Sensory Saturday: What is a Sensory Processing Profile?

Sensory processing or sensory input refers to the constant flow of the information from sensory receptors in the body to the brain and spinal cord–there are seven total sensory receptors, but today we will focus on information from these five sensory systems:

  • Touch (tactile)
  • Visual
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Proprioceptive (body position)
  • and Vestibular (balance)

Sensory processing is a complicated set of actions that enable the brain to process sensory input. Without this process, you would not understand what is going on both inside your own body and in the world around you.

Sensory Modulation is the body’s awareness and ability to filter, adjust, and respond to a variety of sensory input based on the frequency, intensity, and duration of that input. Behavior, attention, learning, play as well as peer interactions are significantly influenced by a child’s ability to process sensory stimuli. Self-regulation refers to the way we behave to manage our own needs.

When a child is evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (OT) one of the tests they will utilize is called The Sensory Profile-2. It is a set of judgment-based caregiver–usually mom or dad– questionnaire providing a standardized means to capture a child’s responses during the regular course of daily life. This information provides a unique way to determine how sensory processing may be contributing to or interfering with participation.

The Sensory Profile-2 evaluates four areas or quadrants and determine where a child falls–much less than others to much more than others.

  • Seeking/Seeker: Seekers have an active self-regulation strategy and generate new ideas.
  • Avoiding/Avoider: Avoiders are great at creating routines and order because they need “sameness” to reduce unanticipated sensory input.
  • Sensitivity/Sensor: Sensors detect sensory cues.
  • Registration/Bystander: Bystanders are easygoing.

Example:

The following is a sample of what you might see when you receive a report back from the OT who performs your Sensory Profile-2 evaluation.

Sensory Profile | Sensory Ninja

The sample Sensory Profile assessment reviled that this Ninja is a tactile seeker. This means that they need constant additional input from their surroundings. They might constantly be touching objects around them. In school, they might tap their pencil or want to chew on things. The more sensory input they could get the more alert they will be.

Under the avoiding quadrant, it reviled that this Ninja would move away from activities or work alone. By avoiding interaction they would be able to control their surroundings and the time they would spend on an activity. Whereas working in a group they would have little to no control.

This Ninja fell within “the majority of others” for sensitivity to the feel of tactile objects. What that means they probably are not picky about things like the fabric they wear or the texture of their food.

At the “more than others end” of the Registration/Bystander quadrant, this Ninja will miss sensory cues others would not. For example, they will not notice the teacher calling their name, or they might not notice they have their shirt on backward or twisted.

In summer, this Ninja can successfully use and understand some sensory information, they have difficulty processing touch (Tactile), movement and body position (Proprioceptive) stimulus. These deficiencies correlate with a need for an increased frequency of poor conduct and social/emotional responses. Some of these behaviors can be things such as extreme inattention, seeking out tactile and movement opportunities. This will contribute to making disruptive, impulsive, and/or unsafe choices at home, in school, social outings and during play.


The OT evaluation will take about an hour. For us, it included observing our Ninja’s tone/strength/range of motion, fine motor–Developmental Test of Visual Perception (DTVP-3)–, his ability to self-help, emotional/behavioral responses, and the sensory profile.

I was most fascinated by the results of our Sensory Profile test. Which is why I chose to cover this topic today. For me, it felt like FINALLY, someone understood my child and there he was in black and white. It was a huge relief that after years of struggling to figure things out, we could now put a plan in place and move forward with goals that would help support our Ninja at home and in school.

photo credit: Markus Spiske

Sensory Triggers and Halloween

Fall is in the air! Which means, if your Ninja’s are like mine, Halloween costume debates are in full swing. My children’s enthusiasm for any holiday comes from their mama. I love to celebrate any and everything–because life is worth celebrating! So far–and this can change–we will have a Pumpkin, a Star Wars Stormtrooper, and Link from the Legend of Zelda.

Sensory Triggers

Halloween is a night of fun, friends, and candy. But for children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), it can be uncomfortable. From constricting costumes, loud (sometimes spooky) noises, and crowded spaces, a child’s sensory triggers can happen at any moment.

