The Value of Observation by Terri Mauro
Sensory integration disorder isn’t something you can do a blood test for. There are no X-rays or EEGs that will allow a specialist to say, “Aha!There it is! Sensory integration disorder!” The tests that occupational therapists do to determine whether your child has sensory integration disorder mostly involve observing your child at play or engaged in playful activities.
A therapist will probably sit down with your child at a table and ask him to play with some toys — stacking blocks, dressing a doll, drawing shapes — while following instructions, and identifying objects by touch and not by sight. These will be tasks that might show a difficulty in combining input from the senses to accurately interpret the environment and perform activities in an orderly fashion.
The therapist’s observations aren’t the only ones that count. You will be asked to share your observations as well. This may come in the form of a lengthy questionnaire, an interview between you and the therapist, or both. You may be asked to fill out a sensory profile in which you rate your child’s ability in a number of areas.
The therapist may also ask you questions while evaluating your child to find out what you think about various things your child is doing. Never forget that you are the expert on your child, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or share information at any time.
The length and the detail of a sensory profile questionnaire can be intimidating. But no one is expecting you to recall things with complete accuracy or to offer perceptions that are beyond your abilities and knowledge. One of the reasons there are so many questions is so that impressions can be averaged. Just make your best choice, and ask questions!
If your child has had a lot of evaluations with specialists, one thing that may particularly strike you about an occupational therapy evaluation is how much the therapist actively tries to engage your child. Specialists often spend most of their time reviewing reports and talking to you. They tend to give your child a cursory look, with no attempt to communicate in a way that reveals his personality or special gifts.
An occupational therapist, on the other hand, will get right down on the floor with your child, meet him wherever he is developmentally, and find out what really works. For parents beaten down by professional negativity, it’s an encouraging sight.