Sensory processing (or integration) is our brain’s ability to organize incoming sensory information. This encompasses data from our five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), kinesthetic system (awareness of location, movements, and actions), and vestibular system (supporting balance, posture, and spatial orientation).
Research has shown that issues with sensory processing can greatly impact our perceptions, emotions, cognitions, and behaviors. Without sensory integration, we would have difficulties functioning normally—this includes difficulties with learning.
That being said, consider the fact that between 5-15% of school-aged children in the United States have been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SDP); this includes one of its major subtypes Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).
If you’re a parent of a child with SMD, you may wonder: How exactly does this affect my child’s ability to self-regulate? And are there treatment options that can help us deal with the impact of this disorder?
The Various Effects of Sensory Modulation Disorder
Sensory Modulation Disorder breaks down into three subtypes:
The impact of over-responsivity can be extreme, affecting not only the child but the whole family’s quality of life. Why?
Over-responsive children are much more sensitive to sensory stimulation and feel sensations much more easily and intensely than most others. Being bombarded daily with sensory experiences, they’re unable to filter out irrelevant information. As a result, they quickly become overwhelmed and typically respond with a fight, flight, or freeze defense. This can manifest as withdrawing (shrinking away or covering their ears), recurring meltdowns, or even outbursts of aggression.
It’s easy to imagine how these defensive reactions can interfere with a child’s participation in social events, home and school activities, and even their self-esteem. In turn, the child’s limitations affect the entire family as well.
Under-responsivity in children can lead to misjudgments, at best, and actual danger to their physical health, at worst. How?
A child who is under-responsive to sensory stimuli typically disregards or doesn’t react to sensory information of normal intensity in their surroundings. They often “tune-out,” appearing passive, withdrawn, or self-absorbed. And they may also display poor body awareness and movements, seeming clumsy and uncoordinated.
Unfortunately, some of these children may also not perceive heat, cold, or pain effectively. And thus, they’re in danger of incurring injuries (burns, cuts, or even broken bones) that can be a threat to their bodily well-being.
A child who craves sensory input can easily find themself in a repetitive cycle that presents an ongoing emotional dilemma. How so?
Children with this type of sensory disorder pattern crave stimulation and seek out sensory experiences however they can. They may be constantly moving, twirling, jumping, or touching everything. This need can also make them overly affectionate (hugging others tightly, even if they don’t want it); or they may run and crash into others just for the sensation, which can cause undeniable social problems.
While some of these children are soothed when receiving the sensory input they seek, others are not. In fact, a child with a true craving disorder will become more chaotic with increased stimulation. And this, in effect, can create a paradoxical cycle of more craving, more seeking, but less regulation.
Addressing SMD’s Impact on Self-Regulation
Self-regulation is important for controlling our feelings, emotions, and behaviors. When we can self-regulate well, we can easily adapt to changes in our environment (unexpected or not) and respond proportionately and appropriately to sensory input.
As it becomes clear from looking at the effects of SMD noted above, if your child has this disorder, they clearly have difficulties with self-regulation. What can you do to help them become more balanced and better adapt to the demands of their surroundings?
One of the best things you can do to address your child’s particular need is to seek professional intervention that aids sensory modulation and self-regulation. A therapist with expertise in this field can help educate you about the behaviors your child is currently using to self-regulate. By carefully observing their arousal level, the therapist can also identify strategies to move them into a state of better regulation and overall balance.
With appropriate professional help, your child can become more tolerant and flexible, have better attention, and learn with more focus.
If you would like more information about how the therapy methods I use such as the sound stimulation therapy developed by Dr. A. Tomatis or qEEG based sw LORETA Nurofeedback can help with Sensory Modulation Disorder, please feel free to contact me. Click here to read more about Sensory Modulation Disorder Treatment.