With a little creativity, planning, and awareness of what your Ninja’s triggers are you can take back the Halloween fun and avoid potential sensory problems.

Unfamiliar Sensations:

Things like fake cobwebs, the mist from fog machines, pumpkin “guts” and bowls filled with mystery goo are not a tactile-sensitive child’s best friend.

  • Before the big night, try taking your Ninja out to your local store and let them explore the decor. Let them try pushing buttons on things that move or light up. If you feel your Ninja can properly handle touching items, then let them get hands-on. Take the mysterious talking skull off the shelf and let them hold it. Tactile seekers learn by touching. Hands act like an extra set of eyes.
  • Decorate your home! Not only is it a fun family-engaging activity, but it will also help your Ninja feel more comfortable and confident with all the unknown spooky sights. Let them help you hang the fake spider webs around the yard. It is an excellent way to let them get involved, touching, and overcoming a potential sensory trigger.
  • If you Ninja is completely turned off by the sight and smell of a pumpkins insides, try alternative pumpkin crafting. In the past, we have used paint or permanent marker to color and decorate our picked pumpkins. We have also opted for fake pumpkins to carve. These are a great option because you can reuse them for years to come and help your Ninja remember the past Halloween fun.

Costumes:

From the smelly, slipper, static causing material, silly or scary,  costumes can be a nightmare for some Sensory Ninjas. When helping my Ninja come up with a perfect disguise, I like to steer him away from the costume aisle at Target altogether. Sometimes we pull inspiration from there, but for him, I rarely buy the one size fits all items.

For example one year my Ninja wanted to be Batman. Instead of buying the Batman suit in the Halloween section, I found a cotton Batman t-shirt with an attached cape and black sweatpants. I then purchased an accessory kit that had Batman’s mask and gloves. He was the best Batman at the party because he was comfortable and happy! Plus he could wear to school, minus the cape.

Here are some other ideas to help make dressing up easy and fun:

  • Have your Ninja touch the costumes in the store. They will naturally avoid any fabric that is uncomfortable to them.
  • Wash any new costumes a few times to help soften the fabric.
  • Avoid paint if your child has a sensitivity to smells.
  • Avoid masks if your child has a sensitivity to sound. The sound of their breathing inside of their mask might cause issues. If they want to wear a mask, have them try on for a few minutes before buying it.
  • Let them run around and play in their new costume at home. It can help them be more comfortable for the big night. If they are unsure about the costume encourage them to wear it for increasing lengths of time leading up to Halloween.
  • If you do opt for a one piece costume,  have your child wear a lightweight shirt, or PJ’s under it to keep the costume seams from rubbing against their skin.

Trick-or-Treating

Trick-or-Treating can be hard for kids with SPD. It’s noisy and crowded. Decoration will be flashing or moving, and people are rushing from place to place. It is a perfect storm for a sensory meltdown.

It will take time to learn what the warning signs are for your Ninjas triggers, and even knowing them; you still might miss them. You might want to try a word or signal your child can use when they start to feel overwhelmed. Plan and have a safe space for your child to take breaks as needed.

Halloween is a contradiction to all our “stranger-danger” lessons. Encouraging interaction with strangers is a tricky situation for children with SPD that struggle to understand social rules. My Ninja is a super-social kid and will engage with everyone, which is fantastic that he is friendly and kind to others, not so much when it comes to his safety.

We navigate that sort of situation by participating in our church’s Trunk-or-Treat event, and the “stranger-danger” rules are still the same. However, It’s a community that we know well, and feel comfortable having our Ninja engaged socially.

Some other suggestions to help manage Trick-or-Treating:

  • Walk the Trick-or-Treating rout with your Ninja ahead of time, so it is familiar to them, and you.
  • Go out at dusk. There will be more light for your child to navigate with, and the streets will be less crowded.
  • Bring glowsticks or a flashlight. I will have each of my children wear a glow bracelet on their ankle should they run ahead of me; I can quickly locate them in a group.
  • If your Ninja can still fit comfortably, have them ride in a wagon.

