Garfield School hosted Occupational Therapist Kimberly Bryze in a special talk about sensory integration in children, on Thursday, Sept. 20, presented by the resource group STAR Net and Forest Park School District 91.

Bryze, head of the Occupational Therapy (OT) program at Midwestern University, said over-sensitivity to stimulation can create behavior and eating problems in children although it has no outward symptoms.

“There are millions of kids with sensory integrative disorders and it’s a hidden disability,” Bryze said. “They can look completely typical until gym class when they completely break down.”

Bryze said these children have a hard time tuning out sounds, keeping their balance and eating food with complicated textures. They also can have fine motor control problems and out-of-proportion emotional responses to small things other people might consider inconsequential. Most pre-school children with sensory-processing issues are male, she said. Signs include walking on tiptoes, temper tantrums, weak muscle tone, avoidance of strange textures, picky eating, speech problems and sensitivity to loud noises. Over-sensitivity affects the child’s quality of life and self-esteem, she said.

“We all have quirks,” she said. “But when does a quirk become a problem?”

Bryze said OTs evaluate children based on behavior at home and school, and gives them a context in which to practice skills such as balancing on one foot or working with textured material, like finding pennies in Playdoh or chasing ice cubes in water with their fingers. “We like to give them practice in a safe environment, so they can learn how to explore and experiment in this world. It looks like we’re just playing, and we are – in a special way.

“We can never ‘cure’ a child, and I have never seen two children with autism who have the same problems, loves and fears.

“[Occupational therapists] help improve these children’s quality of life so they can do the things they need and want to do.”

A support group for parents of children with sensory processing issues meets at La Majada restaurant, 226 Harrison St., Oak Park the fourth Tuesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...