Sensory integration disorder, which is also known as sensory processing disorder or SPD, is a condition in which the brain is unable to properly take in information from the senses and create an appropriate response. It is most often seen in children, but adults have been known to suffer from it as well. It is not recognized as a stand-alone diagnosis, but is often lumped in with other conditions, such as autism, Down syndrome, mental retardation, and ADHD. This could be subject to change in the future as more studies are completed. Given its current standing, it is important for parents and physicians to understand SPD, its symptoms, and treatment.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
No direct cause for sensory processing disorder has been identified, although some studies have indicated there may be a genetic component. The symptoms, however, are well documented. Those with the condition are generally unusually over-sensitive to things in the world around them. They may flinch at a light touch or become overwhelmed by a common sound. General symptoms that may indicate SPD include:
- Hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to touch, such as being bothered by rough sheets or ignoring the jab of a syringe
- Poor tactile perceptions, which can appear as problems with fine motor skills like buttoning a button, or as difficulty telling where they were touched
- Problems with equilibrium or their position in space
- Difficulty with information from the muscles and joints about weight, body position, pressure, etc.
- Auditory dysfunctions including sensitivity to sound
- Oral dysfunctions that can show up as picky eating
- Visual sensitivity, such as sensitivity to light or being easily distracted
- Sensitivity to smells that can manifest as overreaction to an odor that others don’t notice, or not noticing a powerful smell
Everyone can experience one or more of these symptoms every now and then, but in a person who may be experiencing SPD, the symptoms will be persistent and be consistent. If there are suspicions concerning symptoms, a physician knowledgeable in SPD diagnosis should be consulted for specific tests and checklists.
Facts about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Sensory Processing Disorder has a long history of anecdotal evidence, but actual, significant research has not been easily obtained. Because of this, it has not been considered a separate condition, but has been included with other behavioral, neurological, and mental disorders. Some facts about SPD include:
- It has a New Name—The disorder had been known by various names, including sensory integration disorder, dysfunction in sensory integration, and sensory integration dysfunction.
- It has been Accepted as an Official Disorder—The editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have decided to include sensory processing disorder in its fifth edition. The manual is a renowned reference tool for physicians.
- It is Not Fully Insured—Insurance companies have been reluctant to cover SPD in their policies, though there are organizations working to change this. If it is included in another diagnosis, however, it may be covered.
Assistance and Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder
Though it is not yet considered a separate condition in its own right, sensory processing disorder has a system of physicians and medical organizations that are available to help with information, support, and treatment for the families affected.
- Sensory Processing Disorder Canada Foundation—This organization is a not-for-profit foundation intent on building understanding an awareness of SPD, and it provides resources for parents or patients. The group can direct those affected to clinicians who specialize in SPD treatments.
- Canadian Disability Tax Credit—Though the condition is not officially recognized as a stand-alone diagnosis, parents could qualify under an umbrella diagnosis for a Canadian disability tax credit to help pay for treatment expenses. Parents of children who are affected are eligible for child disability benefits as well.
- Physicians and Clinicians—There are specialists in childhood disorders who can help with treatments that will assist child SPD sufferers in becoming more comfortable with things with which they are uncomfortable, help them to perform better at tasks they find difficult, and assist them in improving their social interactions.
If you or your child is displaying sensory abnormalities that are enough to disrupt one or more areas of life functioning, you should see a specialist for a diagnosis and help, and be sure to look into your eligibility to receive assistance through Canada’s disability tax credit program. You can find our more information about child disability benefits here.