Babies

If children who are old enough to talk have trouble expressing their sensory needs in any way other than behavior, how much more difficult is it for infants to make their discomforts and preferences known?

The earliest months of life are meant to be a time of learning for children, as they begin to notice things in their environment and bond to the people who love them. But for babies with sensory integration problems, the world may seem like a threatening, even terrifying place, and touch meant to soothe and comfort may feel like an attack.

Babies who cry all the time for no apparent reason and who refuse to be comforted may be left alone more — further decreasing the range of experiences they are exposed to and further setting back development.

Special Concerns

Consider the areas in which sensory integration can cause complications for an older child, and see if any of those might be factors for your baby. Does she seem upset by bright light? Do certain blankets or outfits cause her more distress than others? Is she overreactive to sounds or underreactive? Is there any sort of touch she tolerates? Does being picked up or put down in a particular way cause distress or relieve it? How does she respond to rocking, swinging, and riding in a car?

If you can find some narrow margin of comfort, start there and work outward. Introduce new experiences while your baby is in that comfort zone.

Alternatively, an infant with sensory integration challenges may be underresponsive — quiet and “good,” but not interested in relating. Rather than crying and fussing constantly, this child may seem perfectly happy with his own company, lost in thought, rocking himself and possibly banging against the crib.

Well-meaning friends and family members may tell you that some babies are just fussy, and you shouldn't make much of it. Your baby is fussy, due to sensory integration problems. If you can pinpoint those problems and bring her some comfort, you will make it easier for her to grow and develop and for you to get some peace.

If your baby is understimulated in this way, you'll need to work hard to get him to make a connection against considerable resistance. Try activities that give him a lot of input — swinging, rocking, or flying through the air. Unlike the baby who is easily overstimulated and needs to be kept in a comfort zone, understimulated infants may need big gestures, loud noises, and bright colors to get them out of their comfort zones.

Missing Milestones

While it may seem that they're not so terribly busy, children in their first year or so of life have an enormous amount of work to do. Developmental tasks for this period often focus on responding to the environment, something children with sensory integration problems will have trouble doing. Your baby also may not be laying the groundwork necessary for essential skills that come later.

The Auditory Sense

Children who have trouble with information from the auditory sense may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Reacting appropriately to loud noises

  • Responding with pleasure to noises like bells or whistles

  • Being comforted by lullabies or soothing speech

  • Enjoying surprise games like “peek-a-boo”

  • Finding the source of sound

The Visual Sense

Children who have trouble with information from the visual sense may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Differentiating between people

  • Reacting appropriately to bright lights and colors

  • Imitating or tolerating movements

  • Making eye contact

The Tactile Sense

Children who have trouble with information from the tactile sense may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Manipulating simple toys

  • Feeding properly

  • Being comforted by touch

  • Investigating things with hands and mouth

The Proprioceptive Sense

Children who have trouble with information from the proprioceptive sense may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Playing with toes

  • Manipulating simple toys

  • Grasping objects

  • Trying different body positions

The Vestibular Sense

Children who have trouble with information from the vestibular sense may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Sitting up

  • Lifting head

  • Copying movement

Low Muscle Tone

Children who have low muscle tone may be unable to achieve such infancy milestones as these:

  • Sitting up

  • Lifting head

  • Kicking feet

  • Maintaining a steady position

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