Akron occupational therapy

Akron Occupational Therapy Approaches to Sensory Processing Disorder for Kids With Autism

As Akron occupational therapy practitioners, we know that for a very long time, sensory processing disorder was conflated with autism. Why? Because it’s so incredibly prevalent among them. One study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy further affirms this, finding 95 percent of the kids with autism in their sample also had sensory processing dysfunction.

But sensory processing disorder and autism aren’t one in the same. The former is a symptom of the latter, but they’re two different things. Approximately 16 percent of typically-developing kids have some form of it as well – though it may be significantly underdiagnosed. It’s often co-occurring with conditions ADHD, ODD, OCD, PTSD, and more.

As providers of Akron occupational therapy, our goal – whether the child has autism or not – is to assess the type of sensory processing disorder, identify how it is/will be impeding the functions of daily life, and then formulate a plan to help address it.

Types of Sensory Processing Disorders

Every child is different. Some children are hypersensitive to things that are too loud or bright. Others are hyposensitive and crave sensory input – they’ll hug too tightly/impede people’s personal space or constantly put things in their mouths or rock and sway.

Sensory processing disorders often fall into one of the following categories:

  • Sensory discrimination disorder. This is where a child may have trouble deciphering different sensations. They may not be able to detect when they need to use the bathroom or recognize when they’re feeling stressed, elated, or overstimulated.
  • Sensory-based motor disorder. A child with this type of SPD would have trouble with things like balance and planning/executing various body movements.
  • Sensory modulation disorder. This occurs when a child is not able to effectuate regulation of their responses to sensations

Why Treat Sensory Processing Difficulties?

Some people ask what’s the point of trying to treat sensory processing disorders. After all – everyone’s different, and what’s wrong with that?

As occupational therapists, we embrace neurodiversity. We also know that untreated sensory processing difficulties that aren’t treated can lead to a number of hurdles that can make activities of daily living a significant challenge. These can include:

  • Trouble making and maintaining friendships.
  • Poor self-esteem.
  • Trouble participating in recreational or community events.
  • Constant feelings of discomfort with certain articles of clothing.
  • Completing self-care and hygiene tasks such as brushing teeth, showering/bathing, brushing/cutting hair, trimming nails, shaving, etc.
  • Extremely limited (and unhealthy) diets due to extreme aversions to certain tastes and textures.
  • Struggling to learn in various environments.

Helping a child to more effectively cope with these hypersensitivities and hyposensitivities will help them to be more successful in daily tasks – and life in general.

Akron Occupational Therapy for Sensory Processing Disorders

Treatment for sensory processing difficulties is known as sensory integration. There’s no quick fix or medication. In providing Akron occupational therapy, we use evidence-based, play-based strategies that have proven most effective with short- and long-term success.

For those who may be hyposensitive, we can work on helping kids to better understand their own bodies and sensory diets and when they need certain types of inputs. Once we do that, we can help them explore various means of getting that kind of input in a way that’s going to be healthy – and less of a barrier to their everyday lives. For example, someone craving oral or jaw sensory input may benefit from certain types of chewy necklaces (or as teens and adults, maybe gum). For those who crave heavy muscle impact may enjoy running, stair climbing, wall-pushing, yoga, lifting, stretching, etc. Those who crave motion may want to do certain kinds of swinging or swimming. We can also help their parents (and later them) advocate for adequate time and breaks to be able to make this happen throughout their days as needed.

For those who may be hypersensitive, we can incorporate activities to help desensitize them to certain sensations. For example, a child who struggles with tooth-brushing, there are certain toys and tools we can use and games we can play to get them more comfortable with a toothbrush and toothpaste in their mouths. Similar activities can be done for certain clothing textures, tastes, variations in light and sound, etc. Where those sensitivities don’t ease, we help patients recognize these, advocate for themselves, and provide tools to make it easier (headphones, shades, certain clothing brands, etc.).

If you have questions about how our Akron occupational therapy team can help your child with sensory processing disorder, we’re happy to schedule a time to talk!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Sensory Processing in Children With and Without Autism: A Comparative Study Using the Short Sensory Profile, March 1, 2027, American Journal of Occupational Therapy

More Blog Entries:

Tactile Defensiveness Treatment From Our Akron Occupational Therapists, Dec. 29, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog