Sensory Processing Disorder

Common Questions About Sensory Processing Disorder

Sharon Heller, Ph.D., answers frequently asked questions to help you better understand sensory processing disorder (SPD).

Man sitting on the couch, frustrated with his daughter's IEP problems
ADHD Handsome man sitting on sofa with big headache

1. Is sensory processing disorder (SPD) a condition that can be passed down from generation to generation?

Yes. Sensory processing disorder often runs in families and does have a genetic component. I hypothesize that the genetic component may be a sensitive constitution from weak liver functioning that interferes with the release of toxins from the body. The toxins build up and impact the nervous system.

2. Can one grow out of SPD?

You don’t grow out of SPD, you compensate. If you are clumsy, you don’t aspire to be a ballerina. If you are sensitive to noise, lights and touch, you don’t work in a mall. In other words, you learn to avoid that which destabilizes you and develop your strengths. In this way, people learn to manage better.

3. Can it become worse as one ages?

SPD becomes worse with injuries and when with normal aging as the body begins to become less efficient. So, if you always had balance problems and were clumsy, this can become more of a problem in your senior years. Sensory defensiveness or hypersensitivities are very much affected by hormonal changes and sensitivity often intensifies during puberty, during gestation and menopause.

[Self-Test: Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults]

4. How can I help my spouse understand just how easily loud noises, bright lights and such overwhelm me?

Ask him how he feels when he has the flu and he wants dark and quiet. Explain to him that this is how you feel on a daily basis. Also, try giving him Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight (#CommissionsEarned) to read.

5. Where can adults go for help with SPD?

There are resources for children, mainly working with occupational therapists (OTs), but what about adults? This is a tough one. If you suspect you have SPD, it’s very helpful to get evaluated. However, the only qualified professionals are often pediatric OTs who are typically busy treating children, so it may be hard to get an appointment. Further, visits may not be covered by insurance and offices unlikely to have evening or weekend appointments. Some adults feel self-conscious being treated in the clinic along with children. So most adults end up self-treating.

You can do this successfully with sensory modulation disorder. But sensory-based motor disorder and sensory discrimination disorder require specific sensory integration (SI) interventions. Fortunately, as an adult you have probably already developed compensation strategies. Nevertheless, it is very helpful to be evaluated and treated by an OT.

[Read: How to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder]

6. Are there diagnostic tools/assessments used to determine SPD and rule out other diagnosis?

Several tools/assessments exist. The most commonly used assessments include:

1. Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)

2. Miller Function and Participation Scales (MFUN)

3. Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency™-Second Edition

4. Movement Assessment Battery for Children – Second Edition?(Movement ABC-2)

5. Miller Assessment for Preschoolers (MAP)

6. Goal Oriented Assessment of Life Skills (GOAL)

For self-evaluation, you can download an evaluation form from my website.

7. Is SPD in the DSM?

After careful examination of research presented by Lucy Miller and her team from the SPD foundation, the American Psychological Association chose to not include SPD in the newly released DSM V, as there was no biological underpinning to the condition. This means that psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health workers will continue to misdiagnose symptoms of SPD as a psychiatric disorder. Shortly after it was turned down, a groundbreaking study from UC San Francisco found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, showing a biological basis that sets SPD apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

[Up Next: Why You Feel Too Much (and How to Cope)]

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