Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Professional Counseling for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Professional Counseling for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Article excerpt

Children experience the world through their senses-the sound of the air conditioner running in their classroom, the feel of a chair under their legs, the sight of a colorful wall, the smell of food cooking, the muscle movement used to pick up a toy. The typical child can accurately perceive, process and respond to the myriad stimuli in their environment, focusing on important stimuli, such as a parent's voice, and filtering out unimportant ones, such as a humming refrigerator. For other children, the same environment and accompanying stimuli can be uncomfortable, overwhelming, unnoticeable and even frightening. Researchers estimate that approximately 5-17% of the population has sensory processing disorder (SPD), a neurological disorder in which sensory input is irregularly sensed, processed, organized, and responded to, creating sensory challenges that negatively impact daily functioning (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, & McIntosh, 2004; Ben-Sasson, Carter, & Briggs-Gowan, 2009). As a result of poor sensory processing, individuals with SPD may overreact or underreact to stimuli (Byrne, 2009; Dunn, 1997, 2001; James, Miller, Schaaf, Nielsen, & Schoen, 2011; Katz, 2006; Miller, Anzalone, Lane, Cermak, & Osten 2007; Walbam, 2013; Withrow, 2007). SPD is a lifelong disorder; while typically developing children gain the ability to increasingly suppress stimuli with age, children with SPD tend to struggle throughout their lifetime (Davies & Gavin, 2007), particularly if SPD is unidentified, misdiagnosed or inaccurately treated.

Professional counselors are called to accurately diagnose and treat clients' mental health and co-occurring disorders (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014). However, SPD is widely unrecognized and misdiagnosed in the counseling field (Collier & Falls, 2010; Katz, 2006; Murphy, 2011; Withrow, 2007). With increasing research supporting the legitimacy of the SPD diagnosis (e.g., Chang et al., 2014; Davies & Gavin, 2007; Owen et ah, 2013), counselors can be on the forefront of screening and providing counseling services to children with SPD. This article will provide readers with background information on SPD, implications for clinical mental health and school counseling practice, a case study example, and recommendations for future professional education, advocacy and research. In the literature, SPD has been referred to by similar terms such as sensory integration disorder or categorized by subtype (e.g., sensory modulation disorder). However, the term sensory processing disorder (SPD) will be utilized in this article, since SPD is the most prevalent term used in recent years (Miller, Nielsen, Schoen, & Brett-Green, 2009). Similarly, we will use the term sensory processing to also encompass sensory integration, as they are often used interchangeably in the literature.

Background

The most commonly known senses are auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), visual (sight) and gustatory (taste); two less known senses are proprioception and the vestibular sense (James et ah, 2011; Katz, 2006; Withrow, 2007). Proprioception is a sense found in muscles, tendons and joints that deciphers bodily awareness and coordinated movements. The vestibular sense is located in the inner ear and provides sensory input regarding one's balance and gravity. Sensory processing is a complex neurobiological process in which individuals' seven senses perceive information or stimuli from the environment, sending data to the brain to interpret, process and respond to; the senses and brain are constantly engaged in a process of perceiving, interpreting, processing, and responding to environmental stimuli (Byrne, 2009; Katz, 2006; Miller et ah, 2009; Parham & Mailloux, 2015; Walbam, 2013; Withrow, 2007). Sensory processing is a developmental process, and thus especially crucial in the children's first 10 years of life (Ayres, 1979). In summary, a typically developing child may easily and accurately perceive and process environmental stimuli, yet this is not the case for all children. …

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