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Sensory processing difficulties

Some children with a neurodisability also have sensory processing difficulties. We know that most children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will have sensory processing difficulties associated with their diagnosis.

These children might be too sensitive to certain sensations such as loud noises, smells, the feel of their clothes or another person’s touch. They might actively try to avoid these sensations through certain behaviours.

Some children are not sensitive enough to certain sensations such as food around their mouth, movement and body position. They might actively seek sensations through behaviours such as chewing non-food items, fidgeting or being generally on the go.

Sensory processing can be very variable from one day to the next and from one child to another.

We know difficulties processing sensory information can make every day activities challenging for children and their families, which is why we have put together some Top Tips on handy downloadable sheets that you can print off to read yourself or share with other people who know your child. (You can find this by clicking on the external link to this article, "Sensory processing difficulties" on the Sheffield Children's NHS Trust. The link is on the left-hand side of this page under "External Links.")

At Ryegate, we do not provide individual sensory assessments. Instead, we offer the parents of children with an ASD or social communication difficulties the opportunity to attend a Sensory Workshop, to help them understand their child’s sensory needs and learn about practical strategies that can help at home.

If you think your child has sensory processing difficulties, please talk to any health professionals already working with your child. They will help you unpick your child’s behaviours and whether or not they are sensory, or have another cause.

We know that children with high levels of anxiety tend to display a higher level of sensory sensitivity i.e. more sensitive to sensations such as noise, touch, smells and tastes. We also know that children who are struggling to communicate and express their emotions or needs sometimes use sensory behaviours to gain attention. It is important to consider both of these things in the context of sensory processing difficulties and address them alongside the sensory behaviours.

If you feel sure your child has sensory processing difficulties and you would like to attend one of our sensory workshops, please ask a medical professional who knows your child to make a referral to the Sensory Service at Ryegate.

Sensory integration therapy

Ayres Sensory Integration Therapy/Intervention (ASI) is a form of therapy which aims to change the child’s underlying neural pathways and remedy the child’s impairment in sensory processing. We do not offer ASI at Ryegate. It is not an approach that is recommended by the Royal College of Occupational Therapy or NICE guidelines for Autism.

Our approach at Ryegate is based on changing the things around the child, such as the environment, the child’s activities (through our Top Tips) and their personal factors, such as parent/carer knowledge and understanding.

We deliver training to schools about sensory processing and we are currently working on a project to make all the schools in Sheffield more sensory friendly. It’s a big job and it could take some time, but we know it’s important.

Last reviewed: 12/11/2018
Information owner: Team Leader for Community Physiotherapy & Occupational Therapy

Last Updated: 13/11/2020
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