New Traditions

If Trick-or-Treating is too much for your Ninja, make your own Halloween traditions instead of the norm! Maybe your tradition could be whole family dressing up and sitting on the porch to pass out the candy to fellow kids. Or you might consider hosting a small costume BBQ with family and friends. If all that still seems too much for your Ninja, a quiet costume move night with all their favorite treats might be just the ticket!

Whatever your Halloween traditions are, old or new, remember to be safe! And have fun!

*feel free to share your costume ideas in a comment below!!*

photo credit: Julia Raasch

Sensory Saturday: DIY Halloween Childrens Costumes

Fall is in the air, which means all things spooky and pumpkin themed are being rolled out across box stores everywhere. With this in mind, it only seemed fitting our Sensory Saturday be dedicated to some great DIY Halloween costumes for the sensory sensitive Ninja’s out there! No funny smells, itchy-scratchy fabric, or uncomfortable fits here. Just everyday wear made over to be spooktacular fun.

For your Sensory Ninja- try out this quick and easy no-sew Ninja costume from Paging Supermom

DIY No-Sew Ninja | Sensory Ninja

Maybe your Ninja would like to be an Elephant? Better Homes & Gardens has put together an adorable, sensory friendly and no-sew costume + patterns!

DIY No-Sew Elephant | Sensory Ninja

Superhero’s more your Ninja’s speed? Twin Dragonfly Designs has a whole lineup of you guessed it, no-sew Superhero costumes! PLUS a mask and gauntlets! Sensory and budget friendly!

DIY No-Sew Superhero | Sensory Ninja

Check out three sensory perfect no-sew DIY costumes at Primary! You can buy their clothing items or pop into your local store and pick out custom Dragon or Unicorn colors.

DIY No-Sew Dragon | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Dragon How To

DIY No-Sew Unicorn | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Unicorn How To

DIY No-Sew Wonder Woman | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Wonder Woman How To

You really can’t go wrong with any of these sensory friendly, easy to do, no-sew costumes. I love how simple it can be to add or take away props or makeup depending on what your Ninja likes.

I would love to see what you and your Ninja come up with for Halloween! Add an image in the comments to share your inspiration!

photo credit: Tanalee Youngblood

I Saw the Sign: Visual Processing Disorder Symptoms

We use visual processing to read, write, and tell the body where it is concerning objects or people.  Unfortunately, for young children with Vision Process Disorders (VPD), their first vision exam (at age five) will not typically detect any indication of VPD.

Children who are most at risk to have a visual processing issue are those who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Parents and teachers may attribute specific visual issues behaviors to SPD and are unaware that it could indicate a VPD.

Academic Signs

  • Poor tracking when reading *
  • Loss of place or needing a finger/marker when reading
  • Difficulty with handwriting (visual-motor planning) *
  • Difficulty with copying notes from the board or other sources *
  • Difficulty identifying words or letters
  • Confuses letters, numbers, and shapes.
  • Displays poor visual memory
    • (i.e., phone number, words, letters, and notes) *
  • Becomes overwhelmed with large amounts of information on a page
    • (i.e., math paper with several rows of problems) *

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches in the forehead or temple *
  • Closing or covering an eye
  • Turning or tilting the head to seen an object *
  • Having an unnatural posture when reading or performing sustained visual tasks *
  • Difficulty with movement or sports
    • poor balance and coordination *
    • poor eye-hand coordination
  • Looking out of the corner of the eye *
  • Poor eye contact *
  • Squinting
  • Stares into space *
  • Poor Spatial awareness *
  • Light sensitivity
  • Fixation on light patterns (including windows or blinds)
  • Gaze aversion
  • Does not follow where someone else is looking

* I’ve stared symptoms my Ninja struggles with

It is important to understand that glasses or medication will not correct a visual processing issue. Children who have a VPD will often show improvement with Vision and or Occupational Therapy to help strengthen visual processing and visual-motor planning.

