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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sensory Processing Disorder, Plain and Simple

Read.
Print.
Hand out to family and friends over the holiday season.
Tack to the fridge.
Recite from memory.
Toss by bucketfuls from the top of your town's tallest building.
Repeat.
SPD is simpler to explain than we think.
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Q: WHAT IS SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER?

A: Familiarly known as "SPD," this hidden ("invisible") neurological condition impacts a person's ability to filter, process, and respond to sensory input.

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Q: WHAT SENSES ARE IMPACTED?

A: Depends on the person. There are eight senses and children, teens, and adults with SPD struggle with a unique combination of aversions to and cravings for specific sensory input.

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Q: WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?

A: Being exposed to the wrong combination of sensory input can leave a person with SPD feeling quite uncomfortable. People with SPD often describe feelings of fear, detachment from the situation or their body, distraction, agitation, frustration, sadness, anger, and a discomfort so great it can mimic pain or actually come across as pain. Secondary feelings of embarrassment or shame are also common, especially in teens and adults who believe that they "should" feel and behave in a particular manner more commonly accepted by society.

In the presence of the right combination of sensory input, people with SPD can feel calm, centered, engaged, grounded, peaceful, strong, and able.

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Q: WHAT CAUSES SPD?

A: This is a question still being answered by the medical community. Researchers at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco were the first team to map the biological underpinnings of the disorder. Future studies will help us understand more about SPD and the most effective treatment methods.

***If you want to support the team and their crucial SPD research through funding, click here.***

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Q: HOW IS SPD DIAGNOSED?

A: There is no "official" SPD diagnosis at the moment. This is due in part to the disorder's current standing in the medical community. In time, it will be more easily diagnosed by medical and psychological professionals. An occupational therapist (OT) can evaluate children, teens, and adults for SPD. If you suspect that you may have the disorder, reach out to a local OT for more information. Some psychotherapists (psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers) are also beginning to understand SPD as well, but they currently do not have a tool for evaluation.

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Q: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPD AND AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER (ASD)?

A: Most people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also have SPD; most people with SPD don't also have ASD. Thanks to a 2014 UCSF study, we now know that SPD brains are wired differently than brains with ASD.

People with ASD are frequently sensitive to sensory input in the same way as people with SPD, but there are also other symptoms, including deficits in social communication and interaction that are uncommon in SPD.




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Q: HOW IS SPD CURRENTLY TREATED?

A: Children with SPD receive occupational therapy. These exercises and tools help them rewire their quickly growing brains. Adults with SPD often seek a combination of occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and physical/visual therapy to tackle the complexity of the disorder in adulthood. 

When caught early (childhood), occupational therapy can supremely reduce the impact of SPD. When caught later (teenagehood, adulthood), some of the SPD symptoms can be alleviated through tools and exercises, but the disorder will continue to be more of a concern. 

Because the final stage of brain development occurs around age 25, it is impossible for older adults with SPD to rewire at the same rate as children, and treatments for adults will only be effective to an extent. 

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Q: WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT SPD?

A:

8 comments:

  1. One thing I would add is that the discomfort of SPD can actually not just "mimic" pain but BE pain. Just one example from my life would be migraines from too much. Just...too much, you know what i mean...
    Nice one!
    thanks, dear <3

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    1. Great point, FSM, I'm on it! I think I was alluding more to that weird internal feeling when the brain goes, "nope, I'm done trying, shutting down" and it aches but in a way we can't describe. I do agree we often experience related pain too :) Always love and appreciate your perspective, my dear!

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  2. What symptoms really differentiate young school children with ASD (asperger) from children with SPD?

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    1. Great question! As far as I understand, the biggest difference between ASD and SPD in general has to do with communication deficits such as misreading non-verbal interactions, responding differently in conversations, and difficulty maintaining friendships. When someone has SPD, there's usually not a major communication-based component, it's more the high sensitivity to sensory input and related behaviors and emotions. Traditionally, people with Asperger's also often have an all-encompassing preoccupation with patterns of interest - these are very high in intensity and focus. (Makes them truly brilliant at doing the things they love most!)

      Per the DSM-V, which is the most updated diagnostic manual used by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health counselors, Asperger's has now been rolled into a general ASD category. For more information on all of this, take a peek here: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Autism%20Spectrum%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

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    2. Thank you Rachel!

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    3. My pleasure! Things are in flux right now, would've been easier to compare these two before the newest DSM changes :) I'm still learning them too!

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  3. I feel like this description mostly addresses the sensory modulation part of SPD, and not sensory based motor disorders (eg dyspraxia, and postural control) or sensory discrimination disorders.

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    1. I agree with you - not on this post, particularly (it's too general to assign subtype), but in terms of my blog in general. I find that most adults with SPD deal with and struggle with the sensory modulation issues more than the other two subtypes of SPD. It's the sensitivity that promotes the secondary psychological issues we deal with every day, which are ultimately the burden we have to bear. I do personally, and since I am writing about my personal experiences, I necessarily focus on the areas that affect me.

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