A new survey from Pathways Awareness, Chicago, of more than 500 pediatric occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists reports that more than two-thirds (68%) evaluated or treated children between 3 and 8 years old who had been previously misidentified with learning disabilities or behavioral issues.

Of that two-thirds, some 90% reported they had seen children with deficits processing and integrating sensory information who had been misidentified as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Members of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the Pediatric Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA),  and the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association (NDTA) participated in the survey.

"Knowing that sensory processing and integration deficits may be expressed in ways similar to ADHD, it is understandable that mistakes can occur," said Angelica Barraza, OTR/L, an advisor to Pathways Awareness and an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration. "It’s critical for parents, teachers, and health professionals to consider sensory processing and integration deficits before labeling a child with behavioral issues."

In the survey, sensory difficulties emerged the top issue therapists saw increasing, with 82% of survey respondents reporting a rise in treating children with sensory difficulties. Sensory processing and integration issues, sometimes referred to as dysfunction of sensory integration (DSI) or sensory processing disorder (SPD), become a concern when the inability to discriminate, organize, and interpret the myriad of sensory input hinders participation in everyday activities.

In school-age children, sensory processing and integration issues can translate into having delays with coordination, balance, focus, organization, and fine motor skills. At times, children displaying deficits in these areas may look like they have behavioral issues. Although not as well known as ADD or ADHD, sensory issues affect millions of children: a recent study estimates one in 20 children have sensory difficulties.

The survey was conducted by Pathways Awareness, a national not-for-profit that educates parents and medical professionals about the benefits of early intervention for children with delays in sensory, communication, and motor development. Conducted between May 2009 and November 2010 with assistance from the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association (NDTA) and the Pediatric Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), more than 500 occupational, speech, and physical therapists who regularly work with pediatric clients and average more than 17 years of experience participated in the survey.

Therapy for sensory processing and integrative dysfunction can vary greatly depending on the needs of the child.

The NDTA is an international, nonprofit organization of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists who practice Neuro-Developmental Treatment (NDT), a highly individualized therapy approach in which therapists use ongoing assessments to address motor difficulties in both adults and children who have neurological challenges (eg cerebral palsy, stroke, head injury) that impact development.

[Source: Pathways Awareness]