UNDERSTANDING SENSORY DYSFUNCTION

Reviewed by Anne McCarthy, Research Officer, Stewarts Hospital Services Ltd

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This relatively short (175-page) book belongs within that ever- increasing category of books written by a parent of a child with a disability. However, this very valuable resource book has a number of distinctive features. The authors are two highly qualified educationists working in special education in the United States who are mothers of children with sensory integration disorders.

This book would make an invaluable resource for families, teachers and caregivers living or working with children with sensory dysfunction. Symptoms, causes, contributing factors and behaviours associated with sensory dysfunction—particularly when occurring in autism spectrum disorders, ADHD and bipolar disorder—are clearly explained. Successful integration activities with assessment and curricular modifications are combined in their innovative approaches.

Through a sensory lens…

The book is set out like a reference book and the combined perspective of teacher and parent makes for a highly comprehensive and insightful list of hints, pointers and suggestions. They find much common ground within the two roles and see both parent and teacher having to address similar issues such as having to direct:

  • Attention
  • Academics
  • Social interaction
  • Living skills
  • Socio-emotional development
  • Task completion
  • Challenging behaviours.

They also list personnel in schools and their typical roles and responsibilities. There is an analysis of specific situations and basic-level problems with possible solutions. They consider the more common areas of sensory difficulties and follow this with a list of functional, practical suggestions, for example:

Dysfunctions:

  • Auditory
  • Tactile
  • Gustatory
  • Olfactory
  • Visual
  • Proprioceptive
  • Vestibular

The authors go into minute detail regarding activities to meet these situations and have created a handbook that would revolutionise the life of a young parent grappling with the emerging unknown of his/her ‘difficult child’. Potentially challenging behaviours are teased apart using a sensory-based perspective. Combinations and permutations of behaviours and sensory systems are listed and there is an eight-page person-centered information form with relevant headings. I liked the idea of Early Childhood Direction Centres where diagnosis and supports are finally obtained.

Chapter Six is dedicated to Asperger’s Syndrome, which is explained in a down-to-earth, easy-to-read manner. Abstract concepts like emotions, the subtle conversational cues such as body language and facial expressions are very difficult for children with Asperger’s Syndrome to interpret.

The lack of social and emotional reciprocity and the important difference between sensory integration disorder and developmental milestones are highlighted in Chapter Seven entitled Ellie and Dylan. How lonely it can be realising that your child is more than just ‘difficult’. The authors proceed to make another very valuable point that: ‘No child should ever be described using the feature of special needs as a basis’.

This is a highly detailed, comprehensive reference / text / handbook for all those who interact professionally or personally with children who have sensory disabilities. There are excellent appendices and it is always great to see a good index. I conclude by reproducing the authors’ own conclusions:

All of us process sensory input 24 hours a day, starting from the moment we are born. It is the integration of this sensory information that shapes our perceptions, defines our realities, and drives our behaviours. We all exist as sensory beings, with our own unique perspectives…. It is our opinion that the sensory piece for many children has been overlooked, downplayed or undervalued for too long. Now is the time to bring sensory dysfunction into the forefront and begin to look at home and school, learning and behaviour differently—through a sensory lens.

UNDERSTANDING SENSORY DYSFUNCTION, by P. Emmons and L. Anderson (2005). London, Jessica Kinglsey Publishers.

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