Sensory Processing Disorder (a.k.a. SPD), or sometimes known as sensory integration dysfunction, is a disease where the manner in which the nervous system can receive a message from any of the senses is impaired, as is how the nervous system turns those messages into the correct motor or behavioral responses.
People suffering from this condition will find it hard to interpret and react accordingly, when information is sent through their senses, which can create challenges with everyday activities and chores.
How is Sensory Processing Disorder Detected?
In one study, conducted in 2004, scientists concluded that one in 20 children are affected by Sensory Processing Disorder, which can severely impact their development and emotional state. As with any other disease, there are different levels of severity with Sensory Processing Disorder, but some of the most common symptoms are:
- Motor clumsiness, such as bumping into things, being uncoordinated, having trouble engaging in play or conversation.
- Anxiety at not being able to react properly.
- Behavioral problems such as frequent tantrums or meltdowns.
- Problems in school.
Being sensitive to things that would not bother anyone else, can also be a sign of SPD. For example, skin irritation from certain clothing materials or having pain or overwhelming feelings from sounds found in daily life is another warning sign. A snow blower can cause a child suffering from SPD to throw up or someone trying to touch them may send them running from the room.
There have been some studies linking SPD and autism, where these symptoms can also be present. Some children suffering from this condition may be oblivious to things around them, much like an autistic child often is.
Sensory Processing Disorder is usually identified in children that display some of the symptoms mentioned, but it can also affect adults to different degrees. If the signs become severe enough to affect the normal development and disrupt their lives, you may want to have your child evaluated.
Causes for Sensory Processing Disorder
The exact cause for SPD had not been identified, but scientists that conducted a study in 2006, concluded that the disease could be genetic. For some reason, children who suffer from SPD will continue to overreact to a light touch or loud noise, while others get used to the sounds and sensations in their environment.
How to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder
Many children who suffer from SPD are misdiagnosed or parents wait too long because some symptoms are not severe enough and the behavior is normal in other children. If you suspect your child may be suffering from SPD, it is very important to get them evaluated so a treatment can be started as soon as possible.
SPD has not been recognized as a medical diagnosis at this time, but there are groups that are actively trying to change that so that parents can get the help they need. Despite this, our occupational therapists see and treat children and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder regularly.
The treatment will depend on the severity of the condition and the effect the symptoms have on the person’s daily activities. The patient will do exercises to help do better with activities to which they have strong reactions and they will get help to get used to things that they cannot tolerate, by using fun, playful ways to teach coping mechanisms.
One specific type of therapy is called Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based or DIR, where the parent and child spend multiple play sessions that last at least 20-minutes, going over different activities. This involves the parent following the child’s behavior, even when it’s not typical.
During these sessions the parent will be asked to mimic the child’s behavior and later on challenge the child to change their behavior, where the child learns to relate, communicate and think. The focus is always on the child’s needs and the parent will learn how to soothe and help reassure them, so they can move on.
It is very important to get your child diagnosed correctly, so a treatment plan can be started as soon as possible. If left untreated, Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD can affect an adult’s daily life and the individual’s ability to be successful in their career and relationships.