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But parents of children who are struggling today are not inclined to wait 18 years, so they spring for therapy that has only anecdotal validation. Treatment is highly individualized, but much of it involves guiding the kids to do more of the things they don't do easily and respond less to the things they can't abide. Lizzie Cave works on noise sensitivity by listening to a calibrated series of audiotapes. Jacob Turner, 3, improves his tolerance for food textures by playing with gooey concoctions and allowing a therapist to put them ever nearer his mouth.
Families get instructions on how to adjust their children's "sensory diets" to help them function better at home and in school. Christopher Medema, 7, now puts a weighted blanket on his lap when he's doing seatwork at school. The steady pressure meets some of his need for tactile input and helps him focus. His family has learned to accommodate his craving for motion. "He likes doing math flash cards standing on his head," says his dad, Steven.
As for Matthew North? He still looks a little limp while dangling from gym equipment, and the blue eyes peering above a sprinkling of freckles gaze warily at people he doesn't know. But the boy who couldn't catch a beach ball last summer is now learning Tae Kwon Do and even soccer. "I saved a couple of goals," he admits, with a little prompting from Mom. That sounds an awful lot like recovery--from whatever it is that ails him.n
The original version of this article misidentified occupational therapist A. Jean Ayres as having been on the faculty of UCLA. In fact, Ayres taught and did her groundbreaking research on Sensory Processing Disorder at the University of Southern California (USC).