Here’s What Sensory Processing Disorder is NOT

Last post, I shared some information about what SPD is. This time I want to talk about what it is NOT. I am a big advocate for understanding sensory processing and helping families navigate the difficulties that come with the various sub-types, affecting a child’s development and participation in daily life. As part of that advocacy, I often find myself responding to mistaken ideas that people have about SPD.

While October is SPD Awareness Month, it seems that in some circles SPD is a trending topic year-round. And there is misinformation that comes with that sort of fame. So, just to set the record straight and improve our understanding of sensory processing disorder, here are a few points of clarification:

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is NOT a medical diagnosis.

The STAR Institute worked for more than a decade to have SPD added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5th Edition (DSM-5). These listings include clear diagnostic criteria and guide a physician in making medical diagnoses for mental and neurological disorders. When the DSM-5 was published in 2015, the editing board ultimately determined that there was not enough evidence to support the addition of SPD as a separate diagnostic category. They did, however, add sensory processing issues (sensory hyper- or hypo-sensitivity) as an additional criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The STAR Institute continues to support research in this area to help identify SPD as a unique diagnosis.

SPD is not what everyone with “quirks” has.

We all have sensory differences, and some of us have specific preferences or needs when it comes to sensory input. If you don’t like scratchy sweaters or need to have silence to get work done, you don’t have SPD. Individuals with SPD experience the world very differently and struggle to participate fully in it due to their difficulty interpreting and responding to sensory input. The hallmark of SPD, as described by Dr. Lucy Miller (STAR Institute founder), is that the condition is chronic and disruptive to daily life. 

SPD is not something that can be “fixed” or “cured” by treatment.

BUT, the symptoms can often be reduced in intensity, with a resulting decrease in the impact of SPD on a person’s daily life. A comprehensive therapy approach includes direct treatment to help with learning skills and potentially altering how sensory information is received and processed. It would also include education regarding how to manage daily tasks and accommodate the individual’s unique sensory needs. Skilled therapists help individuals to advocate for themselves and better understand how to cope with SPD, while educating families (and others) to facilitate an understanding of the condition that changes relationships and supports participation in daily life.

Sensory-sensory based treatment is not the answer to every problem.

Issues with learning, behavior, social interactions, or daily task participation may not all be solved with therapy. There is a growing trend toward using sensory based strategies to support all children who exhibit difficulty with self-regulation, attention, learning, behaviors, and social interaction, but using a “sensory lens” to address these issues may be only one piece of a complex puzzle that needs to be solved in order to best support a child’s development and success in daily life. Understanding SPD can be helpful in solving problems for children who exhibit symptoms of the disorder, but it is most powerful when you combine it with a full understanding of the child and the specific challenges they experience.

Our blog series for SPD Awareness Month continues soon, with more information on the sub-types and resources to help children with them.

And don’t forget: if you’re local, join us at our Introduction to SPD with Q&A events on October 26 and 30. Learn more here, and contact us for more information about SPD or to discuss your child’s needs.

Posted in Education, Uncategorized.

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