Sensory Integration Dysfunction

You open the fridge only to realize that there is nothing to make for tea. Not a problem for most parents - it's then merely a case of grabbing your child or children, and nipping around the corner shop to buy a few essentials. Easy.. .I wish!

For me and many other parents of children with sensory problems the story is very different. Taking two children, both with sensory problems, shopping is akin to performing a military operation. I open the fridge and realize that there is nothing to make for tea. I then get a picture of'shopping' and a picture of'get dressed', tug my ear and turn Ben to look at me and slowly tell him he needs to get his clothes on as we are going shopping. "No!" he screams. "I hate clothes." We stumble at the first hurdle. As I battle to put his clothes on, he wriggles, kicks and screams. As fast as I get them on him, he takes them off. Eventually with bribing, coaxing and sheer determinedness, I win the battle and Ben is dressed. Now to get him in the buggy. Although Ben is six, it is still impossible to walk with him. He drops to the floor, spins around in circles, chases people, and has no awareness whatsoever of danger. Once Ben is in the buggy, I push him outside and he screams "Too windy!" I rush back inside and get a blanket to cover him and as he cowers behind his blanket, we set off to the shops. A motorbike rushes past and Ben screams "Too noisy!" and clamps his hands over his ears, pressing his beloved green earmuffs even tighter to his head. Meanwhile, Joe is leaping around like Tigger. Bouncing and jumping he touches everything in his sight. Clanking gates as he passes each garden and jumping on and off walls, I scurry alongside him in a bid to keep between him and the roads. Joe also has no awareness of danger. He too has sensory problems but in a very different way to Ben. Joe likes to touch things, to twist and shred things. He loves loud noise and bright lights and extreme sensory stimulation. With Joe crashing and banging into people, walls and anything in his path, whilst Ben cowers in his buggy with his hands firmly clamped over his ears, we finally enter the shop. Whoosh - Joe is gone! Straight to the brightest coloured arrangement of tins, he starts to pick labels off whilst Ben starts to scream hysterically. Flourescent lights and the sounds of the chillers are too much for Ben. Trying to console Ben and control Joe, I pay little attention to what I am buying, grab what I can and prepare for the journey home.

For those ofyou who have battled with your children as they insist that their socks are too lumpy, their clothes are itchy, they don't like the texture of so many foods and don't like bright lights or loud noises, I am sure that you can identify only too well with the difficulties ofperforming the seemingly simplest oftasks. Moreover, those of you with a tornado for a child will, I am sure, identify equally as well. Joe needs to chew and shred and pick and prod in order to gain the sensory stimulation that his body is craving.

Whilst apparently so different, both Joe and Ben have sensory issues that cause major problems in their everyday life. Forty years ago, Dr A. Jean Ayres, OTR, pioneered work which highlighted SID as a neurological disorder. Dr Ayres sought to explain the relationship between behaviour and the function ofthe brain and found SID to be a very real problem for many children (and adults). Again, there are differing views as to whether SID is a separate disorder or another part of the rich and colourful autistic spectrum. Personally I believe that most children with autism have sensory issues to some degree, but what sets them apart from children with only sensory issues is that the triad of impairments (see Chapter 4) and rigidity of thought is evident in every situation and not just those where they experience sensory overload.

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