What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
What is SPD?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a brain based problem that affects approximately five percent of school age children. One subtype of SPD is Sensory Over Responsivity (SOR). SOR kids respond to sensory information (i.e. sound and touch) as though it were extremely aversive. They feel continually bombarded by stimuli. The resulting physiologic over-arousal and emotional dysregulation negatively impact the child’s daily functioning. Patterns of instable moods are typical and SPD children find even pleasurable activities difficult, or unbearable.
SPD is not well known and we have to continue to educate others and spread awareness. Children are frequently misdiagnosed and prescribed inappropriate treatment plans. The results can be devastating. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) exacerbates a person's reaction to sensory stimuli. A person suffering from sensory processing disorder might feel pain, for instance, when something touches his skin, or react violently at certain visual symbols. This disorder is treatable but can never be cured.
Sensory processing disorder is when a person has troubles processing sensory input, and this can lead to individuals having issues with moods and behaviours. If one has SPD they will feel overwhelmed by what appears to be normal amounts of sensory input for example like normal noise, light, taste or touch to others. If you know someone who has sensory processing challenges it is important to be supportive. There are ways to recognize sensory triggers but you need to find the right treatments, equipment and tools to help provide them with a happier life. This is called a "sensory diet"
When a child is overwhelmed by sensory input their reactions may be:
Fight - anger, irritability, tantrums and rage
Flight - panic, running away isolation or withdrawn
Freeze - where a child is frustrated and overwhelmed that the child can not speak or move
Today I am so sensitive to be touched. It's like this everyday. I don't like to be hugged. Sometimes my Mom has to remove the tags off of my shirts. I can't wear socks or underwear. Today I don't want to brush my teeth or have a shower. I'm sensitive when I hear things and the louder it gets, the more it hurts me. It makes me want to cry and sometimes I will have meltdowns which look like tantrums not because I want too but I lose control, it's just too much. I cant eat very much. I yell a lot because I don't like how these things make me feel. I cant sit still. When I'm at school I can't do the same work as my friends. I don't have many friends, just two. I am aggressive. When the lights get too bright. I yell at my Mom to turn off the lights. It hurts my eyes. I sometime hit my Mom or I'll break her things even though I don't want too. Sound familiar yet?
When a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, SPD and or any learning disability begins, what may be considered an absolute roller coaster ride like experience. It is a long road filled with sadness, frustration, joy and love. Through which each and every member in the family will experience a huge amount of personal growth and understanding.
As a parent/caregiver of a child with physical, mental and emotional special needs, you will come to the point where special services are the most important to your family support. You need to have consultations to set up a specialised plan for your child, the family and your own individual needs.
•In-home behavioral training
•A diet plan
•Natural products and medicines
•Finding specialized family doctors, Pediatrician, EA's, OT's and therapists (IEP/504)
•Overall view of gut function for ASD children and all other allergies, intolerances and sensitivities
•Trained Babysitters and in/out of home services (Respite Services)
•Learn where to shop for special foods and products
•Connect yourself to SPD support groups
•Become familiar with sensory play ideas
•Educate yourself and others about SPD (family, play friends, teachers, etc.)
•Up to date technological support
•And other services and supports unique to each families needs
Access all the community resources that you can! It will help guide you further along your path!
Dr. A. Jean Ayres is credited with developing both a theory of sensory integration dysfunction and therapeutic interventions for children suffering from it.
Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in children may include:
- Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights
- Inability to habituate to sounds and fear with unexpected noises
- Easily distracted
- Holding hands over ears in complex environment
- Avoids tastes, smells, or textures normally tolerated by children that age
- Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
- Impulsive, lacking in self-control
- Inability to unwind or calm self
- Poor self-concept
- Social and/or emotional problems
- Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
- Hesitation going up or down stairs
- Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
- Holding on to walls, furniture, people, or objects, even in familiar settings
- Delays in speech, language, or motor skills
- Delays in academic achievement
- Seeks out movement activities, but poor endurance and tires quickly
Possible causes for SPD.
Genetics: SPD appears to have a genetic component as other family members often show sensory processing problems.
Trauma: SPD often appears in response to Prenatal insult from drugs, illness, and maternal stress, Birth complications, such as
asphyxia, post-birth trauma, or prematurity , Head trauma , Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse , Chemical abuse , Post-traumatic
Allergies: Virtually all people with sensory processing problems appear to suffer allergies and food sensitivities, linking the two.
Toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins, such as air contaminants, destructive viruses, and other chemicals often cause oversensitivity
The main kind of treatment is occupational therapy that is focused on sensory integration and development. This is what is called a sensory diet. Activities and items are chosen by the occupational therapist and designed to be fun, enjoyable and encouraging to the child and meet there special needs. They may include brushing/joint compressions, listening therapy, messy play or heavy pressure.
