Swinging Between Extremes

Just when you get your child figured out in one area, another one comes along that completely shakes your faith. Your child screams when she hears sirens, vacuums, and alarms. She's hypersensitive. Got it! But then, how come she craves spicy and salty foods? Or loves to swing as high and hard as you can push her? Or smacks into walls and feels no pain? Doesn't that mean she's hyposensitive? Isn't that inconsistent? Surely someone who's sensitive is sensitive, and someone who's not is not, and there is no in-between.

With sensory integration disorder, there is no such assurance. Children with difficulty in sensory integration often have difficulty staying in the mid-range. A child can be hypersensitive in some areas, hyposensitive in others, and have no problem at all in others. In fact, since a breakdown in the senses' ability to work together is the basis of sensory integration disorder, too much information in one area can cause another area to be drowned out, providing too little information.

Think again about that radio. Whether the station is coming in clearly or not, there can be things that influence your ability to enjoy it. Maybe the car next to you has its stereo turned up so loud that you can't hear your own. Maybe you drive by a construction site with jackhammers blasting. Maybe your children are talking so loud or arguing so ferociously that you can't concentrate on anything else. Or maybe you're so busy listening to the radio that you completely miss your exit.

You may hear the term “emotional lability” used to describe your child. This refers to emotions that come on strong and then change unpredictably. It may make your child appear unstable or manipulative, but as you learn more about her sensory integration struggles, you will realize that she may be reacting to unpredictable changes in her sensory processing abilities.

Too much input in one area can cause not enough in another, and concentrating on getting more input in one area can cause input from another to be lost. The key to understanding sensory integration disorder is to focus on the fact that your child has trouble receiving, interpreting, combining, responding to, and executing a response to sensory input — not so much on what input is affected and what the response is.

Occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach, combined with your follow-through at home, will help your child have fewer over- and underreactions and struggle with fewer sensations. Until that happens, problems can occur in any area, to any degree.

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