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Sensory Processing Dysfunction (SPD) is a neurological disorder where information is sensed but perceived abnormally. It was previously called Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), which you could see would be very easily confused with the other SID (Sudden Infant Death syndrome), so that terminology became outdated. Some specialists do continue to use the abbreviation DSI (Disorder of Sensory Integration).
Basically, having a Sensory Processing Disorder causes children to have difficulty with processing information from the five senses (vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste), the sense of movement (vestibular system), and/or the positional sense (proprioception). For those with SPD, sensory information is received, but perceived abnormally. Unlike blindness or deafness, sensory information is sensed by people with SPD; the difference is that information is processed by the brain in an unusual way that may cause distress or confusion.
SPD is its own diagnosis, but it can be linked to other neurological conditions, including AD/HD, Learning Disabilities, behavioral/emotional problems, developmental dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, and speech or academic delays, among many others. There is no known cure; however, there are many treatments available.
Accurate diagnosis is increasing by developmental pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, and child psychologists. At present, SPD is not included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR) as a discrete diagnosis. However, when the diagnostic manual is updated, new criteria and diagnosis are added or refined. It is anticipated that as more professionals and lay people alike become aware of this condition and its manifestations, SPD will become a distinct diagnosis. Right now, some physicians or therapists may “code” SPD for record-keeping purposes as anything from “Developmental Coordination Disorder” to “Pervasive Developmental Disorder” (which can include Aspergers’) to “Adjustment Disorder,” none of which seem to accurately identify the true condition.
Individuals with SPD may display a variety of symptoms, including the following:
Such behaviors, of course, usually appear inappropriate to the observer. However, for SPD children, these “symptoms” are a way of reacting to and compensating for their unreliable and unpredictable view of the world.
SPD: Sensory Processing Dysfunction
Treatment for SPD
Most children with SPD are just as intelligent as their peers. Many are intellectually gifted. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information, and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs.
Once children with SPD have been accurately diagnosed, they benefit from a treatment program of Occupational Therapy (OT) with a Sensory Integration (SI) approach. When appropriate and applied by a well-trained clinician, Auditory Integration Training (AIT) or other complementary therapies may be combined effectively with OT-SI.
Occupational Therapy typically takes place in a sensory-rich environment sometimes called the "OT gym." During OT sessions, the therapist guides the child through fun activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged but always successful.
The goal of OT is to foster appropriate responses to sensation in an active, meaningful, and fun way so the child is able to behave in a more functional manner. Over time, the appropriate responses generalize to the environment beyond the clinic including home, school, and the larger community. Effective Occupational Therapy thus enables children with SPD to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping.
Ideally, Occupational Therapy for SPD is family-centered. Parents are involved and work with the therapist to learn more about their child's sensory challenges and methods for engaging in therapeutic activities (sometimes called a "sensory diet)" at home and elsewhere. The child's therapist may provide ideas to teachers and others outside the family who interact regularly with the child. Families have the opportunity to communicate their own priorities for treatment.
Treatment for SPD helps parents and others who live and work with sensational children to understand that Sensory Processing Disorder is real, even though it is "hidden." With this assurance, they become better advocates for their child at school and within the community.
Emotional and Other Impacts of SPD
Children with SPD often have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed for school success and childhood accomplishments. As a result, they often become socially isolated and suffer from low self-esteem and other social/emotional issues.
These difficulties put children with SPD at high risk for many emotional, social, and educational problems, including the inability to make friends or be a part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, and being labeled clumsy, uncooperative, belligerent, disruptive, or "out of control." Anxiety, depression, aggression, or other behavior problems can follow. Parents may be blamed for their children's behavior by people who are unaware of the child's "hidden handicap."
Effective treatment for SPD is available, but far too many children with sensory symptoms are misdiagnosed and not properly treated. Untreated SPD that persists into adulthood can affect an individual's ability to succeed in marriage, work, and social environments. Sensory integration therapy, performed by an Occupational Therapist (OT), can in some cases eliminate sensory integration problems, and in other cases teach individuals how to cope with those problems in a less disruptive way.
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