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What is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. This disorder can affect one or multiple senses, and the way an individual processes sensory information can significantly impact their daily life.

What is SPD?

To understand SPD, it’s essential to first grasp how sensory processing typically works. Sensory processing refers to how the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. This involves interpreting information from the environment and the body through the senses, including sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and internal sensations like balance and body position.

In typical sensory processing, the brain efficiently organizes and interprets these sensory signals to produce meaningful responses. 

For example, when you hear a loud noise, your brain processes it quickly to understand if it’s a cause for alarm or just background noise. Similarly, when you touch something hot, your brain processes the sensation and prompts you to withdraw your hand.

For individuals with sensory processing disorder, however, this process is disrupted. The brain doesn’t organize and interpret sensory information effectively, which can lead to over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to stimuli. This means that sensations might be perceived as more intense or less intense than they actually are. 

For instance, a light touch might feel painful, or loud sounds might be unbearable, or, conversely, an individual might seek out intense sensory experiences because they don’t register typical sensations fully.

SPD can be categorized into three main types which are as follows:

  • Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD): This involves difficulty regulating responses to sensory stimuli. Individuals might be over-responsive (hypersensitive), under-responsive (hyposensitive), or seek sensory stimulation excessively.
  • Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD): This affects the development of motor skills and includes conditions like dyspraxia, where individuals struggle with motor planning, and postural disorder, where they have poor postural control.
  • Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD): This involves difficulty distinguishing between different sensory stimuli, such as differentiating textures or sounds.

Symptoms and Signs of SPD

It’s worth noting that the signs and symptoms of sensory processing disorder can vary widely among individuals. However, some of the most common signs include the following:

what is spd

Impact on Daily Life

Sensory processing disorder can significantly affect an individual’s daily life, influencing their ability to participate in typical activities. For children, this might mean difficulties in school, challenges in social interactions, and struggles with self-care tasks. Adults with SPD might face problems at work, in relationships, or with managing household responsibilities.

For instance, a child with SPD might find the school environment overwhelming due to the constant sensory input, leading to issues with attention and behavior. They might avoid playground activities because of the noise and commotion or struggle with tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing or using scissors.

In adults, SPD can lead to difficulties in work environments that are noisy or have bright lights. Social interactions can be challenging if there is discomfort with touch or an inability to read social cues due to sensory processing difficulties.

what is spd

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of SPD is not well understood, but it’s believed to be related to how the brain processes sensory information. Genetics may play a role, as SPD tends to run in families. Additionally, environmental factors, such as prenatal and birth complications or exposure to environmental toxins, might contribute to the development of SPD.

Research has also suggested a link between SPD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, SPD can occur independently of these conditions.

Diagnosing SPD can be challenging because there is no single test for it, and its symptoms overlap with those of other conditions. Diagnosis typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a team of professionals, including occupational therapists, psychologists, and neurologists.

The evaluation process often includes:

  • Clinical observations: Assessing the individual’s responses to various sensory stimuli and observing their behavior in different settings.
  • Standardized assessments: Using tools like the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) or the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) to evaluate sensory processing abilities.
  • Parent and teacher reports: Gathering information from caregivers and educators about the individual’s sensory-related behaviors and challenges.

Treatment and Management

As of now, there is no cure for SPD, but various interventions can help manage symptoms and improve daily functioning. Treatment typically involves occupational therapy (OT), which focuses on helping individuals develop the skills they need to perform everyday tasks.

Occupational therapists use a range of strategies to address sensory processing difficulties such as:

Sensory Integration Therapy

This involves structured and play-based activities designed to improve the brain’s ability to process sensory information. The therapist creates a controlled sensory environment where the individual can engage in activities that challenge their sensory systems in a gradual and supportive manner.

Sensory Diets

These are personalized plans that include a variety of sensory activities tailored to the individual’s specific needs. A sensory diet might involve activities like swinging, jumping, or using weighted blankets to help regulate sensory input throughout the day.

Environmental Modifications

Making changes to the individual’s environment to reduce sensory overload or provide necessary sensory input. This might include using noise-canceling headphones, creating a quiet space, or adjusting lighting levels.

Coping Strategies for Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder

Adults with SPD can also benefit from various coping strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. For one, you can modify your home or workspace to reduce sensory stressors. This might involve using soft lighting, noise-canceling headphones, or textured objects for sensory stimulation.

You can also carry items that help you manage sensory input, such as fidget toys, scented lotions, or weighted blankets. Having these tools readily available can provide comfort and reduce anxiety.

Alternatively, you can engage in regular self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being. This might include exercise, meditation, or hobbies that provide positive sensory experiences.

Research and Future Directions

Research on SPD is ongoing, with scientists and clinicians striving to better understand the condition and develop effective treatments. Studies have explored the neurological basis of SPD, its relationship with other neurodevelopmental disorders, and the impact of various therapeutic interventions.

Emerging research suggests that early intervention is crucial for individuals with SPD. The sooner sensory processing difficulties are identified and addressed, the better the outcomes for the individual. This underscores the importance of raising awareness about SPD among parents, educators, and healthcare providers.

Additionally, advancements in brain imaging and neurodevelopmental research hold promise for further elucidating the mechanisms underlying SPD. Improved diagnostic tools and targeted therapies could lead to more personalized and effective interventions.

By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, we can help individuals with SPD thrive and reach their full potential, enhancing their ability to navigate the sensory-rich world around them. For specialized support, consider ABA services in Maryland provided by Jade ABA. Contact us today to learn more or book a consultation.

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