Sensory Conditions

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Sensory ConditionsThe sensory system is a part of the nervous system responsible for processing sensory information, meaning things we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.

Below is a list of the most common conditions of the sensory system seen in children waiting for forever families. We provide the following information for reference purposes only and cannot attest to the accuracy of the information. We highly recommend speaking with an experienced physician for further details on each condition.

Common Sensory System Conditions

Blindness/Visual Impairment

Adopt Special Needs; Special Needs - Sensory Conditions - Blindness/Visual Impairment
Blindness
is a general term to describe a general lack of vision. It may also refer to a loss of vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. People with vision that is worse than 20/200 with glasses or contact lenses are considered legally blind in most states in the United States. Visual impairment refers to the partial or complete loss of vision. This vision loss may happen suddenly or over a period of time. Most often the word "blindness" is meant to describe a complete loss of vision. 

Blindness may occur before birth as a result of the eye structures not developing properly in the womb, or immediately after birth as a result of infection. It can also occur later in life as a result of diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, uncorrected crossed eyes or ptosis, retinal blastoma, eye injuries or infections.

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Cataracts

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Sensory Conditions - Cataracts
A cataract is a clouding area over the front part of the eye - an area that is normally transparent. It can affect either one eye or both eyes. The center of a child’s eye might look cloudy or white, or like someone poured milk into the eye, or a child might complain of feeling something scratchy in their eye. Cataracts can be so small that they do no impact vision at all, or they can be quite large and lead to loss of vision.  Approximately 3 out of 10,000 children have a cataract.

Causes:
Congenital cataracts occur in babies for many reasons including infection, metabolic problems, diabetes, trauma, inflammation or drug reactions.  Tetracycline antibiotics used to treat infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause cataracts in newborns. Other infections during pregnancy such as measles or rubella (the most common cause), rubeola, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, herpes zoster, poliomyelitis, influenza, Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis and toxoplasmosis may cause cataracts in babies. In older children 40% of cases are associated with eye trauma.  

Treatment:
Not all cataracts require treatment, but larger ones may require surgery.  An intraocular lens is often implanted during surgery.

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Deafness

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Other common names:
Hearing impairment, hearing loss

Deafness, hearing impairment, or hearing loss is a partial or total inability to hear. The severity of the hearing impairment is determined by the level of decibels a person can respond to. It may be ranked as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound (complete).  

Causes:

Some of the many causes of deafness include:

  • Hereditary disorders. Some types of deafness are hereditary, usually caused by malformations of the inner ear.
  • Genetic disorders. Genetic mutations may cause deafness associated with other conditions, such as osteogenesis imperfecta, Trisomy 13 S and multiple lentigines syndrome.
  • Prenatal exposure to disease. A baby can be born deaf or with hearing problems if they are exposed to certain diseases in utero, including rubella (German measles), influenza and mumps. Other factors that are thought to cause congenital deafness include exposure to methyl mercury and drugs such as quinine.
  • Trauma, such as perforation of the eardrum or a skull fracture. 

  • Disease. Certain diseases can cause deafness in children, including meningitis, mumps, cytomegalovirus and chicken pox.  

Treatment:

For children with mild to moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid may be utilized. For those with more severe hearing loss, some children will benefit from a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are small hearing devices fitted under the skin behind the ear during surgery. They have an external sound processor and internal parts including a receiver coil and an electronics package. The external processor takes in sound, analyses it and then converts it to signals which are transmitted across the skin to an internal receiver-stimulator. Signals are then sent to the brain along the hearing nerve as normal. This means that cochlear implants are only suitable for people whose hearing nerves are functioning normally.  

Other children might benefit from a device called a BAHA, which are for children who have congenital deafness.   

Prognosis:

Children with hearing loss often learn with their other senses and can learn to communicate using sign language or picture cards.  Most people who are deaf live very successful and full lives.

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Glaucoma

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Sensory Conditions - Glaucoma
Glaucoma
is a condition in which the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises as a result of the fluid  - which normally flows in and out of the eye - not being able to drain properly. Instead, the fluid collects and causes pressure damage to the optic nerve (a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that connects the retina with the brain) and loss of vision. Glaucoma may affect just one eye or both. A child with glaucoma may have excessive tearing, sensitivity to bright lights, closure of one or both eyes in the light, a cloudy, enlarged cornea, one eye may be larger than the other, and any level of vision loss.

Causes:
Most cases of pediatric glaucoma have no identifiable cause.  About 10% of pediatric glaucoma cases are hereditary.

