Homesensory integration disorderWhat is SPD? The Basics and Common Misconceptions

I spent the majority of last week either enduring or recovering from one of the worst migraines I’ve had in a year or more. Even when I wasn’t in horrific pain or too dizzy to be upright, sounds were too loud, lights were too bright and smells were nauseating. Most of my time was spent fighting to get work done, or curled under a blanket, wishing I could just sleep it all off.

This morning, I had a dream about informing someone who was laying into a mom about her child’s meltdowns about what SPD was and how it felt.

Since it’s so prominently on my mind, I decided to put an entry together about it.

The Basics
SPD is short for “Sensory Processing Disorder”, and may also be known as “Sensory Integration Disorder”.

When someone has SPD, sensory organs like their skin, ears and eyes, have nothing wrong with them, but the brain has problems with processing the information they send. Touch, hearing and sight aren’t the only senses that can be impacted with this. I’d written more in depth about our seven senses and how SPD influences them here.

Like most neurological disorders, this one isn’t necessarily predictable. A person may be more sensitive to stimuli than others. They may have more difficulty with certain types of stimulation than others, as well.

For instance, one of the most common forms of SPD is Auditory Integration Disorder, which is when sound is improperly processed. Some folks may be more sensitive to high pitches, which makes whistles and smoke alarms painful. On the other hand, other people may be less sensitive to them, which could make it difficult for them to understand what a person with a higher voice is saying.

This goes for all of the senses, and can have profound impacts on their physical or mental health, due to high stress levels. It can also influence their social and emotional lives.

Common Misconceptions
Because SPD is a relatively new discovery, there are still quite a few misconceptions out there about it.

Many people still think that if you have SPD, you must also be autistic. That’s not the case at all. In fact, you can have SPD without any other diagnosis. Dyslexics actually stand a high likelihood of having sensory processing problems in relation to hearing. Some schools of thought suggest early auditory integration problems cause dyslexia.

That said, the majority of people on the autism spectrum do struggle with some sort of SPD, and often have severe cases.

Temper tantrums and SPD meltdowns are fundamentally
different.

There’s also the common idea that people with SPD are spoiled or being purposely difficult. Those who hold this point of view don’t understand what’s really going on. Unless the person with this disorder can learn how to better handle the sensory input through therapy or training techniques, naturally, they’ll do all they can to seek balance.

If that means isolation, they’ll avoid contact with whatever bothers them. If that means constantly moving, or seeking certain types of stimulation, they’ll do that. It has nothing to do with being spoiled or wanting attention, but everything to do with living with the coping mechanisms available to them.

If there’s nothing they can do to get the balance they need, their natural fight or flight response kicks into gear, and they experience a meltdown. These outbursts are often mistaken as temper tantrums, especially in children. There are some key differences, as I’d listed in the infographic above.

With kids, perceived poor behavior always boils down to the parents. I’ve seen people accuse parents of doing a bad job of raising their child, because they make accommodations in their lifestyles to keep their child healthy and happy. It’s important to realize that it takes more time for kids with SPD to learn how to acclimate to their surroundings, even when they are able to get proper therapy.

Oddly enough, the biggest area I see parents of kids with SPD criticized over is mealtime. Often, the only way to get their kids to eat is to prepare specific meals for those children, which looks like spoiling the child to an uneducated, often judgmental, eye.

In reality, that child may be struggling with texture, taste, smell, temperature or a number of other things. As a result, their diet needs to be specialized until they’re able to tolerate those sensations. This may mean parents need to prepare separate meals for their SPD kids. It’s also worth keeping in mind that some of these kids might also have digestive problems, as well.

This leads to the idea that by letting a child adjust at their own rate, adults are setting them up for failure later on in life. In reality, the therapy and methods the child learns early on provides them with effective tools to help them navigate the obstacles life puts in their way.

Of course, there is always the option of medication. Personally, I feel that medicine should be a last resort, and a temporary one at that. If a child must be medicated, it should only be done to help them through a challenging time, and not seen as a life long solution. In this case, dependence on a pill is nowhere near as good as learning skills necessarily for effectively handling the environment.

However, that is just my opinion. As the idiom goes, your mileage may vary.

In the end, the parent is the one who must decide what’s best for their child, and when the little one has a neurological makeup like SPD, that must be taken into account. I think the fact that learning how to deal with sensory input is a process gets lost on people.

In reality, a parent who is actively implementing accommodations to help their child through life as they go through therapy is doing a great job in that aspect of parenthood.

While SPD is a fully treatable disorder, those misconceptions can cause a lot of harm. The root of those trains of thought is simple ignorance, and often a rigidity of thought. While little more than personal experience can change the latter problem, good education will eradicate the first.

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