Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Upside of SPD

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, October is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Awareness Month. As part of an effort to raise awareness, fellow blogger, Hartley Steiner is spotlighting stories written by parents of children affected by SPD (including one written by me).

Reading each story alongside my own has been powerful, and has stirred up a number of emotions and ideas in my mind, one of which being this...there may be an upside to SPD after all.

As I read these stories and talk with other parents dealing with sensory issues, I am struck by how many amazing positive qualities these children have in common. Of course, every situation is unique, but I'm hearing a number of parents making statements about how smart their children are, how quickly and effortlessly they learn new things, how advanced their vocabularies are, and how adept they are at puzzles, numbers, and/or letters.

These are all statements I could have easily made about my own son. I always assumed he had these strengths in spite of his sensory issues, when in fact, there may be some sort of connection between the two.

This is just my personal observation. It's not based on scientific evidence. However, here is some interesting information from the SPD Foundation website about the connection between SPD and giftedness:
  • Symptoms associated with SPD occur more frequently in populations of children identified as gifted than within populations that are not. 
  • The higher the level of giftedness in a child, the more likely that introversion is linked with increased responsivity to pain, sound, touch, and smell. 
  • As many as one-third of gifted children may exhibit sensory processing disorder features, significantly impacting quality of life.
  • Giftedness can involve a global heightened awareness to sensory stimulation, an endowment of amplified mental processing speed and attention capacity, and unusual challenges with frustration.
Trust me, there have been plenty of times that I wished these sensory "problems" hadn't come knocking at our door. However, as time goes on, I realize that the sensory issues my son faces are part of what makes him the extraordinary person he is.

In very simple terms, he has heightened sensitivities. Super powers, if you will. Sometimes this is not a good thing (for him or those around him), but sometimes it can be good. Really good, actually.

During the first few years of my son's life, I was constantly amazed and astounded by his incredible abilities with things like puzzles and letters - sometimes to the point that it scared me a little. Interestingly enough, as we have become better at managing the sensory issues, and we watch him become more organized and comfortable in his environment, his interest in these things has waned. Perhaps there is some kind of trade-off taking place. Or maybe he's just moved on to other things. Who knows?

In the end, I just hope that in our attempt to make our son "normal" we don't wring out every last drop of what makes him so special.


  1. I think in our case we are not working to make him "normal". We are simply working to make him happy. He doesn't like when he can't control his body or his emotions. So we work to help him gain control over his world but I don't know that we expect him to join ours.

  2. @Heather, I really appreciate your perspective. If its alright, I think I'll use that... "we work to help him gain control over his world, but I don't know that we expect him to join ours." Beautiful.

  3. Yes, Heather. I agree with Grace - well said!

    I hope you caught my irony when I put the word "normal" in quotes. I have learned a lot about the concepts of normalcy and perfection over the past few months. It's certainly not anything I strive for either.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  4. We are just starting to recognize this and figure out what to do. Good to see your blog. Have you heard the song by They Might Be Giants called "John Lee Supertaster"?

  5. Jenni...yes, I HAVE heard that song!! I've always thought that was sort of like an anthem for sensory kids!! :)