Cyma Chats: An interview with Christy Isbell, co-author of ”Sensory Integration: A Guide for Preschool Teachers.” – by Cyma
Q: Please define ‘Sensory Processing Disorder.”
A: SPD is a neurological problem whereby a person has difficulty using information that is collected through the senses (i.e. vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, movement, and body position in space). A person who has SPD is unable to function effectively in daily life activities.
Q: SPD is a hot topic, today, and a buzz word which encompasses many diagnoses such as ADHD, Autism, hyperactivity, etc. Why is this becoming so prevalent in our society?
A: Current estimates for SPD are 1 in 20 children. Many children who have other diagnoses (Autism or ADHD) also have a diagnosis of SPD. The cause of SPD is unknown.
Q: What are some of the benchmarks for determining this disorder?
A: Children who have a SPD will typically have a delay in one or more areas of development (i.e. fine motor, gross motor, socioemotional, cognitive or language). Some typical red flags for preschool or school-age children include, but are not limited to: oversensitivity to touch, sounds, smells or other sensations; overactivity and/or fidgets; easily distracted, difficulty focusing; clumsy, poor motor skills; difficulty dressing, eating, toileting or sleeping; unaware of pain.
Q: What are some of the modalities which might be utilized to help with this?
A: Occupational Therapy that includes playful interactions in a fun, sensory-rich environment can be an effective treatment of SPD. Therapy that incorporates the child’s daily life routines and involves the family is the most appropriate intervention for children and may be completed in the child’s home, at school or in a clinical setting.
Q: Your book is designed for preschool teachers. Will it also benefit mothers and fathers?
A: The book was designed specifically for early childhood teachers. However, parents can gain more information on the diagnosis of SPD by reading the book. In addition, the majority of the recommendations can be easily adopted for use in the home. I have had many parents tell me that they bought the book and use it effectively with their own children.
Q: What do your recommend for a family with other children who do not have this disorder?
A: Most of the activities that I recommend in the book can be utilized with ‘all” children. Chapter 3 was written specifically to help teachers design a learning environment that would support the sensory development of all children, not just children who have SPD. Being ‘sensory’ aware of the environment and how a child’s sensations impact learning, emotions and interactions is good practice for parents and children alike. For instance, understanding that your child learns better by saying his multiplication acts out loud (because he seeks auditory sensations), rather than reading them, is of great benefit.
Q: What about a parent who isn’t sure whether these behaviors are age-appropriate or reflective of deeper (sensory) issues?
A: Parents who suspect that their child may have a SPD should have the child evaluated by a professional who is trained in identifying this. Professionals include: pediatric occupational therapist, clinical child psychologist or pediatrician. Parents can also contact their local school system’s special education program to see if their child is eligible to receive a free evaluation and possibly therapy services.
Christy Isbell, Ph.D., is Program Director of and an associate professor for the Occupational Therapy Program at Milligan College in Milligan, Tenn. She co-authored, with Rebecca Isbell, The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers, The Inclusive Learning Center Book, and Sensory Integration: A Guide for Preschool Teachers. Her latest book, Everyday Play was published this past May. For more information regarding these books, contact Griffin House. Christy resides in Johnson City, TN, with her husband, and their two daughters.