Premature babies and infants who have required intensive medical intervention following birth are exposed to a variety of sensory stimuli that they are not developmentally prepared to handle. This puts infants at a far greater risk of facing sensory processing challenges directly following birth as well as later in childhood. Research has indicated that up to 50% of children born premature have one or more atypical responses to sensory input, and the earlier the birth, the greater the risk.
The type of sensory differences seen vary greatly, from difficulty registering and responding to sensory inputs to hypersensitivity reactions. Some infants will leave the NICU with an overactive startle reflex, making daily life for both parents and children extremely stressful. If your NICU graduate is struggling to calm for feeding and sleeping, cries excessively during diapering and dressing, or simply seems less content than other babies their age, a sensory evaluation can help. By looking at each sensory system, checking reflexes, and observing challenging daily routines, an OT can work with babies and their families to develop strategies, provide the just-right amount of stimulation, and help facilitate sensory development.