WHAT IS SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER?
Bekah screams with frustration when she puts on her winter boots. Her pants feel "creepy" when they get all bunched up. "Im not going outside for recess!" she emphatically declares.
David is constantly putting things in his mouth, chewing them until they are destroyed. Pencils, erasers, toys, books, anything he can get his hands on. He can't seem to sit still on his chair either, and is constantly rocking and moving.
Ellie can't stand the odour of common foods like lettuce or hot dogs. She runs out of the classroom in an attempt to get away from the "stinky smells" in her classmates' lunch boxes.
What do these cases have in common? Are they just naughty or demanding children that lack discipline at home and are too used to getting their own way? It may appear that way at first, but the common thread they share is something called "Sensory Processing Disorder".
Sensory Processing Disorder, formerly known as SID (Sensory Integration Disfunction), is defined as the inability of the brain to correctly organize information it receives through the body's sensory systems, making it difficult to function smoothly in daily life. SPD is not one specific disorder, with an exact list of symptoms, but rather an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of neurological differences (Kranowitz, 1998). The commonality between these differences is that the child's nervous system interprets sensory information in a unique way. S/he may seek stimulation, be oversensitive to it, or not respond at all.
Many symptoms of SPD tend to look like symptoms of other disablities, and many children with SPD will have other disabilities as well, such as ADHD, or Autism. For this reason, it has often been called the "hidden disorder" (Anderson and Emmons, 2005).
The following video gives us an idea of what SPD looks like.
Recent studies show that Sensory Processing Disorders affect up to 16% of school aged children (Chang, Yi Shin et. al, 2016). In fact, one study by the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group suggests that as many as 1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of daily life (Ben-Sasson, Carter, Briggs-Gowen, 2009, as cited in SPDFoundation, 2016). However, despite the efforts of occupational therapists, SPD has not yet been accepted as a distinct disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psycholgists and psychiatrists. Because the symptoms of SPD can be so varied and non-specific, it has, for the time being, been lumped together with other neurological conditions such as ADHD and Autism (Disability Credit Canada, 2016).
The cause of SPD is a pressing question for parents, educators, and occupational therapists. However, as with most neurodevelopmental disorders, researchers are unnable to pin point one specific cause (Miller, 2014, as cited in SPDfoundation, 2016). Research suggests several possible causes:
2. Prenatal Circumstances - toxins, mother's smoking/alcohol use, virus, chronic illness, stress
3. Premature Birth
4. Birth Trauma
5. Post Natal factors - pollutants, excess or insufficient stimulation, lengthy hospitalization
Figure 1. What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
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