October is National Sensory Awareness Month – a time to celebrate our senses and raise awareness of sensory processing disorder.
According to the Sensory Processing Foundation, “sensory processing “ refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.
For kids with this disorder, too much sensory overload or the wrong kind of stimulation can lead to problems with attention, coordination and impulsiveness as the child tries to either increase or decrease the sensations they are experiencing. SPD affects the daily lives of at least one in 20 children. That’s 5 percent of the general population – about one child in every classroom. For children on the autistic spectrum, the incidence of SPD is estimated to be even higher – at least 80 percent. It is believed that approximately 30 percent of gifted children have SPD.
Children with SPD often work with occupational therapists to improve their ability to process information. Treatment for sensory processing disorder is a fun, play-based intervention that takes place in a sensory-rich environment. Families practice the strategies they learn at home and in the community.
Because it is naturally a sensory-rich experience, playgrounds are a wonderful place for children with SPD to practice. Read what the Inclusive Play Design Guides says about sensory experiences on the playground.
You can learn more about sensory processing disorders at: