It’s not all Celery and Carrot Sticks…

by nicholmom3 on January 3, 2008

 by:  Lettuce Wrap

By the time my son had turned 5, I was certain there was something very different about him compared to other children.  He had chronic ear infections from the time he was born having to have ear tubes after ear tubes.  He also had his tonsils and adenoids removed.  Still he continued to get ear infections.  He also was super sensitive to loud noises including airplanes, firecrackers, anything loud or sudden, loud flushing toilets, and hand dryers.  He would cover his ears with both hands and cry.  I attributed this to the ear problems.

Although he was very intelligent, I noticed he did not do things like other children.  He had an uncanny sense of smell.  He could smell things no one else could.  When trying to skip, he would just gallop and not alternate feet.  We worked and worked on this but for some reason he just could not get it which seemed very odd to me.  He was so bright, he learned to hide his inability to do certain things.

I enrolled him in gymnastics through his preschool.  After a few classes, I noticed the instructor had little to no patience with the fact he just could not get how to do a beginning cartwheel.  She would just skip over him.  It really angered me.

He did not run like other kids.  His arms and legs did not work together like other kids.  He just flailed his arms as he would run.  He did not climb.  He did not seem to notice if he had food on his face.  He craved touch to the extent he would want to hug his friends all of the time which caused problems in the preschool class.  He was extremely touchy feely.  He would often fall out of his seat on purpose which would disrupt the class.  He did not get the “my space – your space” issue.

He did not pick a dominant hand.  He would constantly switch hands when writing, eating, coloring, or painting.  I remember a preschool teacher told me he just HAD to pick a hand because it was past time to do so. 

He had extreme difficulty buttoning, zipping, or snapping clothing.  Forget tying shoes! He could not open candy or anything other kids did. 

I made an appointment with the pediatrician to discuss my concerns.  He told me that he wanted me to take him to Children’s Therapy to be evaluated by an occupational therapist.  This alarmed me a great deal. 

Once we met the therapist, I filled out a ton of questionaires.  We then discussed my concerns.  After watching my son play for a few minutes, she asked me if I had ever heard of Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  I told her no.  She said she felt certain that is what my son had. 

She explained to me that Sensory Integration (SI) is the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the envir0nment.  While we all have our own sensory difficulties, we all have our own quirks.  Children too, have their own little quirks.  The difference between quirks and sensory difficulty is that the latter interfers with daily life, thus preventing the child from seeking new things.  This indicates a need for intervention. 

As you know, sensory experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight, sound, and the pull of gravity.  In essence, Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) is the neurological inability to integrate properly the seven (yes, there are seven!) senses.  These include sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, proprioception and balance / coordination (vestibular sense).  The process of the brain organizing and interpreting this information is called sensory integration.  Sensory integration provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behavior.

The senses all work together.  Each sense works with the others to form a composite picture of who we are physically, where we are, and what is going on around us.  SI is a critical function of the brain that is responsible for producing this composite picture.  In order to achieve developmental milestones, children must first be able to intake sensory input, process it, and then respond appropriately within seconds.  For most, SI occurs automatically and subconsciously, without effort.  For the child with sensory dysfunction the process is often inefficient, demanding effort and attention with no guarantee of accuracy. 

In other words, sensory integration dysfunction is sort of a ‘traffic jam’ in the brain.  Some bits of sensory information get ‘tied up in traffic’, and certain parts of the brain do not get the sensory information they need to function properly. 

Sensory integration dysfunction affects both fine and gross motor movements.  Instead of both halves of the brain comunicating back and forth, each half develops completely independent of the other half.  The child does not have a dominant side nor a hand preference.  Since there is no dominant hand, handwriting is very difficult and illegible.  Cutting is a nightmare.  These were some of the things his teacher was complaining about. 

The occupational therapist, tested my son and after completing the tests felt certain that we had found the problem as did I.  We saw the therapist weekly for an hour a week.  She gave me exercises to do with him at home.  She would work with all of his senses during therapy each week.  He loved therapy and could not wait to go each week. 

What are some signs of sensory integration dysfunction? A child can have any combination of these signs…

  • Coordination problems
  • An unusual heightened sensitivity to sounds and smells. 
  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds – (does not want to be touched! – Avoidance of physical contact with people and with certain textures such as sand, paste and finger paints.) 
  • Under reactive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds — craves touch (falling out of his seat was for sensory input as was the constant hugging and touching others)
  • Easily distracted (can be ADHD but not necessarily so)
  • Activitiy level that is unusually high or unusually low
  • Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness (he was always falling)
  • Impulsive, lacking in self control ( a biggie for my son – often misdiagnosed as merely ADHD)
  • Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another (makes school a nightmare!)
  • Inability to unwind or calm self (again often misdiagnosed as ADHD)

The important thing is to realize you are not alone and that there is help out there for both you and your child.  This is much more common than people realize; it is often misdiagnosed as ADHD.  While children may have both sensory integration dysfunction and ADHD, they can have one without the other.  One thing I learned is to go with your intuition.  Do not settle for just one evaluation.  If you feel there is more to it then by all means seek other opinions.  Do not let your child be judged unfairly.  You are your child’s best advocate.  You know your child better than anyone else.

Everyone kept telling me my son had ADHD, but I knew it was something else after researching ADHD.  I found it was important to find a good occupational therapist – preferably one that specializes in sensory integration dysfunction.  A good therapist can help guide you and your child  in finding the best school and assistance you need. 

We were fortunate enough to be told about an awesome physical therapist who specialized in children with sensory integration dysfunction and learning problems.  She has been a Godsend for our family.  She helped us find a great school, a person specialized in testing our son, and just gave me the support system we needed to give my son what he needed.  Thanks to our therapist, we had a great speech pathologist, a wonderful gymnastics teacher, and many other wonderful people to help.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) is a neurological disorder pioneered 40 years ago by A. Jean Ayers, Ph.D., OTR.  I have read most of her works and found them to be extremely helpful.

Some great resources I have found to be very helpful on my journey of learning all about sensory integration dysfunction…


The Out-of-Sync Child     

The Everything Parent’s Guide To Sensory Integration Disorder:  Get the Right Diagnosis, Understand Treatments, And Advocate for Your Child 

Answers to Questions Teachers Ask About Sensory Integration 

Like Sound Through Water 

Love, Jean 

Products & Equipment:

Southpaw Enterprises

Therapy Shoppe


Sensory Integration Global Network

Incredible Horizons

If you looked at my son today, you would never know he ever had any sensory problems.  He is now 13 and a great athlete and honor student.  We learned a great deal with my son which helped us to be ready for our daughter who had much more severe sensory integration problems as well as ADD and some learning problems.  Thankfully, we had our support in place and dove in head first.  Our daughter is now thriving and doing well academically.  It has been a long journey, but I would not trade our experience for anything.  We have met and worked with some wonderful people.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

tricia January 3, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I’ll be anxious to see what you end up doing with the tofu. I’ve never been adventurous enough to try it!!

Cate January 3, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Oh cool. I am too scared of tofu to try cooking it myself. I prefer it already disguised by Boca!

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