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Is Sensory Over Used?

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I have run into multiple circumstances (with multiple families) in the past where caregivers are insisting that their child has a sensory disorder. The child is evaluated and the sensory function is determined to be typical of other children. The problem lies in the fact that the caregiver continues to insist that the child has a sensory problem where there isn’t one.

There are many children who have sensory problems that are affecting their life, but there is also a lot of normal kid behavior that parents have to deal with, without using sensory as an excuse. Every person on earth has their own sensory likes and dislikes, and they are all normal. Some people enjoy roller coasters, others don’t. Some people like loud concerts while others prefer quiet. The brain load happening at any given time can also have an effect on people’s tolerance of extra stimulation, and the level of hunger and fatigue can affect your personal sensory tolerance.

is sensory over used?

Photo by Guy Shapira / Dollar Photo Club

So in many cases, kids just need to learn how to deal with and adapt to new situations, and experiences. They don’t need therapy to help them, they just need experiences. Another thing to consider; Is the child having a problem, or is the parent having a problem. Are these parents quick to try to throw a label on their child because they (the parent) are frustrated and can’t handle some of the difficulties of parenting?

Now, all kids are different, and there are some kids that definitely cross the line and they have a barrier to function. I am not writing about those kids because I think there are already plenty of things written about them. I have two kids, and one was easy going and mellow when young, and the other was much more challenging. I had to modify my parenting style for the new kid who was a bit more sensitive and volatile. The key is in recognizing differences, making changes as needed, pushing to an extent, and modifying behavior one behavior at a time.

In OT we work with the kids that have extreme difficulties, but most kids just have mild differences that can be recognized for what they are, and then just worked through in every day life and daily activities.

What do you think? Are too many kids getting labeled as sensory?

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  1. Thank you! I feel that we are all sensory beings but sometimes kids are just being kids and as parents and therapist we have to learn to deal with it. In the past kids were stimulated by different sensory experiences and now our society is evolving with other sensory experiences. Kids need to move and explore to learn. It does not mean they have a processing disorder it means that they are trying to do what their bodies need naturally and we (as adults) need to understand that. Again thank you so much for writing this because I have been feeling this same thing but as an OT I feel pressured to advocate for sensory processing. Thanks you so much!

      1. Thank you for bringing this up! I agree and find it in my practice as well! I come from a strong sensory integration background and I believe that it truly works when needed, but it is not the end all be all and not every child needs intervention with sensory.

  2. Another factor to consider is the sensory processing profile (note the lower case) ‘match’ between the caregiver and child. If an active, energetic child is being cared for by someone with much lower thresholds the relative difference between them is the source of the discord. I love working with his combination, you see great ‘aha’ moments when parents and kids recognize what is going on and how to support each other.

  3. I agree. I have wondered if technology is fueling a little of this. First, kids who are spending times watching a screen are motor depressed. I wonder if some parents think this depressed state is normal. Second, my kids are SO cranky when pried away from the screen! After time away they are much less emotionally labile. Third they spend so much less time with their sense when they are stuck to a screen. And lastly, parents look everything up on the internet and can get hypochondria more easily when reading about sensory issues.

  4. Great post! How about those kids that score really high on the sensory processing measure but observations reveal the strong possibility of a behavioral and/or psycho-social disorder? I find it difficult to explain, that yes, your child is showing these behaviors that look like sensory avoiding, but I think it’s something other than a sensory problem…

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