The best way to support your child academically is work with your school and get an IEP plan in place. Specific accommodations for a child with VPD can include items like a printed copy of the teacher’s notes for your child to highlight or fill in information during lectures.

Children will not grow out of VPD. There are, however, many tools and resources available to improve their skills. Children with VPD may still struggle with this issue into adulthood.

Things to keep in mind: VPD is not dyslexia, ADHD or SPD. Although many children with VPD struggle with attention and focus, it’s can be attributed to the fact that their brains cannot process the information they are seeing. If you think your child may have VPD you can go to this www.covd.org to find a developmental optometrist in your area.

photo credit: www.AssistedSeniorLiving.net

Can you see that: A Closer Look at Vision Processing (part 2)

Vision has a very complex sensory job to do. It helps our brain to remember, identify, and judge where our physical body is within our surroundings. If our visual processing is flawed or taken away entirely life will become challenging very quickly.

If you missed the first half, I recommend you read part one and then come back. Because Vision Processing Disorder (VPD) is an involved topic I broke it down into two parts and today am finishing the review of the remaining four issues:

What are visual processing issues?

  • Long or Short-Term Visual Memory Issues: Children with either long-term or short-term memory issues can struggle to remember what they’ve seen. Reading and spelling will be challenging as well as using keyboards, calculators or even recalling what they have read.

What would you say is the one word that would cause you nightmares? Mine is, SPELLING! Why? Because studying spelling words each week is a living nightmare. The one thing that has helped most is a free app called “Spelling Bee.” He is far from perfect, but 8/20 is an incredible achievement! Also, one of the games he plays on the app has sliding letters across the screen from the left and right. After working with this app for a little over a year, my Ninja can successfully track and pick out the letters he needs to spell a word. HUGE deal!

  • Visual-Spatial Issues: Children with visual-spatial difficulty will struggle with judging where objects are in space, i.e., how far things are from them or each other, and where characters or objects are located in a descriptive narrative. Some children may also find telling time or reading maps difficult.

After our full evaluation came back, it was SHOCKING to see in black and white my child described as “floating in space.” Visual-Spatial Processing is a huge roadblock for our Ninja. It was also relieving to finally understand why he had to touch everything around him all the time, or why when we would be out for a walk, he would stop in the middle of the road and not at the corner as instructed.

Honest moment here: I truly thought he was just a boundary-pushing punk. Yes. I called my child a punk because that’s the best way I can describe his behavior before I understood. Obstinant and defiant. It turns out that he couldn’t judge where he was in his space. I felt about 1″ tall for a month, but now I have perspective, understanding, and knowledge, which has empowered me to advocate for my “seeking” child!

  • Visual Closure Issues: is when a child is unable to identify an object that is missing part or parts of it. i.e., a bike without wheels, or a drawing with missing details such as a bird without its beak.

When given an evaluation for Occupational Therapy (OT) my Ninja was asked to complete the look of a shape. He sat very studiously (well for him that is) which means he was bouncing here there and everywhere while attempting to complete the other side of a triangle with a square in its center. It was a mess. I am happy to report with a lot of hard work on his part and a fantastic occupational therapist that he can now complete the other half. Not neatly, but with better accuracy than on his first trial.

  • Letter and Symbol Reversal Issues: Children that switch and substitute letters or numbers when writing is age-appropriate until age 7. If they continue to struggle with correct letter formation, it will begin to affect reading, writing and math skills.

Children with VPD may not know that they see the world around them differently. In fact, many VPD issues get misdiagnosed as Dyslexia and ADHD. Because a child will exhibits classic ADHD or Dyslexia symptoms such as the struggle to maintain attention, reading, tracking and sustained focus.

To avoid being misdiagnosed, I would encourage you to research and understand VPD. I would also urge you to find a Developmental Othomologist to evaluate your child. (Check out www.covd.org to find one in your area) Be sure to express any concerns you have when making an appointment.

Should your child have Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) it may present some challenges during your exam. However, with time, a patient and kind Othomolgist, they will be able to obtain the visual information they will need to make a proper diagnosis.

