Around this time last year, the Sensory Integration Education Research Foundation (SIERF) hosted an event in the Walmart parking lot in Torrance. The Foundation transformed the bustling lot into a safe space where families and children were drawn by the offer of a free backpack filled with school supplies, entertainment, and the chance to win a new bicycle.

Attendees left with something more – knowledge – about a condition called “sensory processing disorder” (SPD) and how SIERF can help families and children with this condition. SPD is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.

Some people with SPD are either oversensitive or under-sensitive to things in their environment. For example, common sounds or a light touch may be painful or overwhelming, while for others, more sensory stimulation is required to elicit a response. Such sensory processing problems are commonly seen in individuals with developmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder.

To their credit, SIERF has served over 15,000 children and adults with SPD since 2005.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused this year’s event to be cancelled. In response, SIERF pivoted to offering monthly virtual sessions called “Bring Your Own Brunch.” The sessions enable them to provide distant therapeutic support sponsored by individuals and companies like Torrance Refining Company LLC.

SIERF Executive Director Kathy Sutton explained their strategy, “During our summer event, many participating families came to realize their child or family member may be experiencing SPD. They feel relieved to have found an organization that helps them identify the condition they or their loved ones are experiencing, that also offers resources to help them. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to find a way to provide connection and support for those experiencing or caring for someone with SPD.”

Through these new virtual sessions, SIERF offers families the opportunity to check-in with an occupational therapist or other health care professional skilled in helping individuals with SPD, and receive counseling or guidance and assistance for any related issue they may be experiencing. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed or limited the way people connect today, therefore, the SIERF-sponsored sessions are incredibly important in helping to address people’s health, especially those with special sensory needs.

Sutton notes, “During normal times, people with special needs and those caring for them, experience challenges in seeking resources to help them maneuver through life. We wanted to make sure that no one slips through the cracks during this unusual time, and we are incredibly thankful to our supporters. Through their generosity, we are able to continue offering important services to those with distinct needs.”

To learn more about SIERF, please visit: