Sensory processing and integration provides body control,
underpins all normative functioning and enables decision-making. It impacts on how we move, plan and co-ordinate our motor functioning, communicate, behave, develop and participate occupationally. A lack of regulated sensory control means people cannot engage effectively in everyday life activities. Dysfunctions in sensory processing therefore significantly impact on life quality.
Oral motor difficulties are a key current issue and we are regularly asked for more resources to help support this need (a new Oral Motor Kit will be launched in 2015 – watch this space!). Inappropriate behaviours exhibited that people can find confusing/distressing are:
- Mouthing non-food items (chewing, licking, eating, biting, self-harming, tugging and shredding clothes/soft furnishings etc. with teeth. Rolling/spitting bits of chewed items)
- Not being able or refusing to feed independently
- Spitting out food/gagging when eating
- Experiencing a very restricted diet with avoidance of certain foods.
- Poor oral hygiene (cleaning teeth intolerance)
So, why does this happen?
Taking a sensory perspective, imagine you cannot understand or put into context the feelings and sensations that your body is experiencing or feeling (light/texture/smell/taste/sound). Maybe these are experienced as so overwhelmingly intense that you want to withdraw because the input is unpleasant. Sensory input may be so minimal/distant that you can’t hardly register it so you may seek greater/more extreme input to enable you to experience this. Sensory input can be experienced as painful or irritating. You may not understand what this input is, know what to do or be able to co-ordinate an appropriate response. Self-stimulatory behaviour such as chewing/biting can be a way of comforting, relieve anxiety, reduce fear and initiated to prevent sensory overload.
There may be other reasons why these behaviours occur and clinical assessments, profiling and observation will identify causal issue/s and establish clinical reasoning.
Taking the oral motor example, perhaps the individual;
- doesn’t like the texture of what they are eating.
- doesn’t like food going where they can’t see it.
- has a poor chewing pattern.
- can’t feel the food, perhaps there isn’t enough sensation to register the feelings of the food properly in the mouth and this feels unpleasant/painful or tickly.
- has fine motor skill, visual or cognitive difficulties.
A sensory approach may include consideration of interventions such as:
- Texture – Crunchy/harder textured food such as foods that you need to bite hard on such as apples. Food with inclusions (e.g. seeds/nuts etc)
- Sucking & Licking – Thicker drinks though straws. Ice lolly.
- Taste – sour, sweet, spicy
- Vibration – electric toothbrush
- Temperature – Experimentation with cold and hot. Using ice cubes, perhaps with just water, or perhaps a “taste” object inside or use flavoured water or juice. Try fizzy foods, popping candy.
- Chewing – Offering safe chewing products. Chewing flavoured gum or chewy foods. We offer a variety here – http://www.rompa.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=chew
- Blowing activities – blow feathers/paper around with straws? Blow through a straw in the bath to make bubbles. Blow raspberries. We sell blow lotto here – http://www.rompa.com/blow-lotto.html
- Movement – Geurning – pulling silly faces, sticking tongue out. We have a therapy mirror here – http://www.winslowresources.com/therapy-mirror.html