Types of sensory input include:
Visual or vision input: What you see
Auditory or sound input: What you hear
Tactile or touch input: What you feel through touching, or through your skin, etc.
Olfactory input : What you smell
Gustatory input: What you taste, such as when you eat or drink
Vestibular or movement input: What you feel when you are moving, such as your arms, legs or your body.
Subtypes of SPD
Sensory Processing Disorder is now being used as a global umbrella term that includes all forms of this disorder, including three primary diagnostic groups:
Type I - Sensory Modulation Disorder
Type II - Sensory Based Motor Disorder
Type III - Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Type I - Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD). Over, or under responding to sensory stimuli or seeking sensory stimulation. This group may include a fearful and/or anxious pattern, negative and/or stubborn behaviors, self-absorbed behaviors that are difficult to engage or creative or actively seeking sensation.
Type II - Sensory Based Motor Disorder (SBMD). Shows motor output that is disorganized as a result of incorrect processing of sensory information affecting postural control challenges and/or dyspraxia.
Type III - Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD). Sensory discrimination or incorrect processing of sensory information. Incorrect processing of visual or auditory input, for example, may be seen in inattentiveness, disorganization, and poor school performance.
When your child begins to see an occupational therapist and has sensory Processing Disorder therapy, you will see an improvement in all the areas of functioning: their attention/focus, concentration, socialization and even their self-esteem. They start to get involved more fully at home and at school. This usually takes between six months to a year.
What can you do if you think your child has SPD?
You should begin by taking your child to see your family doctor or get a referral to see a paediatrician to make sure that there are no other medical problems to cause concern. The doctor can rule out any other medical problems. Keeping in mind that many doctors may not know about sensory processing challenges are and what Sensory processing Disorder is.
Have your child evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (OT), the OT will meet with you and your child. This appointment usually is to get to know your child and have a better understanding of the child's situation. The OT may request a sensory history from birth, developmental history from birth, there symptoms/functioning levels, and the OT may also ask you to fill out a variety of parent reports and surveys related to the functional impact of sensory processing difficulties and the level of SPD severity. The child may also be evaluated using a very standardized assessment, and reactions to sensory input and coordination and motor abilities will be monitored closely.
Symptoms of SPD include picky eating, frequent meltdowns, clumsiness and difficulty getting to sleep without a parent. Isn't this normal kid behaviour?
Yes. However, what distinguishes this disorder is that children with SPD really can't live a normal life and can't go about their day-to-day functioning without interference from these symptoms.
Children with autism are known to have sensory issues. What makes SPD a standalone disorder?
Many children with SPD do not have other symptoms of autism - they have good adaptive skills, they can communicate well with their peers and they have good social skills. But they really have difficulty processing sensory information accurately and effectively.
How do these kids do in school?
We know for sure that 5 to 13 per cent of children entering school experience the symptoms of this disorder - and 73 to 75 per cent are boys. They walk into school already feeling there's too much to deal with. Faced with the crowd at school, all the noises, all the tactile information and the various lights, their sense system feels quite overwhelmed. So it's very difficult for students with SPD to function successfully in school without appropriate treatments.
Parents without special-needs kids may wonder if SPD is just an elaborate excuse for bad behaviour.
SPD is a real disorder. And there are ways that you can distinguish between SPD and a behavioural disorder. You can consider the child's reaction and responses to sensory input, especially those to touch and movement. Children with SPD seem truly pained and uneasy when they're experiencing sensory information that their bodies cannot process well.
If there is no standard diagnostic test for SPD, how do health professionals make sense of the cluster of symptoms?
Occupational therapists have the tools to test for this disorder and many psychologists and neurophysiologists can work with families to get the necessary diagnosis. Pediatricians are becoming informed about this disorder and referring children and their families to occupational therapists.
What kind of therapies help children with SPD?
The main form of treatment is occupational therapy that is focused on sensory integration and developing what is called a sensory diet. The child is given a prescription, a method to calm down and organize the senses. Activities and items are chosen by the therapist to be fun, enjoyable and encouraging to the child and meet the specific needs of the child. They may include listening to certain music or doing yoga, but the activities are not random or sudden the way day-to-day life is.
Why was it so important to have SPD included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?
When it was not included as a disorder, it became more difficult for families to get services and coverage for treatments through their insurance.
What's the best-case scenario for a child with SPD?
If a child begins to see an occupational therapist and has sensory integration therapy, you begin to see an improvement in all the areas of functioning: their attention, concentration, socialization and even their self-esteem. They start to participate more fully at home and at school - typically, between six months to a year.