What is SPD?
SPD is the acronym for Sensory Processing Disorder, a common yet mostly unheard of neurological disorder. Sensory processing, otherwise known as sensory integration, is a function that all brains must perform. It is a crucial body function. The nervous system is responsible for sending millions upon millions of recorded, encoded sensory messages to the brain every minute. It is the brain's job to respond to that sensory data in an appropriate and efficient manner. But how does the brain interpret these encoded sensory messages? Through the process of sensory integration. It is the body function responsible for deciphering all of the jumbled up sensory input the nervous system is constantly sending the brain.
However, like anything else in the human body, sensory processing can be less than perfect. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), formerly known as Sensory Integration Disorder (SID or DSI), occurs whenever this process goes wrong. Sensory Processing Disorder is not actually just one disorder, but an entire spectrum of disorders. It has been broken up into categories to make it easier for everyone to understand.
The 3 main categories of SPD are Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Discrimination Disorder, and Sensory Based Motor Disorder. Sensory Modulation Disorder impacts an individual's ability to regulate their state of arousal. In this way, people can be over-responsive to sensory input, under-responsiveness to input, or seek an out extreme amount of input. Sensory Discrimination Disorder effects a person's ability to determine the source, degree, or significance of an input. It makes it difficult for a person to make sense of the world. Sensory Based Motor Disorder impacts a person's ability to navigate through this world physically. It can cause clumsiness, poor coordination or posture.
What Are The Symptoms?
There are many symptoms that can occur in each type of SPD. It is important to note that not everyone will display ALL of these signs. It is possible for someone to have every disorder under the SPD spectrum, but one does not have to have every form of dysfunction or be effected in all of their senses to qualify for the SPD diagnosis.
Here is a very brief list, which is far from complete:
- Poor eating and sleeping habits
- Easily agitated by changes in plans and routines
- Constantly at extremes, especially in emotions and energy level
- Fidgety or can't sit still
- Often lost in own imagination or 'little world'
- Performs repetitive movements (pacing, tapping, rocking, etc.)
- Overly sensitive to sensations such as light, texture, and noise
- Don't seem to notice sensations that others find annoying
- Constantly seeking and craving certain forms of sensory input
- Difficulty determining where a sensation came from, or how intense it is
- Clumsy, slow, or behind motorically
- Slouching or 'lazy' attitude
- May suffer from anxiety and depression
- Have constantly felt 'odd' and have had to answer to "What is wrong with you?" a LOT
No, unfortunately, but it can be better coped with, and things truly can get better with the help of an Occupational Therapist. Researchers are discovering more and more about SPD every day. While we may not have found all of the answers yet, we do know quite a bit already. By working diligently and by using the right tools, we CAN improve sensory processing capabilities.