By Sonia Story
Many children, teens, and adults are going through life with uncomfortable—even painful—sensory experiences. Understanding what can cause sensory processing challenges, and how they develop in the first place, gives us information to help overcome them.
As instructor of the Brain and Sensory Foundations courses, I have read hundreds of case studies from course participants who work with children and adults struggling with sensory processing dysfunction. I have seen over and over again how sensory processing challenges, ranging from mild to severe, can impact our daily lives in negative ways—they make it more challenging to learn, grow, and participate meaningfully in life.
In one case study, a 5-year-old with birth trauma was suffering from hypersensitivity of all senses. This little girl could not sit with her friends at lunch because the sound bothered her. She also had difficulties being in the room with other individuals because she could smell their body odors (just normal odors, nothing outside the norm). She also could not tolerate certain types of clothing or outdoor sunlight, and constantly mouthed non-food objects.
Another case study described a 7-year-old boy suffering from auditory and tactile hypersensitivities. He would cry every time he and his family went to the beach because he would be overwhelmed by the noise and irritated by the sand.
When we see someone with sensory processing dysfunction — whether that individual is a sensory seeker, avoider, under-responder, or over-responder—it is helpful to know that the underlying issue is often a brain and body immaturity. The link between sensory processing dysfunction and immature primitive reflexes is backed up by recent compelling research..
When sensory processing challenges are present, the individual is usually lacking in basic nervous system development from infancy, or has suffered a trauma that brings up the survival mechanisms of infancy and creates imbalances in the nervous system.
When we make a commitment to develop the brain and body, sensory processing challenges often fade away. In other words, as the brain and body mature, so do the sensory processing systems.
Time and time again we see excellent outcomes for individuals with sensory processing dysfunction when we provide these 3 keys:
Innate rhythmic movements—These are rhythmic movements that all healthy infants do—they have profound calming effects, they develop the brain and body, and they help to mature the infant reflexes.
Primitive and postural reflex integration—These are automatic, stereotypical movement patterns, initiated by specific stimuli, that all healthy infants do. These innate movement patterns provide the foundation for brain development, core strength, and sensory processing.
Time doing playful activities in prone (on the belly)—Prone activities are part of natural infant movement. Being prone—especially in playful ways—deserves special mention because it is so important and often lacking in modern infant development.
These 3 keys increase brain and body maturity. As the brain and body mature, we are able to take in and make coherent sense out of incoming sensory information; then we can respond comfortably and appropriately. For example, in the case study about the little girl dealing with hypersensitivity of all senses, after being guided through rhythmic movements and innate reflex integration, she is now able to sit and have lunch with peers without any difficulties and is no longer bothered by smells. She also no longer startles with loud noises or sudden light and appears much calmer in her body and her environment. And that little boy who would cry when headed to the beach? His mom reports that when they now go on an outing like this, she can barely get him to come home because he loves the beach so much.
As these case studies show, along with improvements in sensory processing dysfunction, we often see tremendous leaps in functioning in other areas. This is because the innate movements also help with other issues such as sleep, anxiety, ability to focus, handwriting challenges, and emotional regulation.
This makes sense because when we mature the brain, body, and sensory systems, with innate neurodevelopmental movements, we build the foundation for functional skills.
At the case study resource index here, you will see more outstanding success stories using these 3 Keys for all ages, infant to elder.
© Sonia Story, 2021