Monday, May 20, 2013

PWS Awareness Day #20: Sensory Issues

(A lot of this is from Janice Agarwal, PWS mom, PT, and sensory integration specialist) 
Sensory integration is the ability to organize, synthesize, and process incoming sensory (all 5 senses) information received from the body and environment to produce purpose, goal-directed processes. Any child with abnormal muscle tone (like in PWS) will have difficulties with sensory integration (remember that hypotonia is a neurological issue, and if your nervous system isn't functioning properly, you're not going to be able to receive and process sensory information properly either).

Sensory dysfunction can present itself in a million ways, but you will commonly see: acute awareness of background noises, fascination with lights/fans/water/etc., spinning items and taking them apart/destroying them, coordination problems, unusually high (or low) activity level, difficulty with transitions (because of a whole new set of sensory inputs), and an unusual sensitivity to sounds and smells.

There's so, so much more about sensory integration, but I'll leave it at that as just an introduction. Occupational therapy is the most common therapy for dealing with sensory issues, but many other activities can help, too.

I originally thought that because Dean doesn't freak out when we run a vacuum cleaner or something obvious like that, that he didn't have sensory issues. I couldn't be more wrong. I can't even begin to list the ways that Dean seeks sensory input, whether it's through intentionally bumping into things, flinging himself backwards and upside-down off of furniture or slides, difficulty with fine motor skills, grinds the heck out of his sippy cups and plastic spoons... so much more. Of the kinds of sensory dysfunction (vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and oral motor), Dean has deficits in all areas, most notably in proprioceptive. When we put a therapeutic suit on him that squeezes his body (giving more sensory feedback), it's like he's a different kid. He can suddenly make coordinated movements that are nearly impossible without that input. This is something that affects pretty much everything Dean does.

(image courtesy of

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