.com/resources/sensory-modulation-disorder/ 
  6. https://www.webmd.com/children/sensory-processing-disorder#1 
  7. https://occupationaltherapychildren.com.au/praxis-its-not-just-motor-planning/ 
  8. https://www.irvinetherapyservices.com/resources/praxis/ 
  9. What is BODY PERCEPT? definition of BODY PERCEPT …psychologydictionary.org › body-percept 
  10. Motor Planning Definition & Disorders | NSPTwww.nspt4kids.com › Health Topics and Conditions Database 
  11. http://therapystreetforkids.com/BilateralCoord.html 
  12. https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2017/10/01/bilateral-coordination-skills/ 
  13. https://www.spdstar.org/basic/subtypes-of-spd 
  14. https://www.spdstar.org/basic/understanding-sensory-processing-disorder 
  15. https://www.spdstar.org/basic/your-8-senses 
  16. https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-vestibular-system 
  17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/proprioception 
  18. Sensory Stimuli | SpringerLinklink.springer.com › … 
  19. https://www.aota.org/Conference-Events/OTMonth/what-is-OT.aspx 
  20. OT vs PT: The Difference Between Fields of Occupational …otaonline.stkate.edu › Blog › OT Explained › OT vs PT
  21. Perceptual Disorders – MeSH – NCBIwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › NCBI › Literature 
  22. Sensory Input definition | Psychology Glossary | alleydog.comwww.alleydog.com › glossary › definition › term=Sensory+Input 
  23. Dictionary.com

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