In addition to our in-clinic treatment, it’s a goal at STEPS For Kids to bring you factual, helpful information on the conditions, issues and discussions that matter to you. As part of our education and advocacy efforts, this month we’re excited to bring you information about sensory processing and SPD (sensory processing disorder).

All month, I’ll share my thoughts and some educational information here. Plus, we’re hosting an Introduction to SPD presentation at the clinic later in October. I hope you find the information helpful and enlightening, whether you have been dealing with sensory processing disorder for a long time or have just discovered SPD and its impact on behavior and learning.

According to the STAR Institute, many people think that SPD is something that only children with autism have. While it is true that many individuals on the autism spectrum also display signs of SPD, recent research indicates that SPD is in fact a unique condition. Most individuals who have SPD actually do not have autism.

Research also shows that while some individuals have SPD and other conditions such as attention disorders, learning disorders, and developmental delays, there are some individuals who only have SPD.

There will be much more information to come as the month goes on, but to get started, here are some things to know about SPD:

  • It is a condition that was first described by Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR in the 1970’s, following her research working with children who had cerebral palsy and learning disorders. She created a body of work that described sensory integration as the neurological process and referred to sensory integration dysfunction.
  • Sensory integration assessment and treatment are based on neurological principals of how the brain receives and organizes sensory information so as to produce an adaptive response that lets us be successful in a task.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder is an umbrella term for the disorder and includes six sub-types, as described by Lucy Miller, PhD, OTR of the STAR Institute.
  • The six sub-types include:
    • Modulation Disorders (Over-responsive; Under-responsive; Craving)
    • Sensory Based Motor Disorders (Dyspraxia; Postural Disorder)
    • and Sensory Discrimination Disorders
  • There are 8 sensory systems that can be affected:Visual
    • Auditory
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Vestibular (movement)
    • Proprioceptive (body awareness)
    • Interoception (internal organs/systems)
  • A person can have multiple sub-types, impacting one or more sensory systems. For example: being over-responsive to auditory stimulation, under-responsive to touch, and have a postural disorder.
  • Sensory processing occurs on a continuum. We all have sensory differences and none of us has all 8 sensory systems operating at 100% all the time. The hallmark of SPD is when the impact of symptoms is chronic and disruptive in daily life.
  • Research indicates that between 5 and 16% of children have SPD symptoms that are significant enough to negatively daily life activities, including play, social skills, learning, and self-care.
  • Negative behavior associated with SPD can disrupt relationships and impact a child’s self-esteem significantly. A child who doesn’t respond to the world appropriately is perceived as “bad” and receives negative responses from others, which in turn creates more problem behavioral responses and “keeps the child in misery” as described by Dr. Ayres.
  • Occupational therapists who have advanced training in SPD can help to remediate symptoms and improve daily task participation, address social and play skills, and support relationships for lifelong success.

There is so much to know about the current state of SPD assessment, treatment, and accommodations. Learning more about the disorder, separating fact from myth, and understanding each other through a “sensory lens” is one way that we can support others to be competent and confident in daily activities. I hope you’ll stay with us all through October to learn more!

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 today.