Sensory Processing Disorder (“SPD”). I had never heard of this when a preschool teacher suggested our 2 year old might have this. A trip to Sport Clips this past weekend for a haircut for our son, now 11, reminded me how important this diagnosis can be.
SPD is a malfunction of how the brain processes various sensory input. OK, in layman’s terms, SPD is your child’s brain messing up the way he or she experiences one (or more) of the five senses – taste, smell, hearing, feel/touch, and sight. Your child may be overly sensitive to one sense or may have multi-sensory problems (more than one). This can cause confusion, anxiety and even physical pain to your child.
Why am I talking about this in relation to #autism? SPD is usually not a stand-alone diagnosis; it is usually “co-morbid” (a linked diagnosis) with kids on the #autismspectrum. If your child has received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”), but not SPD, and you observe some of the symptoms mentioned below, talk to your physician or psychiatric provider to see if SPD should be added to the diagnosis. There are therapies that can help your child deal with this disorder.
For example, often melt downs of ASD kids are caused by things like very loud noises or noises with unusual pitches or irritating sounds. Sounds like police, fire and ambulance sirens; vacuums; school fire alarms; whistles; horns; etc., all can be a source of trouble for your child. The neuro-typical brain hears these sounds and automatically kicks in a coping mechanism if the sound is too loud or annoys us. Unfortunately, that coping mechanism doesn’t kick in for kids who have SPD. The brain can actually send out very distressing signals to the SPD child which creates the autistic response or melt down or milder response.
But hearing is not the only sense that is affected by SPD. SPD can affect the processing of taste (dislike of foods with certain tastes, textures, or consistencies); sight (clash of colors, flashes such as with cameras or lightning, or TV shows with danger); touch / feel (the need for weighted blankets, pressure on the head, or the dislike of hugs or physical affection); and smell (over sensitivity to perfume/cologne, certain food smells, or other household or outdoor odors).
This gets even more complicated when there is multi-sensory processing difficulties. Our son had some negative reactions to live kids shows and school assembly entertainment when he was younger. The combination of sounds from the stage and audience, the flashing lighting and colors of the show, and the excitement generating a physical response (feel) caused melt downs and made us leave before the end of these shows or our son was pulled from the assemblies to have some recovery time.
Again, rarely does SPD exist on its own. SPD is usually “co-morbid” with another diagnosis and very frequently a diagnosis of ASD.
This past Saturday, I took my son to Sport Clips for a haircut. He has always been very sensitive to the sound of the vacuum at home. In between haircuts, the employees of Sport Clips vacuum up the hair off the floor to ready the spot for the next customer. I didn’t even think of that, but my younger son tapped my shoulder and pointed towards his older brother who was cringing and holding his hands over his ears. Quickly, I remembered and comforted him until the vacuuming was over. Thankfully, the duration was short enough that it allowed my son to recover. But this was a huge reminder of two things: (1) SPD, like ASD, can’t be cured, it can only be ameliorated; and (2) we need to care for and consider our AS child’s needs every minute of every day.
We can’t forget their sensitivities. The return is great, however; they will show you their love and appreciation for your care in multiples that make the work of caring for them worth it.