Sensory integration disorder can contribute to learning disabilities by keeping children from developing the skills they need to read and write efficiently. When information from the visual and auditory sense is not processed correctly, children may avoid activities that involve close visual work or require careful listening.
Low muscle tone, poor motor planning, and problems with the vestibular and proprioceptive sense can make writing, or even early activities like coloring, more challenging than your child may want to pursue. Early intervention services that incorporate sensory integration can go far in helping children avoid learning problems in the future.
In addition, sensory integration disorder can resemble learning disabilities, blurring lines and making appropriate treatment difficult to administer. A child with sensory integration disorder may have no problem understanding and working a math problem, but he may balk at completing a worksheet that is visually overstimulating or that leaves no room for his poorly coordinated handwriting.
Your child might be able to read words and understand them, but he becomes lost in a page of print with close-set lines. Organizational problems linked to poor motor planning may make your child's grades lower due to missed assignments and lost homework.
Sensory integration may also be a factor for children with nonverbal learning disorders (NLD). These children may do fine with reading, writing, and calculating, and they generally have excellent rote memory and verbal skills. However, they have difficulty with the more abstract aspects of language — things like figures of speech, irony, sarcasm, body language, and facial expressions. They may also have motor and visual processing problems that overlap with sensory integration disorder and that make them appear clumsy, impulsive, and uncoordinated.
Nonverbal learning disorders aren't as well known as most learning disabilities, and it can be hard to find information about them. If you suspect that this may be an issue for your child, a good place to start is the NLDline website.
Tools and strategies employed and taught by occupational therapists will likely help a child with learning disabilities, regardless of whether sensory integration problems are a cause, a coexisting condition, or a look-alike diagnosis. There is enough overlap between these disorders, in any case, to make a sensory integration approach useful. Understanding the way your child's sensory integration strengths and weaknesses impact every part of his life will help you give your child the best and most thoughtful support.