"Sensory processing (sometimes called "sensory integration" or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses," (spdfoundation). A disorder may occur when appropriate responses to sensation are not present. For example a child may tense up when someone touches their shoulder, become nervous when washing their hands, have trouble eating different foods, or have a sensitivy to light. As you likely gathered all of these examples refer to the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch.
The reasons children may develop a sensory processing disorder are not concrete, but it is likely genetic and/or environmental. For kids who have been neglected, environment plays a huge role. Most people have sensory input from the time they are born. Parents rock their babies to sleep, play peek-a-boo, encourage smiles/babbles, and provide colorful toys with different sounds/shapes. When children miss out on these things due to neglect sensory-input may be more difficult in the future. For example, imagine trying to rock a three year old to sleep when they have rarely been picked up and held. Do you think this child would jump into your arms and look into your eyes? Maybe, but they may also go into freak out mode.
Two of our children struggle with touch and one with sounds. No, they have never been diagnosed with anything, but their responses are not what you would expect normally. One of our children shrinks and pulls away when a hand is placed on their shoulder and blames sounds for not being able to complete tasks. This same child loses focus and becomes easily sensory overloaded. One of our kids loves squeezing our hands and hugging us tight, but freaks out when someone holds her hand normally or gives a gentle hug.
For the first child, sensory boxes are a huge help. This child may become so sensory overloaded that describing feelings becomes impossible. This child will ask for a sensory box, play for a little while, and then express their feelings. The sensory boxes I have made included fake grass, rice, beans, rocks, water, shells, shaving cream etc. Anything that he can touch and allow to flow through his fingers.
Our other child throws major tantrums, but tends to calm down after jumping into her bed several times or pulling the blinds up and putting them down over and over. Bear hugs are a frequent request. We plan to get a big bean bag to jump into and a sit in spin to help the child fulfill their needs. Sensory boxes are fun for this child and it provides a great bonding experience, but no positive changes are seen in this child's behavior after playing with a sensory box.
In my opinion, sensory play is a benefit for all kids. Playing with water, sand, shaving cream etc is always fun and if it helps your child focus--BONUS!! We honestly started sensory play as a little experiment. I thought to myself, preschoolers do sensory activites and our children may have never had those experiences, this could be fun! Then I started seeing overwhelming benefits of increased focus and ability to express feelings. So for now, sensory play is a big part of our life. We try to implement it at least twice a week. And thanks to Minds in Motion, our kids get some sensory play in at school everyday. We are blessed.
If you have any questions about making sensory boxes, I would be more than happy to help. With all other questions, please seek a professional source.
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