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Sensory processing difficulties

Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will typically have sensory processing difficulties associated with their diagnosis. Children who are neurodiverse or who have a neurodisability may also have sensory processing difficulties. Our senses are the systems that our body has that give us information about ourselves and the world around us, so that we can go about our day-to-day lives. Difficulties processing sensory information can make every day activities challenging for children and their families.

Examples of sensory processing difficulties

Some children seem to struggle to get enough from their bodies and the world around them to be able to stay calm and alert. These children may appear tired or ‘zoned-out’, or they might not register someone calling their name, even if they are in the same room. They appear under-responsive or under-aroused.

Alternatively, some children may appear to be on ‘high alert’ and their senses may be super-sensitive. For example, noises might hurt their ears, clothes might seem scratchy, or touch from other people may be distressing. These children appear over-responsive or over-aroused. Our senses are especially sensitive when we are stressed or anxious, but heightened sensations can make the child feel even more stressed-out, and it can become a vicious cycle. Children may end up feeling totally overwhelmed. Their body may even respond to this by going into ‘shut-down mode’.

Most commonly, children will be a complex mixture of these things. Some senses may seem over-responsive and some may seem under-responsive. Sensory needs might change throughout the day, or from one day to the next, depending on factors such as what the activity is, who the child is with, what the environment is like or even just what mood a child is in.

Children might respond to their sensory state by seeking sensations to try and help them to become more regulated. For example, if under-stimulated, they may feel the need to move more and may struggle to sit still, or may have the urge to make funny or loud noises. If feeling over-whelmed, they might be seeking sensations that have a calming and regulating effect; for example, chewing things or seeking out deep pressure touch, such as a bear hug.

Support from Ryegate Children’s Centre

At the Ryegate Children’s Centre, we do not provide individual sensory assessments. Our aim is to provide training, strategies and resources that can help parents and carers to better understand their child’s sensory needs, both now and in future, as we know that those needs will change and evolve throughout a child’s life. We are currently rolling-out our new provision, which offers a tiered pathway of intervention to seek to ensure families receive the most relevant support. This will include access to online resources for helping parents and carers to further their understanding of their child’s sensory needs, along with practical strategies to support their child with sensory needs in their everyday lives. There will also be the additional option to access these resources in the form of a face to face workshop, for those families who find this method more accessible or appropriate for their needs. Families will be given access to an email helpline, so that they can contact our team directly with any specific enquiries or needs. 

Our Therapists deliver training to Sheffield school staff about sensory processing. We are currently developing our new training package, which aims to equip SENCos and teaching staff with the tools that they need to ensure their school is ‘sensory friendly’, as well as upskilling them to put in place strategies to support children with their sensory needs on a more individual basis, where appropriate. Our team will also be offering a consultation service for schools to provide additional support and advice, where needed.

At the Ryegate Children’s Centre, we do not offer Ayres Sensory Integration Therapy (ASI). ASI is a prescriptive form of therapy which claims to change the child’s underlying neural pathways and remedy the child’s sensory processing difficulties. It is not an approach that is currently recommended in the NICE guidelines for Autism.

Online resources

On our webpage, (www.sheffieldchildrens.nhs.uk/sensory), there is a downloadable booklet that explains a bit about sensory needs and includes key strategies to help with sensory processing difficulties. This is accompanied by 4 short practical demonstration videos and our ‘Top Tips’ leaflets. There is also a series of PowerPoint presentations that explain a bit more about the ‘theory’ surrounding sensory processing difficulties to help with understanding children’s sensory needs.

Who can help?

If you think your child has sensory processing difficulties, please talk to any health professional who is already working with your child, (e.g., Paediatrician, Speech & Language Therapist, G.P. etc). They can help you to unpick your child’s behaviours and whether they are sensory or have another cause. Healthcare professionals who know your child can make a referral to the Ryegate Children’s Centre Sensory Service.

 

Last reviewed: 24.02.21
Information owner: Team Leader for Community Physiotherapy & Occupational Therapy

Last Updated: 22/10/2021
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