October is National Sensory Awareness month. In the United States, 1 in 6 children are diagnosed with a Neurodevelopmental Disorder and 1 in 5 children are diagnosed with a mental disorder. Additionally, up to 10% of neurotypical children experience Sensory Processing Disorders that require intervention. Today these issues have become commonplace so it is easier to ignore them but really, more than ever, we need to help get this information out there and help these kids!
So what is going on? Many of these beautiful children are struggling with Sensory Processing Disorders and other conditions that are related to incomplete or disrupted development of the neuropathways that are essential to processing sensory information as it enters the brain. We need to understand this as well as the struggle these kids are facing so that we can help them to rewire the necessary brain connections. We also need to support healing and growth rather than medicate them for the symptoms associated with these conditions.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder? As we experience stimuli from the world around us, we have to interpret that information, determine how to react to it and then execute an appropriate physical or emotional reaction. This process is called Sensory Integration. If a child (or any person) has trouble with any of these steps, they may not be able to respond to the stimuli in an appropriate manner. Often this means that the critical social and academic learning the rest of us take for granted becomes difficult and frustrating to these individuals.
In addition to the 5 sensory systems that most of us are aware of, we also have 3 other sensory systems. They are proprioception, interoception and the vestibular system. All three of these systems are hugely important in the world of sensory processing because they provide us information about our body in space, the functions within our body and our equilibrium and balance. The vestibular system is actually one of the most important systems of all because it is in charge of controlling the intensity or volume of all sensory information that comes in regardless of which sensory system provides the stimuli. The vestibular system is linked to the limbic system, which is in charge of emotions. It is also connected to the immune system and the HPA axis, which regulates stress hormones. These connections explain why children with Sensory Processing Disorders experience emotional outbursts and chronic health conditions.
Because we have 8 different senses and a person can experience sensory Issues with any combination of these systems, Sensory Processing Disorders present differently for each and every person. For example, an individual that struggles with auditory input may present with speech issues, trouble with auditory learning or avoidance of noisy places or situations. These children may cover their ears when a toilet is flushed, or have melt downs when you take them to a busy store or a noisy playground. If there is dysfunction in the olfactory system, the individual may not do well with smells such as perfumes, cleaning chemicals or lotions. Someone who does not process taste appropriately may by a picky eater, crave salts or have pica. Similarly, issues with the tactile system can cause trouble with manual dexterity tasks such as holding a pencil or cutting with scissors. Kids that struggle with this may not like to play with other kids and be touched, or they may be the kind of child that touches everything and everyone whether or not it is appropriate. Visual processing deficits can be especially difficult to overcome in a classroom setting because up to 70% of what is learned in school is processed by the visual system. 25% of children have trouble with this system and ADD/ADHD is highly correlated to visual processing disorders. Vestibular dysfunction is correlated with emotional instability, difficulty maintaining or shifting attention, self-regulation issues and inappropriate arousal levels (hyperactivity or “burn out”). Proprioceptive input is calming and helps to turn town background noise from other sensory input, therefore, individuals with deficits in this system may experience other sensory information as over-stimulating and overwhelming. Unfortunately, when an individual has sensory processing issues, it almost always simultaneously affects more than one of their sensory systems. The world is already a hectic noisy place but now try to imagine experiencing it in this way and how stressful and taxing it would be. For these children these this can lead to sensory defensiveness, which is when an individual tries to shut out the clutter or control the level of stimulation they can handle in an attempt to escape or manage the stress they are under.
So what can we do about it? Sensory Processing Disorders are caused by a variety of different factors that affect neurodevelopment. Some of the possible causes are related to fetal development and delivery and include birth trauma, c-section, breech presentation, toxicity exposure in utero, multiples and the use of vacuum or forceps. Sensory Processing Disorders can also be caused by immature/atypical development of the nervous system due to retained primitive reflexes, lack of tummy time, missed developmental milestones and poor development of postural reflexes. In addition to these causes, Sensory Processing Disorders can also be the result of faulty transmission of information within the nervous system which can be due to vertebral subluxations, emotional/energy blockages and chemical disruption of normal signals from foods, dyes, preservative, chemicals and environmental toxins. We live in a beautiful world but what can simply be challenging to most of us can be uncontrollably chaotic and overwhelming to individuals with sensory issues. By addressing the root causes though, we can help people with Sensory Processing Disorders work toward normalizing their ability to perform Sensory Integration. This allows for easier, more effective learning and a much lower stress load.
In my practice at Ocean Wellness in Solana Beach, CA, my treatment is comprehensive and patient specific. Each treatment plan is custom tailored to the needs of each patient and includes gentle chiropractic adjustments and manual therapies, nutritional guidance and supplementation, and an individualized neurosensory integrative exercise program. Through this combined focus, I promote healing, re-establish balance in the immune and nervous systems and promote proper development of the neuropathways essential for both learning and motor function. By addressing all areas that may be contributing to developmental delays and/or Neurodevelopmental Disorders such as Sensory Processing Disorders, I help my patients attain the greatest level of neurological function so that they can reach their maximum potential–physically, academically and socially. This hands on approach provides a drug free option for promoting proper learning, good behavior, emotional stability and a healthy immune system all without the risks of unwanted side effects from medication.
By Tara Wassel
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