Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a specific condition in which the brain of an affected individual is unable to receive or respond to stimuli or information that comes through different senses of the body. Its old name is “Sensory integration dysfunction.” People affected by this disorder are sometimes oversensitive. For example, a common sound may be overwhelming or painful for them. Let’s discuss it in detail.

What Are Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) And Its Types?

SPD is a condition that affects the mechanism of the brain’s response to various stimuli. The affected individual may be either oversensitive or under-sensitive to different stimuli. He may not properly process sensory information from touch, sound, or sight. These disorders may be uncomfortable or disruptive. They usually start at a young age and can become the reason for challenging behavior. They disrupt the nervous system and make it unable to perform normal functions. The nervous system is a complex network of neurons or nerves. They send and receive signals from the body and process them for further actions. They receive information from the outer environment through different senses. For example, eyes receive sensory information from the outer environment in the form of light, and the brain processes it into something meaningful.

There are eight senses in each individual. These senses are sight, taste, sound, touch, smell, body awareness, body movement, and interoception. A person affecting by Sensory Processing Disorder may not properly process sensory information from these senses. In this disorder, people may give inappropriate reactions or responses to certain stimuli. This disorder starts when the individual is a toddler. Sensory disorders are of different types depending upon the senses that are affected. We know that each individual has eight senses, and SPD may affect any of them. According to research, there may be 260000 different symptoms of this disorder.

We Can Subdivide These Symptoms Into Three Major Groups

  • The sensory modulating disorder involves oversensitivity or under sensitivity to different sensory stimuli.
  • The sensory-based motor disorder affects the movement, balance, and coordination of the body.
  • Sensory discrimination disorder affects the way of interpretation of the brain to some subtle differences in the sensory information.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

We know that for each disease or disorder, some symptoms help to diagnose it. The main symptom in both adults and children is inappropriate responses to different sensory stimuli. The patients may become undersensitive or oversensitive to certain sensations.

Following Are Some Signs That Children Show When They Are Overwhelming Certain Stimuli

  • Startling easily 
  • Being overwhelmed by people or places 
  • Facing difficulty with bright and vibrant lights
  • Avoiding touchable contacts with others
  • Strong reactions to sounds, smells, or textures
  • Think that clothes are too itchy or scratchy
  • Think sounds are too louder
  • They may feel soft touches too hard
  • Think fearful of playing on swings
  • May have behavioral issues

Following Are Some Symptoms In Children When They Are Under Sensitive To Certain Stimuli

  • Touch different things frequently and play roughly
  • Unable to sit still • Unable to pick up social cues
  • Unable to recognize the personal space
  • May have sleeping problems
  • Unable to understand when their nose is running, and face is dirty
  • Tolerate higher pains
  • Move regularly or fidget
  • They are uncoordinated or clumsy

There are many other symptoms of this disease that depend upon the type of senses being affected. Sometimes the symptoms are subtle. People may not be able to tell the differences between textures.

Causes of SPD

No one knows about the causes of Sensory Processing Disorder. This is still unclear and poorly understood. These disorders may continue in families, such as from parents to children and so on. Therefore, genetic issues may be behind this disorder. Some congenital abnormalities may also cause this disorder. Sometimes, it may occur with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This shows that individuals who have autism are more vulnerable to produce children with SPD. Another important point to consider is that individuals who have SPD may not necessarily have autism. Hence, no one has clearly identified the reasons and causes of this disorder. Many experiments and thorough research is the need of time to understand the causes of SPD.

How To Diagnose

Normally, parents may see that the behavior of their child isn’t typical. They may not know why the behavior is non-typical. They may discuss it with a doctor to understand its reasons or start treatment. Doctors may refer you to an occupational therapist. They are specialist therapists who can access your child for symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder.

Treatment And Curing Options

Many families who have children with this disorder are unable to get any help because SPD isn’t recognized as a medical diagnosis until now. Even though doctors don’t understand this problem, occupational therapists may see or cure children or adults who have SPD. The nature of treatment mainly depends upon the individual needs of affected children. Normally, its treatment involves helping the affected individual to perform their activities in a better manner than what they are unable to perform properly. They also help them to become used to different conditions that are not tolerable for them. Treatment for SPD is known as sensory integration. The main objective of sensory integration is to train a child in a fun and playful manner to respond to different stimuli properly and function normally.

Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) Model

There is another therapy called developmental, individual difference, relationship-based (DIR) model. Stanley Greenspan, MD, and Serena Weider, Ph.D., have developed this therapy. One of the major parts of this therapy is the “floor time” method. This method involves multiple play sessions with the parent and child. These play sessions continue for about 20 minutes. During play sessions, they ask the parents to follow the child’s lead. They have to do so even if the playtime behavior isn’t looking typical. For example, when a child is rubbing the same spot on the floor, again and again, parents should follow him and do the same. In this way, parents will become able to enter into the world of the child. After that, the second phase starts when parents create challenges or create play sessions for the child. These challenges help to pull the affected child into a shared world with the parents.

In this way, such challenges help to master the skills of affected children in the areas such as communicating, relating, and thinking. These sessions are designed under the needs and type of sensory disorder of the child. For example, when a child is facing a sensory disorder where he underreacts to sound or touch stimuli, his parents should respond to these stimuli actively and energetically. On the contrary, when children overreact to some stimuli, parents should give a soothing reaction to the same stimuli during the second phase of play sessions. These interactions can effectively help to cure the children affected with SPD.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sometimes, the doctor may recommend sensory integration therapy to cure this disorder. This therapy involves a broad range of activities that can help to make the abnormal responses of the affected individual normal. This therapy believes that patients may learn normal skills and responses to particular sensory stimuli. Its aim is to better a person’s spatial awareness and balance sensory inputs. In this therapy, doctors may ask to perform certain activities at home or in a particular environment.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

There is another way of treatment that is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This can help the affected individual to deal with the emotional parameters or aspects of their condition. Sometimes, doctors may suggest physical therapy.

Sensory Diet

Some doctors may also use a sensory diet for supplementing other therapies. This isn’t typical food for children. This is a complete list of activities and play sessions for school and home. These different activities can help the children with SPD stay organized and focused during the whole day. A sensory diet may involve different activities according to the needs of affected individuals.

A Sensory Diet For School May Include

  • Every hour at a time, your child should go for a walk 
  • Twice a day, your child should swing for 10 minutes 
  • Provide headphones to your child so that he can listen to songs while doing class tasks 
  • Give him access to fidget toys

Occupational therapy

This therapy may help to resolve other symptoms of SPD. This is helping with fine motor skills. These skills include using scissors and handwriting. This is also helping with gross motor skills. These skills include throwing a ball and climbing stairs. This therapy can help your child to learn everyday skills such as how to dress up and how to use utensils. Sensory processing disorder may run in many generations of a family, which shows its connection with genetic makeup. This disease is poorly understood and unclear. There is no particular treatment and diagnostic mechanism for this disorder. Only play sessions and occupational therapy can help to recover. A most affected individual may learn normal skills after proper therapy.

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