Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Personal Overview of Sensory Integration Dysfunction

My young son, Joseph, was born in September 2006. I was delighted to know he'd be joining our family, but we needed to have an emergency C-section. I had been pushing for two hours and he was starting to show signs of distress. He was born at 2:11 am, nice and pink with a "Harry Potter" scar on his forehead that went away after a few days. Unfortunately, what might have occurred during his birth was some neurological damage which left him with Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

I didn't notice something was wrong until Joe was about eighteen months. He met all his physical milestones - in fact, he made them earlier than my first son. At eighteen months though, Joe wasn't talking. He didn't seem to know "Mommy" or "Daddy." He threw toys for no reason, as if he needed to throw them. He also covered his ears with his hands often, which we didn't understand. He hardly got sick or had ear infections. We knew he wasn't autistic, but we also knew something wasn't quite right. Our pediatrician recommended us to our Regional Center, in charge of Early Childhood Intervention. (Every state should have an Early Childhood Intervention Program.) Joseph was evaluated with severe cognitive and speech delays. He was twenty-months-old at the time of the evaluation, but presented with the cognitive skills of an eight-month-old. My husband and I were stunned. Joe began receiving child development, speech, and occupational therapies. At twenty-seven months, he began group therapy.

After six months, Joe had closed some rather daunting developmental gaps. A re-evaluation at twenty-nine months showed him at twenty-two months cognitively. Still, we had no idea what was the cause. Joe's occupational therapist review had the clues we needed to determine what he had - Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

Known as SID or DSI, (so as not to confuse it with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome SIDS) Sensory Integration Dysfunction is where the brain perceives sensory input normally, but misinterprets the information. This misinterpretation leaves the child in a hypo or hyper-active state. Hypoactive is an under stimulation to sensory input and hyperactive is an over stimulation to sensory input. In Joe's case, he's more hypo than hyper-active.

There are multiple causes for DSI, and in fact, it often presents with autism, but it can also present by itself. In my son's case, it was presenting with cognitive and speech delays.

Joe's occupational therapist report documented several sensory seeking behaviors. (As opposed to sensory avoiding/hyper-active behaviors.) He loved to jump, spin, and swing over the norm that children with no sensory issues do. He had a high tolerance for pain and had a high activity level. Joe is also easily distracted by other things. I did a Google search on sensory seeking behaviors and it led me right to Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

To my surprise, I discovered there are seven senses - yes, seven! Hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch, we all know, but there is also the vestibular sense and proprioception sense. The vestibular sense refers to the sense of balance and gravity. Without that sense, we'd be clumsy or awkward in our movements. Proprioception refers to the impacting/compacting of joints. Signs that your child might be sensory seeking in these areas are running, jumping, spinning more than normal (vestibular) and throwing toys just for the sensation of the impacting/compacting of the joints. (proprioception) This was Joe to a "tee."

Other signs of DSI include covering one's hands over their ears, (something Joe used to do a lot, but now rarely does. It was his one sign of sensory avoiding, hyper-active behavior) unusually high or low activity, and very picky eating. (In Joe's case, he needs crunchy, chewy foods to help provide the stimulation he needs to get the proprioception sensation of the jaw's joints impacting and compacting.) More signs involve tip-toe walking (because their feet are highly sensitive to touch), hand flapping (for the proprioception effect) speech delays, cognitive delays, poor balance, unusually high or low tolerance for pain, acting impulsively, and an unusually high or low activity level. There are many other symptoms which you can research online. There's also a wealth of information on the Internet regarding DSI and there are several well written books on the subject alone.

An occupational therapist is essential in helping the family with a DSI child. They can help identify DSI behaviors and establish a "sensory diet" for a family to use when their child shows signs of sensory seeking or avoiding behaviors. In fact, A. Jean Ayers, an occupational therapist, was the one to identify the dysfunction.

DSI is a dysfunction, not a disease. It can't be cured, but managed. Though early childhood services, my son is thriving and we're managing his DSI now. It's still an adventure for us, but recognizing DSI symptoms early will help your child get the services he or she needs.

Steph B likes to read many books and a variety of different genres. Steph B is an author at which is a site for Creative Writing.

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