The words autism and sensory processing disorder are used almost interchangeably these days.
Parents, teachers, and therapists use the terms to describe kids behaviors as they react to their sensory input. This can look like an over reaction or an under reaction to information from the outside world.
So let’s see if we can clarify what each of these terms mean and how they are alike and how they are different.
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder both share difficulty processing information brought in by the senses (much like a traffic jam). It is here that the message, from say our fingertips, gives the wrong sensory messages to our brain.
Kids on the autism spectrum all struggle in some way with sensory issues. Some may only have minor difficulties with one or two sensory integrations. Other kids may experience distress so great they can barely function throughout the day.
Many children are somewhere in between the two book ends.
Sensory processing disorder, however, stands on its own and is not considered to be part of the autism spectrum.
At the time of this writing, October, 2021, Sensory Processing Disorder is being considered as a new diagnosis for the Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM).
You may notice the following symptoms that could point to symptoms of autism or a sensory processing disorder diagnosis.
Parents of children with sensory problems often ask if the cause of SPD is known.
Causes are still being researched, but SPD is believed to have a biological basis. Birth complications and premature birth also are linked to to sensory issues.
Occupational therapy will provide a treatment plan that focuses on sensory integration. Kids with SPD upload sensory input which gets “tangled or traffic jammed” at times. They need help making sense of the sensory messages they receive.
An Occupational therapist can create a sensory diet that addresses each of the senses including proprioception (balance and spatial orientation) and interception (internal regulation such as hot/cold, hungry).
This is not a diet of food, but of sensory experiences and fun activities that feed each sense. Examples include: Seeing beautiful colors, lights, pictures.
Hearing that provides a calming, soothing experience.
Touching a variety of textures (rough, smooth, soft, fuzzy, hard, patterned)
Tasting, whistling, blowing bubbles, chewing
Smelling the calming scents of aromatherapy
Body movement practice in a safe environment to test out new balance and movement skills
With therapy, kids will learn appropriate responses to everyday life sensory challenges which they can apply to all areas of life.
Kids with SPD have a difficult time processing sensory stimulation in the world around them.
They need help, support and assistance to learn new ways to understand sensory input.
With help and lifestyle changes, kids with sensory processing disorder can learn, process, grow, enjoy their friends and family and become whoever they want to become.