The "sensory issues" label is known by a few names...
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Sensory Processing Disorder
There is a comprehensive symptom checklist here.
There is some controversy over whether or not this "disorder" is real. I can tell you first hand, beyond a shadow of doubt, it most definitely exists and can be debilitating for both the preemie and his/her family.
When Paige was a baby she cried almost every waking moment. We asked docs and they would just tell us that she had an underdeveloped nervous system. It was so bad at times that, as soon as hubby came home from work, I left the house. We felt incredibly bad for her. Nothing helped. She hated being swaddled. She hated being hugged and would freak out with any sudden noise. You may as well forget about cutting her nails.
As she got a little older the crying lessened but did not go away. Her OT taught us how to do The Wilbarger Brushing Protocol. http://www.pbbkids.com/the_wilbarger_brushing_protocol.htm
I was skeptical (I don't tend to buy into therapy that is "outside of the box") but was willing to try anything. It helped a lot but I could still see that she was very different than other babies I had been around.
We continued to ask docs about her behavior but were always told non-helpful statements like, "Oh she's a fighter. That's why she is alive."
During her toddler years it became very apparent that she had major issues. We could not hug her unless she hugged us first. We could not touch her unless we warned her first. She would smear food all over her body. She jumped constantly. She could not sit in a chair and eat, she had to hop while eating. Cutting her nails was a nightmare for all involved. If she was playing outside and there was mud anywhere within her sight, she would smear it all over herself before she could play. Noises... I literally still get tears in my eyes when I think of the pain (yes... pain) she experiences when exposed to noise. One day her and I were shopping. I was pushing her in the cart and I was singing to her (she was about 3-still was very delayed in speech) when a very long announcement was made over the store's loudspeaker. She immediately covered her ears, started crying and said, "mama help me". I took her out of the cart, covered her ears and we sat on the floor crying together.
At every single doc visit (pediatricians, specialists, therapy, etc) we mentioned our concerns. Not one person mentioned sensory integration dysfunction. I felt helpless. No matter what research I did on my own, I could not find one bit of info that applied to Paige.
It all changed one day when my Dad and I took her to the mall. She was about 3 1/2 years old. She was jumping along side of us when her hop turned into a sprint. My Dad reached out and grabbed her shoulder. No big deal right? One problem. He forgot to warn her that he was going to touch her. She immediately dropped to the ground and started scratching her face into a bloody mess.
That was it. No one was going to dismiss my concerns anymore. I spent hours on line, every day, trying to find a name for this monster that was had a grip on my daughter. I joined a parent based support group where most people used to put their child's alphabet soup of diagnosis in their signature line. I noticed the letters "SID" in one post. Knowing the child had not died of sudden infant death syndrome, it intrigued me to search with those letters. Up popped a few sites about sensory integration dysfunction. I cried while reading the symptoms. My daughter had most of them.
I found a local OT who specialized in SID and begged for a quick appointment. After our initial consult she said that Paige's case was the worst she had ever seen. I sure wasn't surprised. She put her in a swing, like the ones used with Autistic kids and Paige smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. After the swing she put Paige in a weighted vest (only 1 pound weight). Paige actually SAT in a chair through the rest of the first therapy session.
Below is a list of her symptoms at the time of the start of therapy (she was 3 1/2 years old)...
sensitive to loud noises
hears well but does not listen well
shouts or screams for no apparent reason
sometimes acts as if in her own little world
very noisy child
likes to press ears against TV, speakers
likes to listen to loud music when she is in control of the volume
cups hands over ears with sudden noise
hates haircuts, hair washing, hair brushing, cutting nails
bangs hands on tables and walls to create noise
cannot sit still
high tolerance for pain
always removes her clothes
stuffs too much food in mouth
dislikes being touched
delayed in toilet training
heavy walker, stomps her feet
rejects being held unless it was her idea
loves VERY strong smells
flaps hands around eyes
rolls head from side to side
loves playing in water (abnormal attraction to it)
enjoys things that spin or turn
loves to be spun around
everything must be in order (shoes all in a row, etc)
loves to open and close doors and drawers
can't sleep unless blanket is very tight
smears food or non edible liquid items on arms and legs
trouble going up and down stairs
turns upside down many times during the day
We continued in therapy for a few years. I can honestly say that I do not think there is a cure. I've heard some people tell stories that they were cured after a few sessions. I don't believe this is possible if the child has true SID. But, what therapy did give us was a resource of ideas to help Paige be able to function in the world. That's the key. I've had friends and relatives read over the symptoms and say things like "oh, I have some of those symptoms and I don't need therapy." I feel that the determining factor for us was that SID completely interfered with Paige's ability to function in society. Completely.
She is 8 now and still has major sensory issues. As a matter of fact, she still has all of the issues that were listed above. But, she can now function around them. Most of the time.
There is more information out there on SID now, than there was when Paige was little. I am so thankful for this. For years, educating parents and docs about SID was a passion of mine. I passed out information sheets to every doctor that we visited. A few times I had docs say, "I just had a parent asking me about this." or "I just had a parent who was concerned about her child because of some of these symptoms."
If you are reading this, as a parent of a preemie, there is hope. If you can find a SID certified OT, that would be a great resource for you. There are some wonderful books that have been written about this disorder. I have only read the books by Carol Kranowitz but have heard parents speak of other authors who have written on the subject and they felt their books were helpful. Please feel free to ask questions here if you would like some ideas of what has worked for us. If you don't feel comfortable doing so, please feel free to email me privately.
If you are reading this and you are a physician, please know that there are an incredible number of preemies that are affected with this monster. Inform the parents that they are not imagining it all. Let them know there are others like them. Inform new parents of preemies on what to look for in the future. The earlier the intervention, the better.