Sensory Dysregulation Resulting From Childhood Trauma

What Is Sensory Dysregulation?

Sensory dysregulation is a syndrome that impairs an individual’s ability to receive and appropriately respond to information sent to the brain via the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.

Sensory dysregulation is also sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder or as sensory integration dysfunction but is not, at the time of writing, included as a distinct disorder in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,which is currently in its fifth edition).

Early Learning In Babies Via Senses And The Cerebellum :

Before babies have acquired the ability to learn through language, they learn through the information that they receive through their senses and by the integration of this sensory information ; the region of the brain called the CEREBELLUM, is intimately involved in this process.

Neglect And Lack Of Attunement Between Mother And Baby Impairs The Development Of The Cerebellum :

However, if the mother / primary carer fails to attune herself to the baby’s emotional needs and neglects the child e.g. by not holding and rhythmically rocking him/her sufficiently frequently, not consistently making him/her feel safe and secure etc., then this can harm the development of the cerebellum which, in turn, can lead to cerebellar dysfunction and, consequently, to an impaired ability to process and integrate sensory information (Teicher et al., 2003).

Symptoms Of Sensory Dysregulation :

Symptoms of sensory dysregulation include :

  • a lack of physical co-ordination (e.g. frequently dropping things or bumping into things).
  • difficulties mastering basic sports’ skills (e.g. catching a ball, hitting a ball with a racket etc.).
  • hypersensitivity to light / noise
  • hypersensitivity to tactile stimuli (e.g. irritated by rough texture of clothes).
  • impaired ability to make sense of the world leading to possible learning difficulties.
  • in adulthood, an aversion to being touched or the opposite – an insatiable need to be touched (both of which are likely to preclude or complicate intimate relationships)

Compounding Effect On Hyper-reactive Nervous System :

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those who have suffered severe and protracted early childhood trauma frequently become hypervigilant and develop hyper-reactive nervous systems ; the problems the individual has regulating sensory information then exacerbate this problem by burdening and overloading the nervous system still more, further explaining why affected individuals may feel overwhelmed by, and unable to cope with, sensory stimuli such as noises, tactile experiences, bright lighting etc. that ‘normal’ individuals would not find at all bothersome.

Overlap With Other Disorders :

Research (e,g, Cheng et al., 2005) suggests that sensory dysregulation overlaps with several other disorders, and, because of this, there exists controversy as to whether or not it constitutes a distinct disorder; evidence is also accumulating that sensory processing disorders may play a highly significant role in the development of dysregulation of affect (i.e. difficulty controlling intense emotions) in young people.

Occupational Therapy:

When sensory dysregulation impairs daily functioning a referral to an appropriately trained occupational therapist can prove beneficial.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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