Never forget to advocate for your child’s healthcare needs. I took our Ninja to a well respected and noted Othomolgist in his community. After our first follow-up appointment to discuss results from testing (that he did not even perform), I didn’t agree with his assessment and course of suggested treatment. So, I took my Ninja to get a second opinion. I’m very thankful I listened to that “mom voice”! I found another well-respected Othomolgist, waited on her new patient list for a month, and had an entirely different experience. She was hands-on and worked with us at each appointment. We were able to put in place a treatment that has helped my Ninja.

Don’t be afraid of that shine plaquet on their walls. Speak up (respectfully), and ask questions. Doctors are human too and capable of error. Being a voice for your child never wrong!

photo credit: Dmitry Ratushny

Did you see that: A Closer Look at Vision Processing (part 1)

Vision is a sensory that goes far beyond the concepts of how well one can see. The information from the world around us is utilized and processed by our brain, not eyes. We all knew that, right? Of course! It was a well-taught fact when we learned about the five senses in grammar school.

Logic would lead us to the next question: how does our brain use the information it is receiving every second, of every waking moment, of every single day? Well, we use vision in everyday life for things such as visual motor skills and visual planning, visual memory, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

WOW! Our eyes and brain do this all on their own, without us having to do a thing (other than look at the world around us). Sounds like another thing we “just do”, like breathing. We don’t think about how we see; our body just does it.

What are visual processing issues?

Understood.org breaks it down beautifully for us. I’ve summarized it here…with tidbits from my Ninja’s experiences with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and visual processing issues.

There are a total of eight possible visual processing issues. No one is limited to just one, in fact, my Ninja has a few. Because this is a huge chunk of valuable information I’ve decided to cover the first four now and the remainder in a follow-up post. They are as follows:

  • Visual Discrimination Issues: This means that a child will mix up letters or shapes, and the orientation of objects, i.e., “d” for “b”, left from right, and top from bottom. So a child might write a letter “d” in place of the letter “p”.

While Visual Discrimination appears to be dyslexia it is in fact not. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, that cannot be reversed. While Visual Discrimination can be greatly improved with vision therapy based exercises to help strengthen eye control and movement as well as visual processing.

  • Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination Issues: Kids with this specific issue will have difficulty finding shapes or items on a page of information or maybe a specific toy from a large pile, as well as being able to pull a shape or character from its background.  The “Where’s Waldo” books might cause more frustration than joy, and Waldo will probably remain lost.

Thankfully, this is not a big stumbling block for my Ninja. He will at times struggle, but that happens more often when he is tired. It’s also one of his sensory triggers that we have learned to avoid or work through.

  • Visual Sequencing Issues: Children with this type of issue will have a difficult time seeing the order of symbols, words or images. They may skip lines when reading or writing and struggle to copy information from one source to another. They may also reverse or misread letters, numbers, and words.
  • Visual-Motor Processing Issues: Children with this issue will struggle with writing, and their ability to coordinate the movement of other parts of their body. They may be clumsy and have difficulty copying text.

Before my Ninja received physical and occupational therapy he was very clumsy. As an infant, he crawled or walked right into walls and furniture. Sometimes, he would bump his head or hand on the object again before moving to the side to avoid his stationary roadblock. Can you even begin to imagine what a crowded room would do to him visually? It caused frequent toddler meltdowns.

Conclusion

Even though I’ve only covered four visual processing topics, we already get a clearer picture of how essential it is for our eyes and brain to work in tandem. The struggle for children with SPD and or any Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) is a compounded daily struggle.

I would like to encourage you,  the next time you notice a parent struggling with a child, not to jump to conclusions. Please, keep in mind they might be facing challenges such as SPD or VPD.  No matter how good a parent might be, children can express themselves in ways which present as “acting out”. It could be a coping mechanism; with parent and child doing the best they can.

I don’t have perfect children—all kids have bad moments. Either way, having perspective, and knowledge is a powerful set of glasses to help us all be a little more patient and kind to those around us.

photo credit: frank mckenna