Most of the sensations present in the environment are not relevant to us and our brain has to learn how to tune it out and focus on more relevant sensations. So for example, while your child is sitting in class he needs to be able to ignore sounds coming from the back of the class such as his peers talking and focus on the teacher’s explanation. The modulation part of the nervous system acts as a traffic controller and helps our brain to keep relevant sensations and direct them to the relevant centres of the brain for us to keep calm, pay attention and behave and react appropriately.
However, if your child’s brain is not able to do this he will pay attention to every small piece of information or stimuli they receive and get constantly distracted. This is called a Sensory modulation dysfunction and results in difficulties with filtering the sensations and controlling the intensity and nature of responses to stimuli.
A child’s brain might not be able to inhibit tactile information and so the child is constantly being bothered by his school uniform while he is trying to focus on writing his homework, or your baby gets cranky and irritable during a nappy change. On the other hand, the child’s brain might not be detecting enough sensation from the vestibular system (movement sense) and so the child struggles to sit still in his chair during mealtimes or is constantly climbing with little regard to personal safety.
The following are some signs of sensory modulation disorder (Miller 2006*):
- Avoids hugs
- Resists being held
- Cries and refuses messy play
- Aggressive or impulsive behaviour
- Irritable fussy moody Withdraws from bright lights
- Excessively cautious and afraid to try new things
- Doesn’t cry when seriously hurt
- Doesn’t seem to notice when someone touches him
- Always prefers sedentary activities
- Slow and unmotivated to do daily tasks
- Often unaware of body sensations such as hunger
- Is constantly on the move
- Likes crashishing bumping and jumping
- Preference for excessing spinning, swinging and rolling
- Constantly touches objects
- Unable to stop talking and trouble taking turn in conversations
- Licks suchs or chews on non food itenms
- Deliberately smells or tastes objects when playing
*Adapted from Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for children with sensory processing disorder Miller 2006.
At WonderKids – a Malta based Paediatric Centre, we offer Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration therapy for children who need help.