In clinical practice we consider assessing sensory processing deficits or sensory integration dysfunction as an important part of global assessment and treatment, particularly when working with people with autism. I for one was a late entrant in making sensory assessments, almost a routine part of the battery of assessments that can help inform pathology.
Sensory integration dysfunction is a neurological disorder characterized by a neurological sensory integration deficit. The idea of treating sensory integration dysfunction as a discrete disorder was popularized by Anna Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and developmental psychologist in the 60s.
Even though this and associated theories have been in existence for almost four decades we are seeing, increasingly, a greater number of clinicians and therapists actively consider the impact of sensory deficits, seek the assistance of occupational therapists to undertake sensory assessments, devise sensory diets and interventions.
This is just as well given we know Sensory integration dysfunction impairs the functional skills of 1 in 20 children and much higher in kids with intellectual disability and/or autism. These people may misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound and movement. They may feel overwhelmed by sensory information, may seek out sensory experiences or may avoid certain experiences.
Often experiences are either over-reactive (sensory avoidance) or under-reactive (sensory seeker). They may also present with motor skill problems and may react with strong emotional behaviors and experience what may be described as ‘melt downs’.