"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism: Part One

Our lives are governed by our senses, but what happens when those senses don't play well together?  I decided to blog about SPD this week because it is something that is constantly effecting our family and our lives.  Not only does Peanut have a form of SPD (common in Autism) but we are now coming to terms with the fact that Sassy may have some sensory issues as well. 

SPD (also previously known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction or SID), is defined as, “Difficulty in the way the brain takes in, organizes and uses sensory information, causing a person to have problems interacting effectively in the everyday environment." (The Out-of-Sync Child).  This problem with organizing these signals can make things very confusing, scary and even painful for a child as they try to navigate through the busy hustle and bustle of our environment. 

What is it like to have SPD?
It's hard to understand this concept if you don't struggle with SPD.  Before Peanut received his diagnosis, his Early Intervention Occupational Therapist (OT) informed us she believed he may have SPD.  We had suspected it as well and so we went out and researched it extensively.  After he was diagnosed with Autism I came across a book called, Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.  (As a side note, I think this book is fabulous not only families with a new Autism diagnosis, but also for anyone wishing to know more about Autism.)  In this book they describe what it may be like for a child with SPD to go through a grocery store.  For me, this was the perfect illustration.
       "My sensory perceptions are disordered.  This means that the ordinary sights, sounds, smells tastes and touches of everyday that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me.  The very environment in which I have to live often seems hostile.  I may appear withdrawn or belligerent to you but I am just trying to defend myself.  Here is why an ordinary trip to the grocery store may be hell for me.
      My hearing may be hyper-acute.  Dozens of people are talking at once.  The loudspeaker booms today's special.  Musak whines from the sound system.  Cash registers beep and cough, a coffee grinder chugs.  The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent light hums.  My brain can't filter all the input and I'm overloaded!
     My sense of smell may be highly sensitive.  The fish at the meat counter aren’t quite fresh, the guy standing next to us hasn't showered today, the deli is handing out sausage samples, the baby in line ahead of us has a poopy diaper, and they’re mopping up pickles on aisle 3 with ammonia- I can't sort it out.
      Because I am visually oriented, this may be my first sense to become over stimulated.  The fluorescent light is too bright; it makes the room pulsate and hurts my eyes.  Sometimes the pulsating light bounces off everything and distorts what I am seeing- the space seems to be constantly changing.  There is a glare from the windows, too many items that distract me (I may compensate with tunnel vision), moving fans on the ceiling, so many bodies in constant motion.  All this effects my vestibular sense, and now I can't even tell where my body is in space."

After reading this it's no wonder children with SPD tantrum!  SPD is a disorder that is separate from Autism entirely, although it is common to see SPD in children with Autism.  According to the SPD Foundation 3/4 of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder show significant symptoms of SPD.  Sensory issues may be a major cause of some of the behavioral  issues seen in children with Autism.

Can SPD be treated?
Yes, definitely.  SPD is treated through a form of OT called Sensory Integration (SI).  I have found (at least in New England), that most Pediatric OT facilities can perform Sensory Integration Therapy.  Therapy is play based and the goal is for it to be fun for the child (and family).  The environment is full of lots of sensory stimulating features, but in a controlled environment.  SI Therapy should be family-centered, and some activities should be tailored so they may be done at home as well.  Currently, SPD is not currently recognized as an official "disorder" but is on the list for consideration for the new version of the DSM V coming out in 2013.  Treatment may involve many different activities.  I have found a great description of the many aspects of SI Therapy on Sensory Processing Disorder.com

Recommended Websites and books:

Hehehehehe...Peanut "reading" The Out-of-Sync Child.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."
Romans 12:12 NIV
God Bless!

Mommy Provost

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