I was never diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as a child. Although Sensory Integration Dysfunction (it’s predecessor) was coined in 1972, I didn’t learn about it until 2013, while having dinner with two colleagues who work with children. Upon hearing about the symptoms, I identified with many of them, asked my colleagues many questions, and took a quiz to self-diagnose. Fascinating stuff. It explained many things about my childhood and adult life.
You can watch a video on what SPD is by clicking HERE.
Of the 4 types of SPD, I show symptoms of only one. Others may have symptoms from another cluster, or many, or all of the clusters. The 4 subsets are: Sensory modulation disorder, Sensory discrimination disorder, Postural ocular disorder, and Dyspraxia.
Sensory modulation disorder: I have the kind that causes an over-reaction (as opposed to an under-reaction) to stimuli. I hated having my hair brushed as a child, but am happy to brush my own hair. It would have been best to have taught me to take control of that behavior as soon as possible as I can control the pressure. I am sensitive to textures and only wear certain kinds of fabric (linen, cotton, rayon, silk), and am bothered by tags or seams inside my clothes. I am sensitive to light and sound: I experience loud sounds as pain and cannot tolerate bright lights. As an adult, of course, I brush my own hair, buy my own clothes, and can generally adjust the lighting and sounds in my home. However, I cannot control the volume of the outside world and do avoid certain situations (hockey playoffs, concerts). I can excuse myself from certain situations, like when the sound quality is poor on a training video, but not others, like being in a florescent-lit room in the workplace. I have learned to tolerate these experiences, probably by being repeatedly exposed to them throughout my life, and understanding that I need to make concessions to live in the world with others.
SPD is often linked to certain populations and disorders: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), premature babies (throughout their lives, not just during infancy), schizophrenia (perhaps as a constant annoyance that is intolerable, perhaps as a dysfunction of the vestibular system which may be linked to temporal disturbance), and anxiety (correlated to the vestibular system making the person hyper-alert). But think, also, of how other disorders may be impacted, such as PTSD or depression. Or what is it like for a toddler who is diagnosed with ASD, who is constantly lacking control of the temperature of their bathwater and unable to communicate that desire? Could it be that the toddler is having a tantrum at bath time each day because that is their only way of communicating the desire to change the water temperature and they are misdiagnosed?
SPD needs to be taught in the broader learning environment. In graduate school, we should be talking about SPD as a differential diagnosis, potentially ruling out certain clusters of symptoms. Therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and occupational therapists need to be working together to teach children, and adults, to tolerate and work around the symptoms of SPD to have the most functional life possible.
Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Weston, Florida. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for the e-newsletter HERE.