What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder [or Dysfunction] (SPD) is a condition in which the brain is unable to organize sensory input in a way that facilitates appropriate responses. Lucy Jane Miller, OTR defines SPD as “A neurophysiologic condition in which sensory input either from the environment or from one’s body is poorly detected, modulated, or interpreted and/or to which atypical responses are observed. (Miller 2013)”
What causes SPD?
Though the exact cause is not yet identified, preliminary research suggest that SPD is a neurological condition that may manifest as a result of genetic, pre-natal/birth complications and/or environmental factors (Miller 2013). The official causes, however, have not been confirmed. Further research is being conducted in an attempt to provide more definitive answers.
If my child has sensory issues, does it mean that they have autism?
Despite the correlations that are often made, if a child is thought to have SID/SPD, it does not automatically mean that they have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, most children with ASD do present with sensory issues. SPD may co-exist with a variety of conditions, such as premature birth, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, feeding issues, traumatic brain injury (TBI), ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, Fragile X Syndrome, Down syndrome, and as a result of cochlear implant placement. Other factors that may contribute to abnormal sensory processing include social, emotional, and/or psychological issues.
How can I recognize if my child has SPD?
Everyone has “sensory issues.” For example, the thought of massive quantities of any mushy-textured food, such as pimento cheese, without a crunchy texture, evokes my gag reflex. Therefore, if I choose to eat a food that falls into the above category, I add a crunchy-texture, such as a cracker, to make it tolerable. If I am driving and can’t find my destination, the sound of loud music or chatter on the radio is very unsettling. So, I typically turn off the radio when I’m driving to an unfamiliar location to avoid additional stress. We all possess various sensory preferences. Anything that involves the components of the sensory system, which includes sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch, and the “hidden senses”– (proprioception, vestibular), can be interpreted differently. It is the way in which an individual reacts to sensory input that categorizes their processing skills as normal/abnormal or functional/dysfunctional. If your child has trouble functioning and/or interacting within their environment as a result of an inability to appropriately integrate or control their responses to sensory stimuli, it is likely that they are experiencing SPD.
How do I know that my child’s reactions are related to impaired sensory processing and not merely behavioral (willful) in nature?
It is often difficult to understand the reasoning behind a child’s reactions to different situations and environments; however, behaviors, in essence, are modes of communication. They may convey a need, serve as a reaction to a demand/stimulus, or act as a coping strategy. In some cases, dysfunctional behaviors are linked to sensory integration dysfunction. It is important to identify why the behaviors are occurring so that the primary cause, (such as sensory processing deficits) can be addressed. Once the underlying (i.e.: sensory) issues are addressed, then specific activities and training can be provided in order to assist the child in processing and reacting to sensory input more appropriately.
What treatments will Occupational Therapists provide for SPD?
Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder is highly individualized and is determined following a detailed assessment, parent interview, and/or several treatment sessions with the child. Vestibular/proprioceptive input, tactile stimulation tasks, and weighted/compression garments are often utilized during treatment, as well as self-regulation exercises that encourage children to be more aware of their reactions and cope with sensory experiences more appropriately. These tools, combined with parent involvement and carry-over of activities/suggestions to other environments (i.e.: home and school), can assist in creating a means by which a child may overcome and/or manage their sensory deficits so that they may live a more functional, comfortable life.
What should I do if I or someone else suspects that my child has SPD?
If you, your physician, or another professional feel as though your child may be experiencing SPD, please contact Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas at 972-424-0148 to speak with someone about your concerns or to arrange an Occupational Therapy evaluation. We treat sensory processing disorders in Frisco, Plano and McKinney.
For more information about Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR and SPD, read this great presentation from the University of Washington LEND Program (Leadership, Education, Neurodevelopment, and Related Disabilities)