Understanding Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)
Children with SMD can be over-responsive to some of their senses and under-responsive to others. Here is some key information to understanding what SMD is and how it affects your child, brought to you by Toys R Us.

Your brain is like a blank canvas upon which each of your senses adds colour and dimension to create a vivid four dimensional image of your world. The brain utilises this detailed map to strategise safe and productive ways for us to perform our part in the complex matrix of life.

What is Sensory Modulation Disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) hinders the ability of the senses to paint this picture. The message that the brain receives seems to have a faulty “volume” switch. The message isn’t received at a comfortable midway volume, so the brain cannot register it and in a calm and decisive manner decide on its priority and the action needed.

It either comes through at a volume which is so minimal it’s like background noise, which isn’t noticed for a long time, or it blares through like the setting is on maximum volume, which is painful to experience.

When children ­ find it dif­ficult to detect or are bombarded by their sensory messages they may become clingy, uncooperative, highly active and fearless or seem to be in a daze.

When the messages are too loud

When the messages are too loud it is dif­ficult for a child to know which ones to focus on and deal with because they all seem important. It equates to having your inbox full with messages with the subject line “urgent” attached. One of two things happens.

The child does everything he can to avoid messages from his senses

For example, he may refuse to play in the sandpit, not because he is antisocial or attention seeking. It’s because this little person experiences what other children experience as comfortable touch as something painful because he’s experiencing it at a high level. The sand on his hands feels like pins being pushed into every pore of his skin.

These experiences lead him to fear the new and unknown. He doesn’t know what painful sensations they may bring, so he becomes difficult and uncooperative at times of change.

Sensitivity leads the child to become restless and distracted

It’s that agitated feeling one gets when you are overwhelmed by the number of demands vying for your attention.

Your child has probably experienced this feeling when he walked into a sweet shop and was told to choose one sweet. All his favourites are screaming out to him from all corners of the store and he is brought near to tears by the strain of dealing with all the visual messages he is receiving.

When the messages are too soft

But what happens to the children whose volume button is set on minimum? In this case the brain isn’t very responsive to the messages they receive, they appear insigni­cant and are not paid attention to. It takes a constant build-up of messages before the brain is alerted to pay attention.

Some of these little people look for stimulation from their world

They are easy to spot because they are on the move, looking for every opportunity to light up their senses. They may love to hug you to the point of near smothering or be banging on anything they can find to produce noise.

They are busy, full of excitement and seem to have no fear. They bound onto playground equipment with utter abandon

Some children are slow to respond to messages from the senses

For example, while most kids are gathering with excitement around the birthday cake at a party, this child will need to be brought to the table. His face won’t reflect the buzz around him. This is not because he is self-absorbed, but because his brain isn’t “hearing” the happenings in his environment.

He may be thought of as lethargic and lazy but this is a reflection of his world not engaging him.

Françoise Harrison, an occupational therapist specialising in children with SMD, says, “SMD is a highly treatable condition where remarkable progress can be made. It’s my experience that once their senses become more integrated they cope far better with most everyday situations. Many remain highly perceptive to sensory and emotional cues.”

For example, they can pick up the incongruence between spoken and body language when someone is telling a lie. Harrison explains it is crucial to accept and respect these children so they learn to respect themselves.

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