Revisiting Sensory Integration Disorder

As an addendum to my previous blog on Sensory Integration Disorder, I want to add some of my opinions about information presented in Jenny Jarvie's article "Is 'Sensory Processing Disorder' a Real Medical Condition" published by

I think, perhaps, Ms. Jarvie's  article was attempting to explore Sensory Processing Disorder. However, the title and tone seem to question the reality of the disorder and necessity of treatment. I felt my therapist hackles rising at the subtle (unintentional?) implication that therapist have found a new way to bilk well-meaning and naive parents and insurance companies out of money.

The title seems to establish a somewhat judgmental perspective. The answer to her question is simple: We don't know. I think the main question is this: Is Sensory Processing Disorder real? And I think the answer to that question is: Yes.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is real. It feels as real to me as pain, or hot, or cold, or hunger, or fatigue, or sorrow, or joy. And just like those feelings, it can be overwhelmingly distracting and sometimes even debilitating. Although, it is not always. Often, like hunger, it just lingers in the background. Sometimes I wonder why. Why does my body process information this way? It would be much more pleasant if it didn't.

So, IF Sensory Processing Disorder is real, is it worth investigating? And...IF Sensory Processing Disorder is worth investigating, is it worth treating? Is it enough to just acknowledge its existence and provide education for the people who have it and their loved ones? If we're going to discuss Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), let's discuss those questions.

For the most part, SPD is not life threatening. I think we can all agree that imminently life-threatening illnesses should be a priority for research. That being said, who knows what discoveries might be made while researching SPD? If someone brilliant wants to spend time and energy investigating SPD, please, research away! I'll even volunteer! In the meantime, please keep in mind that just because no one has made great strides in SPD research yet, does not mean it does not exist.

My opinion on treatment is colored both by growing up untreated and by seeing what a difference some treatment can make for some children with SPD. Note the some.  My family and I would have benefitted greatly from education. Some behavioral and environmental modifications could have helped tremendously. I don't know that there is any specific treatment that would have made a difference for me. Yet, there are many children I've encountered in my speech therapy practice who demonstrate improved functioning following the use of stimulation techniques.

In general, I think that it doesn't hurt to try. If you have the time and the money and a qualified therapist, treatments are worth trying. If the SPD co-exists with other syndromes, it is likely that a different medical diagnosis may help cover the costs of therapy.

For children who are otherwise typically developing and show only SPD in isolation, I would prioritize education and environmental and behavioral modifications. I would not rush to engage in hours of therapy and potentially create a bigger concern for a child who is probably already sensitive to begin with.

So what if we hate shoes and wear our socks and underwear inside out until we're 27. Who cares if there are only 15 foods we will eat as long as we are maintaining growth and are physically healthy. There are worse things in life. Not being ruled by "should" can change a family dynamic. Yes. We should wear closed in shoes in winter. We should eat tomatoes or oatmeal. We should not wear the same clothes five days in a row. And we should be able to spend the night at grandma's house. But we might not. And that is not necessarily an indication of poor parenting or obnoxious children.

Reducing power struggles and building a predictable, easy-going environment to try out new clothes, new shoes, new foods or new experiences can help ease us into the uncomfortable. Friends and family members understanding that people experience sensory input differently and being open to accepting that as a fact can be life changing.

Let's not debate whether SPD and its treatment are fact or fiction. Let's educate so we can increase function.

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