For most kids, sensory integration (how the brain receives and processes information from all our senses but particularly the sense of touch, sense of body movement and sense of body position) happens as a result of normal development.  For some adopted children, this process is interrupted and can result in a wide range of behaviors.  Sensory integration disorder is common in children who were born prematurely, had no prenatal care or who have lived in an orphanage for more than a year.  These ‘out of sync’ children have learned not to trust the information their bodies provide so they can experience anxiety, poor school performance, difficulty listening and sensory-seeking stimulation to feel better.  They will either magnify or minimize input from their senses.  Sensory issues can be magnified during the holidays!

Typically, a child with sensory integrative disorder will show more than one of these signs.

  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, smells or sounds (ie. hates tags in clothes, seams in socks, textures in eating, strong odors; withdrawing when touched, trantrums when bathing or grooming, crying or withdrawal in crowds or noisy places)
  • Under-reactive to sensory stimulation (constant falling, tripping, bumping into things, don’t react to pain, aggression with toys and other children, seemingly unaware of objects or people)
  • Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
  • Coordination problems (poor balance or motor coordination, an odd gait when walking)
  • Delays in speech, language, motor skills, or academic achievement
  • Poor organization of behavior (impulsive, distractible, frustrated at change of activities, aggressive)
  • Poor self concept (may appear lazy, bored, or unmotivated)
    Harriet McCarthy

Everyone has sensory processing issues (you may have read the list above and thought, ‘I am a bit impulsive or unmotivated myself!’) but they become an issue when they interfere with normal daily life functionsA professional therapist should always be consulted when you suspect your child has significant struggles in these areas and there are many wonderful OT’s with experience in sensory processing issues.

There are also many things you can do at home to help your child regulate their senses and feel comfortable.  Many adoptive parents whose children struggle with sensory issues have shared ideas they’ve received from professionals and have used at home.  Here are a few:


15 Quick Sensory Activities from Hands on Moms

Shameless plug:  An excellent OT in the Seattle/Tacoma area specializing in sensory processing issues is Sally Carman, OTR/L at the Center for Therapeutic Intervention in Gig Harbor, WA.  Sally, an adoptive mother of two, has been a contributing instructor at each of our International Adoption Training weekends, providing valuable input on attachment, bonding and sensory processing issues in adopted children.