At the most basic level, all of the senses are used to connect a baby to their mother or father, an important formative attachment through which the infant learns. When a baby is born with sensory issues, however, their brain and body may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sensory information.
When a newborn first looks out into the world, they use their senses to learn about their surroundings and find comfort. Since newborns can only see up close, their mother’s face as they are fed may be what they understand as comfort and food. Their sharpest senses, hearing, which develops in the womb, and taste draw the baby’s notice first. They recognize the voices they heard in the womb, so the sound of mom, dad or siblings is comforting. The food they eat is sweet, breastmilk or formula, which is comforting to their sensitive taste buds that seek sweetness. Smell is also a tool for finding what a baby needs, mother’s milk, which is a familiar smell since babies are held closely by the mother, father, or caretaker who feeds them. Taste and touch are used to learn what is soothing, soft, and sweet, and what is not.
Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb, although as the fetus develops, they can sense light in dark even in the uterus. Once they are born, a mother’s face is what babies see and prefer. And mother’s voice is the one they heard in utero, so babies find comfort in their mother’s voice, enabling them to suckle more for nourishment. Smell and taste also develop in the womb and influence a baby’s food preferences, such as carrots and other items with a taste that can penetrate the amniotic fluid.
What Happens to Children when the Senses are Damaged or Malfunction
When children cannot process what their senses receive, their behaviors are affected. They may become hyperactive, obsessively put things in their mouths to soothe themselves, or avoid touch of any kind. Sensory processing disorders affect other senses too, however. Children with this condition have a distorted experience of their body in space in relation to other people and objects, so they may bump into people or trip over objects. They may also lack a sense of their interior space, such as how they feel, whether they are happy, sad, dry, or cold. They may suffer inner ear trouble that impairs their balance. All these sensory processing avenues provide information to a body for it to be healthy and avoid injury.
Sensory processing difficulties may result in hyper or hyposensitivity, the latter of which occurs in a child who cannot tolerate sensory input or who does not register sensory input, as if their senses are dull. Children with exaggerated responses to noise, temperature, and smells cannot stand noisy or brightly lit places. By way of example, a child with hypersensitivity might hate going into a Starbucks for the strong coffee smell. As such, they may overreact often with hands over ears, nose, or eyes. They also may have a limited diet because so many foods taste overpowering. Additionally, they may experience pain more acutely than other children. Hyposensitive children look for stimuli in their environment and so, may appear hyperactive as they seek sensory input. Hyposensitive children may not feel pain as easily as other children. They also may frequently taste and suck on objects.
Along with problems interpreting sensory input, children with sensory processing disorders tend to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. The hyperactivity in ADHD is due to an inability to focus, while the hyperactivity in sensory processing disorders is due to the urge for more sensory stimulation. It is also common to find these children have cognitive deficiencies that may cause learning challenges, and they typically reach age milestones slower than other children.
What Causes Sensory Processing Disorders and Dysfunction
While the exact cause of sensory dysfunction varies from child to child, heredity, prematurity, and birth injury are potential sources of sensory processing disorders. Birth injuries, like trauma to the neck and back of the head from forceps, vacuum extractors, or excessive force when removing the baby from the birth canal, may negatively impact the senses and other critical bodily functions. Falls may likewise be responsible for sensory processing difficulties and loss of one or more of the senses. Prematurity can leave a newborn with retinopathy of prematurity, which causes visual impairment. Oxygen deprivation and eye infections contracted from the mother’s infection or STD can cause blindness. Asphyxia can also cause deafness, among a host of other permanent problems. This is often the result of a delayed emergency C-section while the fetus is in distress. C-section mistakes and negligence more broadly can also be a possible cause of damaged senses, as injuries to the brain regions can leave permanent impacts on a child’s sensory development and function.
In yet another vein, keeping a baby in an infant seat or walker for too long can also lead to developmental injuries, which further compound sensory processing problems. Brain injuries due to oxygen deprivation, abnormal positioning of the fetus in the birth canal that causes neck distention and injured nerves, or improper use of birth instruments, often affect the way the senses are interpreted. This is caused by neurological damage, which results in defective processing and integration of sensory input necessary for balance, coordination, and perception. Most injuries to the different parts of the brain and the Vagus nerve (a nerve that runs from the neck and weaves its way throughout the body) can lead to a wide variety of sensory processing issues.
How do You Know if a Child has Sensory Processing Issues
Despite doctors’ skepticism that sensory processing disorders are diagnosable medical conditions, the symptoms are identifiable. As a result, treating the symptoms is the focus for children with processing disorders, not so much the diagnosis of a medically confirmed condition. There are, however, sensory processing tests and measurements that reveal the extent of the condition in a child. When a child cannot function in everyday settings with others, the problem must be addressed by a medical professional. If undiagnosed, an issue with a child’s ability to see, touch, taste, smell, hear, or process information from their surroundings may only be identified when the severity of the symptoms leads to injury.
Treatments and Therapies Geared Toward Managing Problems with the Senses
Children with processing disorders can manage their symptoms with the help of occupational, physical, and sensory integration therapies. Therapists guide children through trouble areas in their lives, desensitizing them to triggers that promote disruptive behavior or allowing them to release their built- up tension with physical activities designed to stimulate the senses or manage overstimulated senses. There is no cure for the condition. However, a child can profoundly benefit from appropriate management of the byproducts, such as imbalance, screaming, jumping, and aggressive behavior. While some children outgrow sensory processing disorders, others need lifelong assistance managing their lives and the disorders that accompany the condition.
Was Your Child Diagnosed with Sensory Impairments after Mistakes at Birth in New Jersey?
When a birth injury that a doctor or their staff causes while delivering a baby results in sensory processing disorders, impairments of one of the senses, or total loss of sight, hearing, taste, smell, or other critical sensory functions, the responsible parties may be liable to the child and their parents for the costs of their life care. Negligent use of birth instruments, failing to administer antibiotics to a mother with an STD or other infection prior to delivery, delayed decisions about cesarean section delivery after prolonged labor, or mistakes and mismanagement of premature birth are likely instances of medical malpractice. And negligent medical practices like these that cause sensory injury, leave a child unable to learn, grow and develop normally, or even enjoy normal childhood pleasures.
Depriving your child of their best life need not go unaccounted for when healthcare providers are the cause. Consult with a seasoned New Jersey birth and pediatric malpractice attorney on our team if your child was injured by their medical team during labor and delivery. You may have a viable claim for compensation that will help defray the past and ongoing medical costs of keeping your child physically, psychologically, and mentally healthy. Your child’s quality of life may depend on it. Free consultations are available at your convenience by calling (866)-708-8617.