For those familiar with visiting or living in New York City in July, the feeling is still vivid. A flood of senses comes to mind. The Big Apple is hot and humid, 24/7 rush hour, honking, noisy buses, millions of people pass by the big screens at Times Square. Trucks of Emergency services are passing by, subway breaks in screeching noise and big black trash bags everywhere, with unbearable acidic smell. Add to those the occasional encounter with a cockroach on the dark streets at night, and the picture is complete. No place like NYC.
Now imagine a child sensing all of that.
A child with a condition called Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).
In the Sensory Over-Responsivity type (called also sensory hypersensitivity), you may become overwhelmed by those enhanced amounts of sensory input. Your reactions and emotional state may be highly affected. Usually one of the following reactions to the sensory stimuli will appear: Fight, Flight or Freeze. These are protective reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Fight is an aggressive reaction – the child hits another child who accidently touched him while standing in a line. A Flight reaction may be a child withdrawing on the playground and playing on his own. Each child has a dominant protective style.
While many kids and adults have different sensory sensitivities to varying degrees, they may not be affected by them. A child with tactile hypersensitivity (Tactile Defensiveness) may have sensitivity only to the tags on his shirts. Others are severely affected by this disorder and it has severe implication on their daily function. Kids who have ADHD, Anxiety Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder or are on the Autism Spectrum are more prone to have SMD and other sensory processing disorders.
A comprehensive occupational therapy assessment is required when the child's parents or educators suspect that sensory issues underlie behavioral problems.
Treatment will include providing a “Sensory Diet” which is a regimen of daily activities to help organize and regulate the child's nervous system. Such a regimen should be implemented at home and at school. The treatment will also include a gradual increase in the child's tolerance to a variety of sensory experiences. The Alert Program –How Does Your Engine Run – A program created by Williams and Shellenberger, for helping kids maintain an optimal alert state by using sensory strategies for self-regulation, or similar self-regulation programs, can be used with a child to facilitate self-regulation awareness.
Another system called A SECRET was developed by Lucy Jane Miller to help parents’ awareness to their child's sensory issues, address them and prevent behavioral problems. A SECRET has seven elements: Attention, Sensation, Emotional regulation, Culture, Relationships, Environment, and Tasks.
For example, the parent can ask herself whether there is a Sensation that is bothering her child, what it is and whether it can be modified; How he can draw the Attention away from the bothering sensory stimuli and what is it in the Relationship with him or another person that causes the child's oppositional behavior.