Sensory Integration Problems in Preemies
By Lindsey Biel, co-author of Raising a Sensory Smart Child
Mickey is a 18-month-old who was born at 29 weeks, weighing 2 lbs., 12
oz.. Hes getting early intervention for developmental delays in
gross motor and fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, and speech-language
skills. Hes come a long way already. But what concerns his parents
most is that Mickey doesnt like to be cuddled, cries inconsolably
whenever they change his diaper, and never, ever seems to sit still. Hes
on the go from the minute he wakes up, running on his tippy toes from
toy to toy, crashing into the sofa, banging into the wall, and leaving
a mess wherever he goes. Hes a whirlwind of activity all day long,
and his parents are simply exhausted.
What is Sensory Integration?
All of us learn about and comprehend the world through our senses. We
see things, we hear things, we touch things, we experience gravity, and
we use our bodies to move around in it. All of the sensory input from
the environment and from inside our bodies works together seamlessly so
we know what's going on and what to do.
Kids with sensory integration (SI) dysfunction experience the world differently.
They don't take in and use sensory information the same way. Their central
nervous system responds to sensory input differently, so they're not always
getting an accurate, reliable picture of their bodies and the environment.
Common Signs of Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Out of proportion reactions: over or undersensitivity to touch,
What causes sensory integration problems?
Sensory problems result from neurological differences, and new research is being done to confirm this. Its a difference in how the brain and nervous system are wired. Sensory problems are quite often seen in children born prematurely (especially the smallest and the youngest), those adopted from overseas, children who have experienced birth trauma or prolonged hospitalization, and those exposed to heavy metals. Sensory problems are a common symptom of other diagnoses including autism, attention deficit disorders, Down Syndrome, fragile X, anxiety and depression and others. A child may have such a disorder AND SI dysfunction. A child can just have sensory problems and nothing else. Its estimated that theres one child with sensory issues in every regular classroom, and somewhere between 50-80% of children have some degree of sensory problems in a classoom of children with autism spectrum disorders.
Why preemies are at increased risk for sensory integration problems?
In the womb, a baby spends her time curled up, cozy and warm in the dark,
listening to her mothers heartbeat and muted sounds from the outside
world. Meanwhile, her nervous system is developing at astonishing speed,
forming thousands upon thousands of essential nerve cell connections.
When a baby is born prematurely, her immature, disorganized nervous system
isnt ready to handle all of the sensory messages bombarding her.
Each baby is, of course, totally unique, but in general preemies tend to:
be highly sensitive to noise, light, touch, and movementeven
beyond the second birthday
The Good New: There is help for sensory integration problems!
With appropriate interventions and time, most children develop needed
central nervous system connections and sensory input starts getting more
familiar and more comfortable. Not always, but most of the time, children
can overcome their sensory problems, especially with parents who develop
their own "sensory smarts."
Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, co-author of Raising A Sensory Smart Child, provided this original article. For more information on sensory integration issues, practical solutions, finding professional help, advocating with schools, and more, pick up a copy of her book, Raising A Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues. You can visit her site at www.sensorysmarts.com.
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