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Where Can I Turn for Help When My Child Has Sensory Integration Problems?

Although many professionals are now aware of sensory integration disorders, parents still face difficulties in finding qualified help for their children with sensory integration problems. Find out who can help and what professional qualifications are important, when you suspect your child has sensory integration issues.

By Zoe Mailloux, Co-Author of Love, Jean: Inspiration for Families Living with Dysfunction of Sensory Integration.

Parents know their children better than anyone. When a parent feels that something is not right, they are usually correct. If the problem is obvious, like hearing loss or weak muscles, it will usually not be difficult to find out what is wrong and to get the appropriate help. However, when the problem is hard to see or to name and if it is not commonly understood, a parent can flounder for a long time before being able to get the right kind of help.

When parents contact me they often say that they have been concerned about their child for a long time. It is common to hear that they have described their worries to many people and that no one has recognized what the problem might be. Often parents find help by chance. A neighbor might mention that their child is receiving help for difficulties that sound similar to the concerns a mother has about her own child. One mother told me that she typed random phrases such as "afraid of swings" in an Internet search and eventually found help.

Unfortunately, I commonly hear that parents, particularly mothers, have been told that the problem most likely is the result of their parenting style. Over coming feelings of guilt often becomes part of the discover process for parents. Feelings of relief and validation are also common. I cannot count the number of times I have heard, "This is the first time someone has put words to the feelings that I have had about what is going on with my child." My colleagues tell me that they hear similar comments.

While more and more teachers, psychologists, and doctors are recognizing sensory integration dysfunction, most professionals in these fields do not receive much training about these problems. The group of professionals who tend to have the most training in sensory integration theory and practice are occupational therapists. The basic principles of the theory, evaluation, and treatment associated with this approach are taught in all accredited occupational therapy programs. Physical therapists and speech and language pathologists are also likely to have received some basic training in sensory integration concepts. Although introductory information may be taught to the extent that most occupational therapists, many physical and speech and language therapists, and some teachers and psychologists and physicians will be familiar with sensory integration concepts, advanced training is required for a professional to be qualified to evaluate and treat sensory integrative disorders.

Reputable therapists should feel comfortable being asked about the following standard qualifications:

A university degree and a license, registration, or credential in a recognized professional field such as occupational or physical therapy, speech and language pathology, psychology, education or medicine.

Sensory integration is an approach applied by these fields, but there is not a separate professional discipline of "sensory integration." Parents should beware of people who call themselves "sensory integration therapists," if they are not a validated member of one of the professions listed above.

Advanced, post-graduate training in specialized course in sensory integration, theory, evaluation and treatment.

At least 30 hours of advanced study is usually expected. Therapists should be able to produce a certificate or other documentation of their advanced training.

Clinical experience of at least three to four months under the supervision of an experienced mentor.

Therapists should be able to describe the extent of their clinical experience with regard to ages and diagnoses of individual with whom they have worked.

Evidence of ongoing training, education, and experience.

Sensory integration is an evolving theory that is updated as new research advances knowledge and influences evaluation and intervention choices. Therapists using this approach should be able to show evidence of ongoing, current learning experiences.

If you suspect that your child may have problems in sensory integration you should mention your concerns to your child's pediatrician and /or teachers. These professionals may be familiar with these kids of problems and be able to help you find resources in your community. Hearing your concerns will also give them an opportunity to share their impressions of your child. However, if they seem unaware of sensory integration dysfunction, or if they tell you to "wait and see," you will probably need to rely on other sources of help.

Finding an occupational therapist in your community with the qualifications listed above is a good place to start. To do this, contact your local pediatric hospital or school district and ask to speak to the occupational therapy department. Even if these agencies do not employ therapists with training in sensory integration, the therapists in those departments are likely to be familiar with the resources in the community.

Zoe Mailloux, MA, OTR, FAOTA is the co-author of Love, Jean: Inspiration for Families Living with Dysfunction of Sensory Integration. Zoe Mailloux worked under Jean Ayres and is well known withint the profession of occupational therapy in the area of sensory integration theory and practice. She is currently the Directory of Advministration at Pediatric Therapy Network, a non-profit children's therapy center serving over 1000 children and their families. Love, Jean: Inspiration for Families Living with Dysfunction of Sensory Integration is unique in presenting formally unpublished letters from Jean Ayres, but also in documenting the struggles of a student with sensory integration disorder over the course of his life. This excerpt from the book is reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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