Sensory Integration Problems in International Adoption
By Lindsey Biel, co-author of Raising a Sensory Smart Child
Katie is an adorable 7-year-old who was adopted from China. She's an
affectionate child with a great sense of humor who loves to draw and go
to the playground. However, socks really bother her. After she puts them
on, Katie feels her socks for hours, and if they have seams or little
pills on them, they annoy her all day long. Katie also cannot tune out
the casual touch sensations that are an everyday part of life. The breeze
outside gently blowing on her arms feels like little insects. And while
Katie is a gentle, kind child who loves her classmates, a child might
accidentally brush against her, so she avoids sitting right next to other
children and pushes them away if they get too close. Better to sit a bit
on the sidelines than be worried about getting in trouble for pushing.
Katie loves reading, but is comfortable handling only certain types of
paper. Some types of paper send chills up her spine. She hates getting
glue on her skin and refuses to finger-paint. She can hear a dog bark
outside from the 28th floor of her apartment building. She is terrified
of fire drills-and was hugely relieved when her school agreed to having
the classroom aide take her outside before to the alarm rings. With all
of these bothersome sights, sounds, and touches all day, it's no wonder
Katie gets so cranky in the evening. When it's finally bedtime and lights
out, her body just doesn't feel right. Most nights, she thrashes around
in her bed for 30 minutes or so until she finally falls asleep.
What is Sensory Integration?
All of us learn about and comprehend the world through our senses. We
see things, we hear things, we touch things, we experience gravity, and
we use our bodies to move around in it. All of the sensory input from
the environment and from inside our bodies works together seamlessly so
we know what's going on and what to do.
Kids with sensory integration (SI) dysfunction experience the world differently.
They don't take in and use sensory information the same way. Their central
nervous system responds to sensory input differently, so they're not always
getting an accurate, reliable picture of their bodies and the environment.
What seems normal to us can easily overwhelm a child with sensory problems.
Common Signs of Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Out of proportion reactions: over or undersensitivity to touch,
What causes sensory problems?
Sensory problems result from neurological differences, and new research is being done to confirm this. It's a difference in how the brain and nervous system are wired. Sensory problems are quite often seen in children born prematurely (especially the smallest and the youngest), those adopted from overseas, children who have experienced birth trauma or prolonged hospitalization, and those exposed to heavy metals. Sensory problems are a common symptom of other special needs diagnoses. However, a child can have sensory problems and nothing else.
What about sensory integration in children adopted from overseas?
Children who have been adopted are at increased risk for sensory problems,
with those adopted from overseas orphanages at significantly higher risk.
The conditions in these orphanages vary greatly, but all too often facilities
have limited resources, poor nutrition, lack of sensory stimulation, and
limited social interactions that can lead to developmental delays, medical
problems, emotional difficulties, and yes-sensory issues. Many children
placed in overseas orphanages may have been born prematurely or with low
birth weight to begin with. So it's a double whammy to be predisposed
to problems and then be placed in an institutional environment. What's
more, the biological mother may have been malnourished and had limited
or no access to prenatal care. So much-but certainly not all-depends on
prenatal factors, birth, and environment.
The Good New: There is help for sensory integration problems!
With appropriate interventions and time, most children develop needed
central nervous system connections and sensory input starts getting more
familiar and more comfortable. Not always, but most of the time, children
can overcome their sensory problems, especially with parents who develop
their own "sensory smarts."
Lindsey Biel, OTR/L is the co-author of Raising A Sensory Smart Child... For more information on sensory integration issues, practical solutions, finding professional help, advocating with schools, and more, see Raising A Sensory Smart
Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues, by Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske (foreword by Temple Grandin). Also visit www.sensorysmarts.com.
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