by Carol S. Kranowitz, MA

Sensory Processing Order Early InterventionEvery day, Sensory Processing Disorder receives new recognition as a common problem among children.  Recognition is good, but those of us who know about it and see the benefits of a healthy sensory diet want more.  To prevent sensory integration dysfunction from hindering our children’s development, we want Sensory Processing Disorder early intervention and identification.

One way to encourage parents, teachers, and other early childhood professionals to address SI dysfunction is to help them see it as a developmental problem.  Kids don’t grow out of Sensory Processing Disorder; they grow into it, unless we spot it and treat it — the sooner, the better.

Early identification is often possible if children attend a center with an occupational therapist (OT) or a savvy teacher on staff, who can observe their behavior over time.

Sensory Processing Disorder can also be detected by a pediatric team using a multidisciplinary approach.  Another avenue is a screening.  A screening is neither a test nor an in-depth examination, but a short, informal “look-see.”

Most school or daycare centers conduct annual hearing and eyesight screenings.  These procedures briefly check all the children in the center to determine whether they can hear and see adequately.  The purpose is to identify children whose sense organs – i.e., ears and eyes – may be faulty and need correction.

Additionally, some enlightened centers offer develop­mental screenings to check children’s language, vision, or sensory integration. All the children may be screened, or a selected few.  The purpose of these screenings is to identify children whose developmental skills may be delayed, and who may benefit from early intervention.

Independent schools, clinics, and public programs such as Child Find offer developmental screenings.  Most are helpful, and some are free.  An alternative is contracting with an OT to administer the Balzer-Martin Preschool Screening (“BAPS”).

This screening was designed by Lynn A. Balzer-Martin, PhD, OTR, a pediatric occupational therapist and special educator.  It is a quick, effective screening to see whether very young children have the neurological foundations necessary for smooth development.  In 1987, St. Columba’s Nursery School, where I teach, became the first site to use BAPS.

Using a sensory integration model, the screening program is developmentally suitable – and fun – for preschoolers.  It is simple enough for schools to administer.  It is thorough enough to enable educators to distinguish between basic immaturity and risk factors that may predict learning and behavior problems.  Indeed, during the screening process, a fairly complete picture of each child’s sensorimotor functioning emerges.

The screening has three parts.  Part I, a checklist for teachers, and Part 2, a sensorimotor history questionnaire for parents, focus on activities at school and at home.

Part 3 is an observational screening which an OT consultant and a teacher (or care provider) conduct together.  They work with two children at a time during regular school hours.  In one morning, they can screen about 15 children.  While the teacher records data on a chart, the OT guides each child through 12 activities, including spinning a top, alternating arm and leg movements, galloping, riding on a cushioned scooter board, hanging upside down from a dowel, and balancing on one foot.

The OT compiles the data to determine which children may benefit from further evaluation.  There is no quantitative score to indicate which children should be identified.  Rather, the OT makes this determination through clinical judgment, after reviewing the data and conferring with the teacher and program director.

Occupational therapy is often a beneficial treatment, especially for children with language delays.  It regulates the nervous system, helping children respond appropriately to sensory stimulation and proceed with moving, playing, and learning.  The OT may also recommend physical therapy, counseling, or language therapy – or a balanced “sensory diet” at home and school.

Over 100 early childhood centers, in the U.S. and abroad, are currently using BAPS.  Thousands of children have been screened, and, as a result, many preschoolers have received the intervention they need to develop essential skills.  Becoming aware of Sensory Processing Disorder, parents and teachers are providing indoor and outdoor activities that promote healthy sensorimotor development.  Gradually, we are catching on to the idea of catching out-of-sync children before they fall.



  1. ACurtis

    My 14-year-old daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder. She also suffered from ear infections (3 ear tubes, adenoids and tonsils removed) and caught just about every cold a child could catch. We knew at a very early age that there was something “different” about her.

    When she was 3 years old, I took her to our school district to have her screened for Speech (in our school district, if they find evidence of speaking issues they will begin speech classes; cost is covered by the school district). She had been having tremendous trouble in daycare trying to communicate with her classmates. She was found to have severe speech difficulties/delays and began speech, which would last until she graduated 6th grade. At the end of her year of speech, the ladies running the Special Education unit in the grade school told us that she would really benefit from a special class for her social delays, so she was enrolled for a year at the age of 4 in a half-day session of Early Childhood. After being in EC for half a year, they asked if they could do some further testing; she was found to have hypotonia and had OT/PT until 4th grade. In 1st grade she was having issues with reading and was put in a special help group; today, she loves reading, and English is her best subject in school (As).

    Finally, at the age of 5/just entering Kindergarten, we were able to get a Childhood Specialist to tell us (off the charts, since it wasn’t considered a diagnosis then) that she has SPD. We enrolled her in any extra courses that would help her that we could get covered by our health insurance (at that time, SPD wasn’t acknowledged as a disorder; most of her issues fell under anxiety, OCD, and hypotonia). She saw a Childhood Specialist for a few years (under the umbrella of anxiety/OCD, although the specialist knew the real reason she was seeing her) and received some awesome counseling and ways of dealing with her issues (and I received great parental tips and guidance in how to deal with her and her outbursts).

    When she was 7, I fell ill and completely changed our family diet to all organic, no gluten, no cow dairy, no soy, and took away a lot of processed foods. I also had both my daughter and myself tested for heavy metals–we both came back with severe heavy metal toxicity. My daughter did a compounded chelation therapy 2x (I am convinced that the heavy metals in vaccines also contributed to her issues, esp after it was discovered that both she and I have a genetic liver mutation). Changing diet, getting toxins/heavy metals out of her body, and using pure filtered water really had a huge impact on bringing her back from the edge.

    I wish I would have known more about food, nutrition, toxins, pharma drugs, and how they all relate. I have gone on for further schooling and am now a Certified Holistic Health Coach. One thing I wish I would have known, for both my own and my daughter’s sake, was the extreme importantance of healing a leaky gut. We are in the process of doing a cleanse right now that will do just that.

    It has been a long road to get to where we are now, but today my daughter is a healthy 14 year old 9th grader, has been on the honor roll every quarter since 7th grade, loves to read, plays the tenor sax, and plays lacrosse goalie. She has a great circle of friends and is a treasure to be around.

    The signs of Sensory Processing Disorder can be reversed and the child can be taught ways of “growing into”/learning how to live and cope with issues. It is not an easy road, but the benefits and joy of having a child who is able to function confidently in the world and with her peers is unsurpassed.

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