Last updated on Feb 23rd, 2021 at 12:58 pm

What is sensory integration dysfunction?

Sensory integration dysfunction (SID) is a syndrome that affects children who have trouble organising and processing sensory input effectively and thus don’t respond appropriately.
Sensory inputs such as hearing, movement and gravity, muscles and joints, touch and sight are important because your whole environment is made up of them. Sensory processing helps the brain to decide what’s important and what’s not. For example, when you hear the dog bark, you know it’s a dog and don’t pay attention to it. Children who have sensory integration difficulties pay attention to everything they hear and do because their brains aren’t able to process what’s important and what’s not.
The exact cause of SID hasn’t yet been determined, but doctors have found that it begins in the womb and that babies can be adversely affected by factors such as drinking during pregnancy or being in a breech position.

How can sensory integration dysfunction affect my child?

  • Your child can have gross- and fine motor delays as well as problems with coordination and learning or adapting to tasks.
  • He can have difficulties with behaviour and emotional issues – he may throw temper tantrums, become overwhelmed, scared and even go and hide under a bed and scream.
  • He can have problems with concentration, problem-solving and planning skills.
  • He may have difficulties with social interaction.
  • He may struggle to cope in very busy environments, such as a shopping mall, as there is just too much to hear, smell and look at.

Signs your baby may have a sensory integration problem:

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  • Has difficulties calming herself – cries and fusses extensively and struggles to quieten down or requires extreme efforts to calm down.
  • Struggles to fall and/or stay asleep, or takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
  • Avoids textured foods, regurgitates and spits out food. Also has difficulty establishing a feeding routine.
  • Doesn’t like to be cuddled and pulls away or arches when you try to hold her close.
  • Resists being put in certain positions.
  • Doesn’t like getting messy and avoids certain textures.
  • Gets distressed by unexpected or loud noises.
  • Scared of being swung in the air and active play.

Signs your toddler may have a sensory integration problem:

  • He struggles to shift his attention from one task to another.
  • He becomes over-excited in busy environments, such as restaurants or shopping malls.
  • He is easily distracted by sights and sounds.
  • He displays poor attention and concentration.
  • He has severe separation anxiety and is fearful of new people and places.
  • He is aggressive and has excessive tantrums or tantrums for no apparent reason.
  • He has difficulties responding to limits.
  • He makes poor eye contact and displays limited emotional expressions.
  • He is controlling, manipulative or exhibits immature behaviour.
  • There may also be a delay in his motor development, as well as delayed speech and difficulties with potty training or with controlling bladder and bowel movements.
Stimulations tips for tots

Occupational therapist Nadia Cusack recommends these tips to stimulate your toddler’s senses:

  • Involve your child in your usual daily activities. Ask him to fold the socks for you or sweep the floor.
  • Give him plastic containers to play with in the bath. Different textured sponges and a variety of bubble baths are also great for helping to develop your child’s sense of touch and smell.
  • Cook a variety of pastas and allow your child to feed himself with his hands.
  • Activities such as swinging your toddler upside down and rocking him on a rocking horse will help to develop his sense of movement.
  • Introduce new flavours into your toddler’s diet to stimulate his sense of taste and smell. Teach him to smell perfumed flowers, scented toys or any other interesting aromas you like.
  • Stroke and tickle your child with different textured objects, such as feathers or a soft hairbrush – this will develop his sense of touch.

Signs your preschooler may have a sensory integration difficulty:

  • Stiff, tight or rough-textured clothes bother your child, especially if they are new.
  • He becomes very upset or aggressive by unexpected touch, kisses, tight hugs and messy play.
  • Problems with speech development
  • Signs of self-abuse – for example, he is violent towards other children and struggles to communicate with adults
  • He grinds his teeth, jumps off high objects, drags or pulls objects continually and slams doors or bangs objects forcefully.
  • Bites and sucks on his fingers frequently, constantly kicks his feet while sitting or is exceptionally ticklish
  • Has very high activity levels and is constantly jumping up and down, or has low activity levels and remains unresponsive for long periods of time.
Stimulation tips for preschoolers
  • Encourage your child to be independent at home. Let him set the table or feed the dog.
  • Invite friends over to play or take him to a friend’s house for a play date.
  • Rough and constructive play is great – build a house out of furniture.
  • Pretend play such as ‘dress-up’ is also a fun way of stimulating your preschooler’s senses.
  • Gross motor play on the jungle gym, pushing a wheelbarrow or raking leaves, are all beneficial.