Making Sense of Sensory Processing Disorder
Our bodies are wired for sensory input. Touch, (which includes temperature, texture and pressure), taste, sound, sight and smell are the ways in which we explore the world, from the moment we enter it. When all systems are functioning, we experience a feedback loop. For example, if you were shivering from the cold and wanted to feel warmth, you might put on a cozy sweater or wrap a fleece blanket around your shoulders. Your body would likely respond by relaxing, followed by an emotional relief and perhaps even a sigh. The next time you felt chilly, you would remember what it took to remedy that sensation and follow through. If you inadvertently put your hand on a hot surface, you would immediately remove it, lest you do damage. If you happened to be in a position for that to recur, you would like be attentive. Your body remembers.
When neurological complications ensue, our relationship with the outer environment can become a confusing and frustrating maze.
What Is SPD?
Dr. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR coined the term Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), “a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. SPD Foundation research has found that 1 in every 20 children experiences symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder that are significant enough to affect their ability to participate fully in everyday life.”
SPD is not yet recognized as a diagnosis in the DSM-V. There are both professionals and family members who advocate for its inclusion, so that treatment is likely to be covered by insurance. One includes Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR, author of Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder. She, along with other professionals in the field, recommend early diagnosis and treatment.
It is generally identified in childhood; estimates are that a minimum of one in every 20 children in the United States have SPD. There are some adults who have gone undiagnosed. This disorder carries with it a long laundry list of indicators that include:
Overstimulated in these areas:
- Discomfort with clothing that either feels too tight or too loose
- Dislike being touched
- Doesn’t like shoes or socks on feet or gloves/mittens on hands (seams seem to be particularly uncomfortable)
- Reluctant to walk barefoot on grass or dirt
- Feels that tags on clothes are too scratchy
- Limited food preferences
- Doesn’t like nails or hair cut
- Fidgets or jumps up often
- Overwhelmed by noise or crowds
Seeking stimulation in these areas:
- May consistently bump into and hit objects
- Climbing on and then jumping off structures
- Lying upside down on furniture
- Fascinated with spinning objects
- Limited sensitivity to what might be uncomfortable or painful to others
- Seems to be tuning out sounds
- Excessively touching objects, people and animals even when asked to refrain
- Putting non-food items in their mouths or licking objects
Causes Are Uncertain