Special Needs: Sensory Integration Disorder

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Sensory Integration Disorder

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Tommy is a third-grader who’s challenged by sensory experiences
that most of us don’t even notice or think about. A tag on the back
of his shirt feels like a dagger, and mint toothpaste tastes like
fire. The movement of his body through space (just walking) creates
a heightened state of restlessness or agitation. The noise from a
pencil sharpener sounds like a locomotive in his ear. This is
Tommy, and he has sensory integration disorder.

What is sensory integration disorder?

Sensory integration is the processes involved in the brain that
organize sensations from the body and environment to make it
possible to use the body effectively or adaptively within the
environment. In addition to the five main body senses, there are
two other strong senses — movement/balance (vestibular) and
joint/muscle (proprioception). Vestibular sense provides
information about where the head and body are in space and in
relation to the earth’s surface. Proprioception sense provides
information about where body parts are and what they’re doing.
These two strong senses are involved with sensory integration along
with our sense of organizing the two hemispheres of the brain,
motor planning (praxis), and fine motor coordination.

With sensory integration disorder, the brain isn’t able to process
all the sensory information effectively and results in sensory
overload. Some experts say this disorder affects 12 to 20 percent
of children at some level.

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What are practical ways to minister to kids with sensory
integration disorder?

• Try to control the overly stimulating sensory inputs in your
classroom such as loud music, extremely bright pictures, and highly
excitable activities.

• Maintain good eye contact with the child.

• Monitor the child’s frustration level.

• Encourage the child as much as possible.

• Develop a signal for the child to let you know “I need
help.”

• Mask distracting noises in the classroom with neutral,
nondisturbing sounds or music.

• Some children are calmed by using sensory inputs in their mouths
or hands, such as water bottles, chewing gum, or squeezies such as
a soft rubber ball or a sponge piece.

• Suggest a simple activity such as bouncing a ball or marching to
help get a child’s brain organized for classroom activities.

• Approach the child from the front to give a visual cue that
you’re there.

• Place the child’s work area out of traffic toward the periphery
of the room so the child has a good view of who’s moving
where.

• Seat the child next to a quiet child during a group
activity.

• Put the child in the back of a line for good viewing of the
group.

• Give the child a corner of the classroom with a bean bag to
retreat to if there’s too much stimulation.

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[Q]: Do some parents use a child with special
needs as an excuse not to come to church, or are they worried we
won’t be able to handle their child?

[A]: Yes, it’s a common worry for all
parents­-whether their child can be handled­-but it can be
exaggerated with parents of children with special needs.
Voluntee­rs who feel called to help these children can do amazing
things one-to-one with a child. And parents need to know that
you’ve fully trained your staff and provided buddies for their
children.

Parents don’t use their child’s special need as an excuse. They
want to go to church, but sometimes it’s just another area that’s
difficult to deal with. Seek to understand what they struggle
with-not by their choice, but by problems associated with their
child’s special needs. Continue to reach out to them with
encouragement, love, and offered support.

Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at
Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

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