Sensory Processing Disorder

A description of what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is and the basic types of Sensory Processing Disorder.

Oprah recently aired a show titled “The 7-year-old Who Tried to Kill His Mother.”  This show talked quite a bit about the ordeal that this family went through.  They talked about how Zach was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), sometimes called Sensory Integration Disorder (SID/SI). 

Unfortunately, what Oprah’s show failed to mention was that Zach had other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disease, which is why he was so violent.  The Oprah Winfrey Show has left millions of people with an incorrect impression of Sensory Processing Disorder.  It is time to set the facts straight.

So, what is Sensory Processing Disorder?  Let’s start with what it isn’t.  SPD is NOT a mental illness.  SPD is a neurological disorder.  It does NOT cause violent tendencies.  SPD is NOT part autism or ADD/ADHD.

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation defines SPD as: “…a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.”  Let’s section that off into pieces for a easier understanding.

 “The way the nervous system receives messages…”    This is where the body takes in external items—temperature, movement, smells, etc—and sends these messages to the brain.  If the brain does not properly interpret what the body is feeling, there is an inappropriate/incorrect output.  Think of it as if when everyone looks at the sky or ocean and sees blue, but you see red.  It might be cold, but a person with SPD feels hot or even when standing still, someone with SPD might feel like the world is spinning around them.

“…from the senses…”  There are 8 senses: vision, hearing, touch/tactile, taste, smell, vestibular, proprioceptive and introceptive.  No doubt you are familiar with the first five.  The vestibular sense has to do with our sense of gravity and movement.  The proprioceptive sense, also called the kinstheitc sense, tells us wehre our body is located in space.  The introceptive senses are the senses that operate without thought; it is what conveys messages from our organs to our spinal cord and brain.  The introceptive sense being out of whack is what can cause a extreme delay in potty training.

“…appropriate motor and behavioral responses.”  ‘Appropriate’ refers to the correct social norm in response.  There is no need to shout when it is quiet.  ‘Motor’ refers to the physical response; the movement from the body as a result from the information from the brain.  ‘Behavioral’ is the continued response to the action (over/under reactions).  EXAMPLE:  Loud unexpected BOOM! Kid cringes and covers his ears (motor), then screams and runs away (behavior).

Jane Ayers likens Sensory Processing Disorder to a virtual traffic jam.  All the signals from the senses get clogged, bottle-necked, and the brain gives out incorrect feelings which will cause inappropriate behavior.

There are then three types of Sensory Processing Disorder.

Type I – Sensory Modulation Disorder:  Over or under responding to sensory stimuli or seeking sensory stimulation. This group may include a fearful and/or anxious pattern, negative and/or stubborn behaviors, self-absorbed behaviors that are difficult to engage or creative or actively seeking sensation.

Type II – Sensory Based Motor Disorder:  Shows motor output that is disorganized as a result of incorrect processing of sensory information affecting postural control challenges and/or motor planning.

Type III – Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Incorrect processing of sensory information. Incorrect processing of visual or auditory input, for example, may be seen in inattentiveness, disorganization, and poor school performance.

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  1. It’s very common to have SPD and ADHD, or SPD and autism, or sensory processing issues and developmental delays or learning disabilities. A child may have sensory processing disorder and food intolerances, or mental illnesses, or emotional maturity. However, a person can have sensory processing disorder and no other diagnosed conditions too.

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