Sensory Systems Assessment
Once a child is diagnosed with the “intense world syndrome” (autism), behavioural interventions aimed at altering the child’s verbal and non-verbal responses may come into focus, while his sensory needs are often ignored. Hence, autism-specific sensory perceptual difficulties may remain “invisible” and undetected for quite a while. With time, individuals with autism may become susceptible to heightened anxiety and depression. Adults with autism were reported about four times more likely to experience depression than other people. The good news is that when autistic children receive an opportunity to develop in an environment where their sensory issues are addressed, they may feel better and even respond to the social interventions better than when they go through the compliance-driven programmes where the main emphasis is on training specific behaviours. Moreover, as all the senses are integrated, addressing a particular sensory deficiency has been known for enabling a child to cope with other perceptual issues to such an extent that she was no longer considered autistic.
Sensory systems assessment is probably the best way to clarify the sensory experiences and choose appropriate intervention strategies that will work well with the nature of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. The assessment is particularly popular for identifying essential perceptual phenomena which are not detected by the conventional auditory and visual acuity tests.
As we analyse the child’s past and present self-regulating strategies in the context of his natural environment, we can decide on the methods which could facilitate his/her social-emotional intelligence alongside considering essential accommodations which could improve his/her wellbeing and allow the child to perform at school or another social setting more effectively.
Parents /or carers are offered to complete the sensory systems questionnaire which will look at the child’s sensory history and current behaviour patterns. Following the initial assessment, a consultation will be offered to discuss the behaviours and give further advice.
If the child resides in North Shore, Auckland, I could additionally look at his behaviour patterns during the unstructured time at school- when he is playing independently or interacting with peers- as well as during the adult-led agenda. The observation could help to identify any obstacles that could hinder his social-emotional or academic development and consider relevant accommodations.
The final Individual Sensory Systems Profile compiled for the child will allow to:
- Specify the preferred sensory domain that can be further applied by parents and educators as the “gate” to communicate with the child more effectively during the regulated and moderately dysregulated states.
- Specify “problem modalities” and outline beneficial accommodations.
- Specify neurological strengths (specific to neurodiversity) that will help to establish “communication channels” and facilitate the child’s further development. It will look at the compensatory techniques for coping with unclear or painful input paths.
- Specify the areas in which the child has (or previously had) issues but has learned to get along with them, either by developing the compensatory behavioural strategies to cope with certain deficits identified, or by extinguishing an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety) to stimuli that formerly induced it.
- Choose appropriate therapeutic intervention strategies that will work well with the nature of the child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Ryan’s case study
A year 1 verbal and able student Ryan (name changed) has spent five months in his first school without any significant engagement in the classroom activities. As the family transferred Ryan to a new, academically excellent and welcoming school, Ryan kept displaying a similar set of behavioural strategies that involved playing with a toy car on the table, flapping hands and dancing around the classroom. More importantly, however, Ryan wasn’t particularly interested in what was happening during school hours. Both teachers and parents were keen to receive some specialist guidance to support Ryan.
While the old autism methods focused on eliminating unwanted autistic behaviours in rigid ways and without looking into the causes underlying such behavioural expressions, modern approaches to autism accept that all human behaviours are functional and serve a particular need or purpose. An in-depth analysis across a range of modalities is recommended to ensure that further interventions will contribute towards greater wellbeing of a particular child. Hence, careful examination of behavioural expressions across a variety of domains would typically look closely at the child’s:
- Sensory perception
- Social-emotional cognition
- Social attention and
- Perspective taking ability.
My work with Ryan has started with the Sensory Systems Assessment that has shown that Ryan couldn’t filter visual stimuli, ending up with overwhelming information his brain could not cope with. The issues with processing visual stimuli resulted in great difficulty concentrating on one visual stimulus. Stressed and frustrated, Ryan tried to self-regulate through the comforting behavioural strategies. Therapeutic interventions were advised to enable Ryan to cope with the visual as well as other sensory processing issues.
For children who- like Ryan- would fall through the cracks in the education system, unless quality specialist support is provided, Sensory Systems Assessment is the best start. It is often a life-changing experience as it will reveal the imbalances in the sensory perception of the child and suggest relevant accommodations to improve his social-emotional and academic progression.
We have no hesitation in recommending Natasha. It was really a miracle for us to meet her. She carefully observed our child and actively provided appropriate advice. Her advice for our child was a great help for us, allowing us to understand and support our child in the right direction. When being with her, our child began to get better and better and made great progress. Above all, we can feel that she is not only devoted to children; she cares and teaches them with true love. We thank Natasha with our whole heart.