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Skills Assessments for Sensory Integration

Interview with Polly Godwin Emmons and Liz McKendry Anderson, authors of the excellent book Understanding Sensory Dysfunction

Signs or difficulties with skills parents should look for if they suspect their children might have severe sensory dysfunction or Asperger's Syndrome.

The following is a checklist of possible signs and symptoms that a child may be experiencing difficulties with sensory integration. This is not meant to be inclusive, but rather an overview of the more common indicators of possible sensory dysfunction:

  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights or sounds
  • Under-reactive to touch, movement, sights or sounds
  • Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
  • Difficulties with coordination
  • Delays in speech or language skills
  • Delays in motor skills (fine and/or gross)
  • Difficulties with academic achievement
  • Poor self-concept
  • Difficulties with executive functioning
  • Challenging behaviors

While the above checklist provides a starting point, we conceptualize sensory integration and its dysfunction is on a continuum Sensory processing is complex because it is not an all or nothing thing. That is why it is critical that we begin looking at development more comprehensively. Therefore, if a parent or a teacher suspects that a child is struggling, then we encourage him/her to become a "detective" and begin to look at the whole child.

Historically, pediatricians, educators and parents have been taught to compartmentalize child development. For example, can a five- month -old baby drink out of a bottle? Can a Kindergartner print his/her first name independently? Traditionally, these questions have been answered by indicating that a skill was either "achieved" or "not achieved". As a result, the developmental timeline may not necessarily reflect "qualitative" differences in performance when assessing skill development. It is our opinion that evaluators (parents, caregivers, daycare providers, teachers or pediatricians) need to be keenly aware of the "quality" of the skill that they are assessing. This is critical for the child with sensory issues. So let's say the kindergartner is able to write his name independently. However, his grasp alternates from a mature to an immature grasp, he has a very light touch, the letters are huge, with many letters formed from the bottom up. Can we really say that this skill is really achieved? Not if we are looking at the quality of the skill.

As sensory "detectives" we look at the whole child, tease apart patterns of behavior, and look at the quality of skills across developmental domains such as cognitive, language and communication skills, adaptive skills, social and emotional skills and motor skills.

Our experience as parents and teachers is that sensory integration dysfunction or sensory issues may be associated with, or embedded within, another diagnosis such as ADHD, Learning Disabilities, mental health issues, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. In our opinion, there is always a significant sensory component within Asperger's Syndrome. Interestingly, first person accounts from adult individuals with Asperger's Syndrome describe sensory issues as the primary source of many of their social and communication challenges.

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