Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – a learning barrier!

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is split into two distinct sub categories: sensory avoiders and sensory seekers.  Sensory avoiders have a low sensory threshold because too little habituation takes which in turn makes them sensitive to their environment. Habituation is when the brain blocks out unimportant sensory information so that we can focus on important information in that moment. When the brain is not blocking out enough sensory information – such as background noise, lights, and movement – we struggle to focus on the task at hand because our brains are over-stimulated. A sensory avoiding child will often find it difficult to focus in the classroom because their brain cannot habituate the lights, kids shuffling around them, the colours on the wall, etc – which goes unnoticed by a child with a normal sensory threshold.

On the contrary, a sensory seeker has a high sensory threshold because their brain over habituates –too much information goes unnoticed by the brain and as a result they feel under-stimulated needing sensory input. Often a child who has the inability to sit still is seeking vestibular input – the need to move around to be stimulated.  A sensory seeking child may struggle to focus in class because their brain is too preoccupied in finding additional stimuli.

Examples of how Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) presents itself through the 7 senses and affects learning:

  • Auditory sense: distracted by background noise (shuffling of papers, the sound of chalk against the board); or inability to focus when it is too quiet;
  • Visual sense: inability to block out pictures on the wall;
  • Olfactory (smell) sense: inability to focus because of the smell of maybe the floor cleaner, or a teachers perfume;
  • Taste: The olfactory and taste sense go hand in hand – often when a child’s sense of smell is affected their sense of taste is also affected. For example, being overly sensitive to a smell may elicit an unpleasant taste in the mouth;
  • Tactile (touch): inability to focus because of aversions to certain textures, for example, the feel of the desk;
  • Movement (Proprioceptive): the constant need to fidget – play with an object or their fingers – because their muscles and joints in their hands seek pressure input;
  • Movement (Vestibular): inability to sit still when expected.

At Catch Up Kids, we understand that every child has their own learning style – some may learn best through movement (eg, learning to count while jumping on a trampoline) and others may be Proprioceptive learners (eg, picking up objects as they count them such as stones and marbles). Our Individualised Education Programmes (IEP’s) are designed by a skilled Case Supervisor to suit your child’s specific learning style. For more information: www.catchupkids.co.za