Sunday, September 26, 2010

What is Sensory Processing?

Have you ever heard the term "sensory processing"?  I certainly hadn't until a few months ago when I opened a door into an unfamiliar world full of new ways of understanding my children and their development.

At least 1 in 20 people may be affected by SPD. Chances are, you probably know someone with sensory issues.

So, what exactly is sensory processing?

Well, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder in which the brain misinterprets input received through the seven senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (balance), and proprioception (awareness of body position). These misinterpretations leads to both hypo-sensitivities and hyper-sensitivities that vary from person to person in both characteristics and intensity, and can cause inappropriate motor and behavior responses.

For example, one person might be very sensitive to loud sounds, and have a more severe reaction to a noise than everyone else. Another person might seek out movement and pressure (through jumping around and crashing into things) because the vestibular and proprioceptive senses aren't registering enough input.

It seems likely to me that everyone struggles with sensory processing issues to some extent, especially young children who are still developing. However, when someone's struggles are severe enough to impact normal daily life, that person may have SPD.

A common misconception is that SPD is on the autism spectrum. Although many children with autism have SPD (perhaps as many as 85%), there are many children with SPD who do not have autism.  There is actually a movement right now to get SPD recognized as a stand-alone disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Here's a short cartoon that explains Sensory Processing Disorder in simple terms.

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