By Gloria Ellis, M.A.
As the parent of a child with many learning challenges, the topic of AD/HD has often been discussed in my home. Like many other parents of children who exhibit difficulties with attention and focus, my husband and I have debated the issue of using medication to help our child function more successfully in school, at home, and in social situations. My husband has always been reluctant to consider medical intervention, while I have always wanted to keep medication on the table as an option for helping our child. As an educational therapist, I have experienced all sides of the issue. I have seen when medication has been deemed necessary and has been successful, and when it has proven to be ineffective or when the side effects have caused more difficulties than the problems that led to the decision to use medication in the first place.
In investigating my own daughter’s challenges, I have come across compelling information that has offered insight into the roots of some people’s struggles with attention, as well as offering solutions that are not as readily sought or understood as the more common medical intervention. When people observe excessive inattention and impulsivity in children, AD/HD is often the first thought; however, sensory processing difficulties may actually be at the root of many of these behaviors.
Sensory processing challenges make it difficult for an individual to perceive and integrate information taken in by the senses, which according to Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A., author of The Out-of-Sync Child, include the senses of balance (vestibular) and body position (proprioceptive) in addition to the typically referred to “five senses.” In my experience, trouble taking in and integrating this sensory information can exacerbate or lead to behaviors that are commonly attributed to AD/HD. Children with sensory processing and integration challenges may be inattentive due to difficulties with perceiving and processing auditory and/or visual information that is presented in the classroom or at home. These children may also appear impulsive and hyperactive as a result of the fidgeting, touching of objects, falling, leaning on and hanging onto others, and other motions related to establishing the position of the body or limbs in space. This is knowledge that the child with sensory processing challenges must establish through external means when the internal senses do not provide this information as it does for most individuals.
If you suspect that your child’s challenges with attention and focus are related to difficulties with processing and/or integrating sensory information, evaluation and treatment with an occupational therapist who specializes in these difficulties may prove to be the solution that enables successful learning for your child. Michaela Gordon, OTR/L, will be speaking on the topic of identifying and addressing sensory processing challenges at Lighthouse Learning Solutions, March 12, 2013 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.