Published on ADDitudeMag.com
Sensory Processing Disorder 101
Everything you need to know about Sensory Processing Disorder — from the definition and symptoms, to diagnosis and treatment.
by Priscilla Scherer
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that makes it
difficult for the body to receive messages from the senses and turn them into
the appropriate motor and behavioral responses. A child with SPD finds it hard
to process and act upon the information received through his senses: sounds,
sights, movement, touch, smell, and taste.
Who’s at Risk?
Some experts believe that sensory processing goes awry in as
many as 10% of children. As with ADHD, the causes of SPD can be unclear. While the condition may be genetic, there are also some extrinsic factors that put children at risk such as maternal deprivation, premature birth, prenatal
malnutrition and early institutional care. SPD is higher among children who
were adopted from orphanages and among those with repeated ear infections
before age 2.
What Does SPD Feel Like?
For some children with SPD, information reaching the senses
feels like an assault of competing stimuli. For others, outside stimuli are
dulled, as if a shade has been pulled over the environment, muting sights,
sounds, and touch. These children crave extra stimulation to feel alive. Most
children with SPD display elements of both extremes, suffering from sensory
overload at some times, seeking stimulation at others.
SPD and ADHD
SPD can be a stand-alone disorder, or it may coexist with
other disorders, such as ADHD. We now know that many children with ADHD also
suffer from SPD. Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D., director of the Sensory Processing
Treatment and Research Center, in Denver, Colorado, has found that "more
than half of children suspected to have ADHD had SPD or both conditions."
Common SPD triggers include hair brushing,
tight clothes, loud noises (fireworks, thunder), bright lights (camera flashes,
bright sun, strobe lights), odors (perfume, scented detergent), coarse fabric
on skin, swimming in lakes, sticky fingers, tags on clothes, being touched or
hugged, wearing shoes and tart or bitter foods.
Once you recognize the possibility of SPD in your child, the
next step is to locate a knowledgeable professional, usually a trained
occupational therapist, to evaluate him—and the earlier the bettter. Many kids
with SPD never receive an accurate diagnosis as the condition can resemble
other problems. SPD is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, a learning disability,
or even pervasive developmental disorder.
While ADHD and SPD may present similarly, the medication
and behavior-modification therapies that work for ADD/ADHD do not work for SPD.
SPD treatment consists of working with an occupational therapist on a set of
activities that help retrain the senses. Treatment may include a "sensory
diet," in which the child is slowly introduced to activities in a gentle,
fun way, in order to get used to a range of sensations.
For the hyperactive, sensory-seeking child, have him help you carry the laundry
basket, push the shopping cart or bring in the grocery bags from the car.For
the tactile-sensitive child, try
finger-painting activities at the kitchen table. Bring shaving cream into the
bathtub and let him draw pictures on the walls. If
your child has a poor sense of space and balance, try swimming, horseback riding or
jumping on a trampoline.
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