Sensory Processing Disorder: How movement is the key to helping our children

Sensory processing disorder. So common in our children. In fact, for most parents of neuro-diverse children, sensory processing difficulties are probably the first thing that they noticed as “different” from peers.

Why do some children have sensory processing disorder? In brief, it’s down to a differently wired brain. Quite simply, the part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) – within the brainstem – has not formed strong enough neural connections with the thalamus and higher sensory processing levels of the neocortex. This means that the brain cannot process sensory input efficiently, so we see sensory overwhelm, distractedness or even fear.

This article explains how movement and the integration of primitive reflexes can really help reduce or even eliminate the sensory challenges of someone with SPD.

The involuntary movements we make as foetuses and newborns are doing a vital job: They are forming neural connections. These involuntary movements – reflexes – should disappear within the first year of life, giving way to adult postural reflexes and conscious movement, controlled by the cerebellum. However, if these primitive reflexes remain active in the system, it will mean that the brain has not formed the optimal neural connections from the brainstem, and consequently we may see sensory processing, motor coordination, emotional or behavioural challenges.

In my clinic, I assess for primitive reflexes and then work with the child and their parents to help integrate reflexes that might be causing challenges. This is done by repeating precisely the movement patterns that foetuses and newborns make, which helps the reflexes gradually integrate and helps the brain and central nervous system move to the next stage of development. It is important to remember that reflex integration is not a quick fix – in fact, it can take months for people to move on from their old patterns of posture and behaviour. However, you will see significant change.

I had one little boy in clinic whose parents had marked around fifty of his frequent sensory behaviours in Angie Voss’s excellent book Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals. Following just three months of a reflex integration programme using RMTi (Rhythmic Movement Training International) methodology, this reduced to just fourteen sensory signals, and two years further on, just four. The sensory signals included behaviours such as flapping, spinning, humming, chewing, dribbling, making eye contact, etc. He is now a calmer, more present child.

You can also try to include various movements into your child’s day, every day, although when working with emotional or behavioural challenges, it is preferable to see a trained professional.

Try the following:

Cat arches, snow angels, star jumps, lying on back and pretending to be an anemone and slowly opening to become a starfish, and then back to anemone.

I have clinics in Cranleigh and Horsham. Please contact me if you would like to discuss or find out more.

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