Sensory dysfunction disorder is a reported neurological disorder of information processing, characterized by difficulty in understanding and responding appropriately to sensory inputs. Sensory dysfunction disorder is not recognized by the American Medical Association. "Sensory processing (SP) difficulties have been reported in as many as 95% of children with autism, however, empirical research examining the existence of specific patterns of SP difficulties within this population is scarce." The brain receives messages from the body's sensory systems, which informs the brain of what is going on around and to a person's body. If one or more of these systems become overstimulated, it may result in what is known as Sensory Dysfunction Disorder. An example of a response to overstimulation is expressed by A. Jean Ayres, in Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges. She writes, "When the flow of sensations is disorganized, life can be like a rush-hour traffic jam” (p. 289). The following sensory systems are broken down into individual categories to better understand the impact a sensitivity can have on an individual.
The tactile system is the sense of touch. Someone with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may have symptoms of not being able to process any form of physical connection. Conversely, a person may need to have some sort of physical connection to soothe an anxiety he or she is experiencing.
The vestibular system includes motor skills, equilibrium, and timing. A child with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may have a difficult time in sports or sensing the perimeters of his or her surroundings. Sometimes movement for a person can result in a soothing sensation or cause stress, depending on how that individual perceives the information.
The proprioceptive system concerns a person's joints and muscles. It tells the brain if a part of the body is moving without actually having to see it. It also controls eating, writing, and using utensils. This sense enables a person to understand the amount of pressure used to carry out routine tasks, such as eating and writing. Bodily pressure is part of this as well; for example, a child may enjoy being held tighter by someone or leaning into things such as walls, desks, and potentially other people.
The olfactory system is considered the sense of smell. People with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder could have difficulty with certain fragrances or odors. Conversely, they may find certain smells to be soothing, and use them to calm themselves.
The Gustatory system concerns a person's taste and sense of smell. A child with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may not be able to tolerate the texture or taste of certain foods. Their senses may not respond well to food, and they may be unable to smell food that is burning.
The auditory system deals with hearing. Children with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may feel that certain noises are painful or overwhelming. They may need to cover their ears when hearing a sound or in anticipation of what they think will be an offensive sound. They can find certain music to be soothing and become mesmerized by it. However, they may become overstimulated and upset if they hear something for which they are unprepared.
The visual system involves sight. A child with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may or may not be able to see an item that is directly in front of them. He or she may be sensitive to certain lighting.
A child who struggles with some sort of sensory sensitivity can also have a difficult time with emotional control. His or her brain may be unable to fully comprehend what is happening in his or her surroundings, which can cause confusion and lead to extreme behavior issues. This could result in intense outbursts and anxiety. During such episodes, children are no longer able to receive any audio information that is generally used to calm them. - Authored an article, Sensory Dysfunction in Children - Researched information for article through internet and medical booksde"/> They become unresponsive to any disciplinary actions that may typically be used. Their brain reaches a state of sensory overload and any new information, such as conversation to alter their current state of mind, becomes ineffective. They need to calm themselves and let their brains slow down.
The Mislabeled Child, written by Brock Eide, and Fernette Eide, provides information that can improve the messages to the brain for children with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder, so they may become more responsive to their senses that ordinarily overwhelm them. The authors suggest that with specified therapy, namely from Occupational Therapists, messages may be rerouted, creating a new nerve tract through the brain. Treatment of Sensory Dysfunction Disorder has several steps because there are many areas of concern. Treatment can improve with parental involvement and repetition. The Mislabeled Child has compiled a list of steps to help with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder:
Step one is important to a child with sensory dysfunction because this is where they receive their stimuli that can cause them to become overstimulated. Understanding the specific elements that may cause the initial anxiety and removing or altering it, can ease a child's anxiety levels and lessen confusion.
Step two suggests that certain behaviors and activities may be calming for the child. Finding activities that involve movement, whether full motor skills or fine motor skills, can be helpful. Activity and exercise can strengthen these senses.
Step three states that this dysfunction concerns a person's senses, meaning there are specific triggers that may exacerbate behaviors causing the child to stay away from that particular irritant. This could involve the use of a 'sensory diet'. It is noted in the book The Mislabeled Child that "Improving sensitivities in multiple senses often does not require specific desensitization therapies for each one, because our sensory systems are so highly linked, or integrated. Addressing sensitivities in one area often improves sensitivities in many areas" (p. 324).
Step four includes strengthening gross motor skills, which can build better muscle tone through play, enabling children to have more control over their own body. Children may struggle with balance and ability in activities because they lack gross motor skills. As a child's gross motor skills inform the brain about a person's surroundings, the brain becomes confused and inhibits their reactions to their surroundings.
Step five recommends that children who struggle with fine motor skills dealing primarily with their fingers and hands, need to do exercises, such as pinch grip, cutting, and writing, to strengthen them. An Occupational therapist works with the child to develop these skills. Being unable to use their fine motor skills makes it very difficult and frustrating for a child to write properly and can cause the child to avoid doing anything involving handwriting and similar situations.
Lastly, in step six, as the child matures it is important to help him or her to become more aware of how their response to their own senses and learn to understand what their bodies are doing. Once they are able to learn these cues, they can help themselves by knowing when it is time to take a break and regain control over themselves.
There are ways that children with Sensory Dysfunction Disorder may still have fun. The book The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder, written by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A., provides different activities for the various sensory systems. These activities can be tools to help strengthen these senses.
The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize Sensory Dysfunction Disorder as a medical diagnosis. Daniel Brennan also comments on this in his article "Health and Parenting Sensory Processing Disorder" and further proposes that it is typically paralleled with another disorder such as ADHD, autism spectrum, and countless other disorders, rather than as its own disorder.