Treatment:
Pediatric glaucoma is treated by lowering the intraocular pressure through medical and/or surgical means. Most cases of primary pediatric glaucoma are treated with surgery to open the eye's drainage canals. Eye drops and oral medications are the primary treatments for secondary and juvenile glaucoma and are often used after surgery in primary pediatric glaucoma as well. Many children with pediatric glaucoma will also develop nearsightedness and will need to wear glasses.

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Microphthalmia


Microphthalmia is an eye abnormality where one or both eyeballs are abnormally small. In some children, the eye may appear to be completely missing; however, even in these cases some remaining eye tissue is generally present. Severe cases are sometimes labeled as anophthalmia, which means no eyeball has formed at all. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Microphthalmia may or may not result in significant vision loss.

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Nystagmus

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Nystagmus
 is any form of involuntary, rhythmic eye movement. It may occur in horizontal, vertical, or semicircular paths. Nystagmus usually involves both eyes and is often exaggerated by looking in a particular direction. Approximately 1 in every 1000 children has some form of nystagmus.  It is often classified as a form of strabismus, which means the eyes don't necessarily work together at all times.

Some side effects of this condition can include vision loss and some difficulty with coordination. All forms of nystagmus are involuntary, meaning people with the condition cannot control their eyes. Nystagmus sometimes improves as a person reaches adulthood.  It can worsen when a person is tired or feeling stress. 

Treatment: 
There are several treatments used to help people with this condition.  Drugs such as Botox can sometimes reduce eye movements, although it is just a temporary measure.  Both eye glasses and contacts are often prescribed to help people see better.  

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Ptosis


Other common names:
Droopy eyelid

Ptosis is a condition in which one or both of a child’s upper eyelid droops. It is caused by a poorly developed levator muscle (this is the muscle that lifts the eyelid upwards). The eyelid may droop slightly, or it may cover the pupil and impair sight. In rare instances, ptosis can be present in both eyelids. If children cannot easily see beyond their eyelids, they will often tilt their head backward in order to be able to see better.  Sometimes they will wrinkle the forehead to lift the eyebrows upward to allow better vision. If the condition is severe the child’s sight may not develop properly and the child can develop “lazy eye”-- a condition where the brain only uses the images from the good eye. 

Treatment: 
Surgery is usually done to lift the eyelid and give better vision.

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Sensory Processing Disorder

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Other common names: 
Sensory Integration Disorder, Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SI Dysfunction) and Dysfunction in Sensory Integration (DSI)

Sensory processing is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. The condition can take many forms, but children with SPD may be uncomfortable with touch, not be able to wear certain textures, be sensitive to light, have extreme food aversions, have trouble being gentle with animals, or bang their head. 

Causes: 
The exact cause of SPD is unknown. However, some children are more at risk than others to develop SPD. A child may be at increased risk if they have a diagnosis along the Autism Spectrum, have been tube fed for extended periods of time, or have Fragile X Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Down Syndrome, or ADD/ADHD. Children who are adopted are also at risk of having been institutionalized or understimulated during critical periods of development. Children who have special needs and experienced long periods of hospitalization, especially in the first year, are also at risk. 

Possible complications: 
Children who experience SPD sometimes have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed to be successful in school. Children with SPD are at a higher risk for many emotional, social, and educational problems, including the inability to make friends or be a part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, and being labeled clumsy, uncooperative, belligerent, disruptive, or "out of control." If left untreated, anxiety, depression, aggression, or other behavior problems can follow. 

Treatment:  
Children SPD may do well with OT with a sensory integration (SI) approach. Occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach typically takes place in a sensory-rich environment sometimes called the "OT gym." The therapist guides the child through fun activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged but always successful. The goal of Occupational Therapy is to foster appropriate responses in an active, meaningful, and fun way so the child is able to behave in a more functional manner. Over time, the appropriate responses generalize to the environment beyond the clinic including home, school, and the larger community. OT allows children with SPD to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping.

Prognosis: 
Success depends significantly on how severely the child experiences SPD. In milder cases, treatment and counseling can be successful in teaching a child how to better handle different stimuli. While a child may need therapy into adulthood , they can learn to better cope with the sounds, smells, and other sensations that they encounter as they grow and go on to live full, happy lives.

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Strabismus
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Other common names:
 
Cross-eyes, Wall-eyes 

With strabismus one or both eyes may turn inward, outward, upward, or downward. An eye turn may be constant (when the eye turns all of the time) or intermittent (turning only some of the time, such as, under stressful conditions or when ill). It is estimated that up to 5 percent of all children have some type or degree of strabismus.

Treatment:
People with strabismus have several treatment options available to improve eye alignment and coordination. They include: eyeglasses or contact lenses, prism lenses, vision therapy, and eye muscle surgery.