Along with acne and hormones and physical changes that either don't come when expected or come on too strong, teenage children with sensory integration disorder may still be coping with problems that have plagued them since childhood. Even if your teen has developed skills through therapy and maturity to compensate for his sensory challenges, adolescence presents a whole new array of threats and expectations. It's not fair — but not much about being a teenager is.
About those physical changes: They may take a real toll on your child's proprioceptive, vestibular, and motor planning abilities. Growth spurts require a complete reorganization of a child's understanding of where her body is, and if she wasn't too sure about that even before the change in height, things will only be worse.
You may see the return of problems like bumping into things, general clumsiness, apprehension around stairs and escalators, intolerance of changes in position, and all those other proprioceptive and vestibular hang-ups you may have thought were banished by therapy.
A lessening of your child's confidence about her body's position and balance may lead to more reluctance in motor planning activities, just when those are increasing in complexity with the challenges of high school sports and learning how to drive.
If your daughter has trouble with the olfactory sense, she may struggle with the hygiene issues that come with menstruation. If she overreacts to olfactory information, she may be constantly concerned about odor and be overvigilant about checking and changing pads or tampons. If she underreacts, she may not be aware when there actually is an odor to worry about.
All this happens at a time when children are more self-conscious than ever about being different. Fortunately, this means that your child may be especially willing to talk with you about his sensory problems and seek your help to strategize inconspicuous ways to compensate. Remain as open and informative as you can for your child as a sensory integration resource.
Part of the job of the teen years is to pull away from parents and establish an individual identity, so you will need to tread carefully. Try not to take charge of your child's environment and routine the way you might for a much younger child. But you may find that your understanding of his challenges and willingness to advise will bring you and your child closer together at the time when he needs a friend most of all.
Teens with sensory integration problems may still be working on milestones from their earlier school age years, and they may miss additional milestones during this final tricky stretch of development. The continuing challenges of learning, self-control, social success, and physical coordination become more intense, with less room for variation and plenty of opportunities for embarrassment and failure.
The Auditory Sense
Children who have trouble with information from the auditory sense may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Listening to peer-approved music
Talking with friends on the phone
Following detailed lectures in class
Tolerating noisy school hallways and lunchrooms
The Visual Sense
Children who have trouble with information from the visual sense may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Absorbing material from detail-packed textbooks
Picking up on visual differences that distinguish peer groups
Organizing schoolwork, locker, and desk
The Tactile Sense
Children who have trouble with information from the tactile sense may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Changing for gym class
Tolerating gym uniform
Avoiding panic or injury in crowded school hallways
Understanding appropriate touch
The Proprioceptive Sense
Children who have trouble with information from the proprioceptive sense may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Succeeding in gym and sports
Learning to drive
Adjusting to growth spurts
Exhibiting increased control of movement and behavior
The Vestibular Sense
Children who have trouble with information from the vestibular sense may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Finding their way around larger schools
Finding their way around community with increased freedom
Learning to drive
Succeeding in gym and sports
Low Muscle Tone
Children who have low muscle tone may be unable to achieve such adolescent milestones as these:
Holding large numbers of books
Writing for long periods of time
Doing increasingly complicated athletic activities