What To Look For In Finding a Therapist to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder

What To Look For In Finding a Therapist to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder

Suzanne Fullerton's picture


Evaluating SPD

Evaluation of the child with suspected SPD requires an extensive look at the whole child and his/her behaviors and how the behaviors impact the roles of the child in everyday functioning. Standardized tests help to identify specific areas of sensory dysfunction, while clinical observations and family/child interview help to link evaluation findings to how the identified areas of dysfunction are affecting the child’s functioning day to day. 

Sensory integration therapy is a very specialized type of treatment, which requires extensive training in the sensory integration theory and frame of reference.  Therapists who acquire this extensive training are certified in the Sensory Integration Praxis Test, which requires over 90 hours of training in research, theory, evaluation, interpretation, and treatment of sensory integration dysfunction. Therapists also receive specialized training offered through the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation’s STAR Center (the hub of research and practice for SPD) via their mentorship programs.

Treating SPD

Treatment for the child with sensory processing/integration dysfunction is individualized for the specific needs of the child. Therapeutic activities are carefully chosen to elicit physiological responses so that the body can learn to make appropriate responses to the various sensory stimuli. Behavioral and body responses are carefully monitored and activities adjusted to allow the child to learn new neurological “mapping” which aids in learning new ways of coping, modulating activity level to attend and learn, coordinate body movements, and respond more appropriately to sensory stimuli. 

Although therapeutic sensory activities are chosen very intentionally, the treatment is child driven, meaning that typical play activities of the child’s interest are incorporated. SI therapists guide the intensity and type of movement or tools used in conjunction with the child-led play activity to give the child the correct challenge needed for optimal learning.  Sensory integration treatment works best when behavioral methods are applied and consistently done in all of the child’s environments. 

Another key factor to treating children with sensory integration dysfunction is to teach self-regulation skills. Child and caregiver education is vital to help the child understand his/her reactions to stimuli so that the child can begin to understand and apply strategies to:

  • Decrease or diminish undesired behaviors
  • Minimize the frequency of undesired behaviors associated with SPD
  • Increase awareness of the child’s unique design so that the child and family can gain a fresh perspective as to why the child is responding with undesired behaviors
  • Empower the child in all types of environments with a variety of people so that the child can be more independent
  • Integrate socially with peers
  • Increase the child’s ability to try new things
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Improve the child’s overall quality of life in everyday tasks in the home, school, and community


Treatment Methods

Treatment methods used in treating the child with SPD will vary between therapists. However, it is important to note that the intention of sensory integration therapy is to provide purposeful and meaning activities, which can have an impact on the neurological level. It is important the activities for the child are presented at a level in which the child is challenged and can be successful at the task.

 Things to look for in your child’s treatment goals and sessions:

  • A variety of movements are used during treatment, using a variety of moveable surfaces (the same activities are not done repetitively necessarily)
  • Behavioral tools and strategies are used in conjunction with sensory integration treatment
  • Education for the child and/or parent are given for self-regulation
  • Recommended treatment tools to use at home are feasible to use and fits within the family’s schedule
  • The therapist treating has a knowledge for discerning behaviors associated with SPD versus other causes for behaviors
  • Therapist guides the parents on how to observe and change factors in the child’s life that may help the child cope and respond with more desired behaviors
  • The therapist is able assist the child with SPD using other types of supports such as language boards, visual schedules, graphic organizers or charts, etc. to aid in communication and organizational skills

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