At NeuroHealth Arlington Heights, we are committed to providing education, testing, and services for a wide variety of neuropsychological diagnoses. One neuropsychological condition that is common for us to see is sensory processing disorder, or SPD. If you suspect that you or your child may be struggling with SPD, we would be happy to discuss and assess this condition with you.
What Is SPD?
Sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition in which the individual’s ability to perceive external stimuli is affected. Individuals can have a wide variety of experiences with this condition. It can affect any one or more of your five senses, meaning sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell. However, most people tend to think of touch sensitivity when they hear SPD.
There are three additional sense categories that are often related to and lumped in with the commonly thought of senses. These additional three senses are the vestibular system, proprioception, and interoception. Vestibular refers to the system that allows you to balance. Proprioception refers to your ability to sense where your body is in relation to everything around you and deals with coordination. Interoception is what allows you to recognize your body’s internal signals about whether you are hungry or tired.
Another common misconception with SPD is that individuals with this condition are hyper aware of external stimuli. This can certainly be the case. However, it is also possible for people with this condition to have the opposite experience of being under-sensitive to external stimuli. A person with SPD can also have one sense that is easily over-stimulated and another sense that is under-stimulated. The sensitivity levels can vary widely and occur in any combination among the five senses.
What Are the Symptoms of SPD?
Since each of the senses can be affected to varying extents, the symptoms that each person experiences will be different. However, it may be time for you or your child to be evaluated for SPD if they exhibit some of the following concerns.
For some people, their tactile sensitivity is turned up. In these cases, patients exhibit a distaste for foods or clothes with certain textures. People who experience this symptom set of SPD may also be extremely uncomfortable being in wet clothes or sitting in sand or grass, as these textures cause them to feel overwhelmed. Contrastingly, some people with SPD can be soothed by playing with various textures.
Other people may be overwhelmed by noises. If you have the dishwasher and the television running at the same time, it can cause them discomfort. They may express that they can’t hear the television even if it is clearly louder than the dishwasher. Alternatively, they may not be aware of or capable of expressing what is overwhelming them but struggle behaviorally in loud environments.
The opposite can be true as well, meaning that some people with noise sensitivity SPD may need a certain level of noise to concentrate. For these individuals, absolute silence can be a struggle.
The same can also be true for sight. A person can be overwhelmed by light. These individuals may prefer muted colors and dark spaces. The individuals on the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, can crave visual stimulation. These individuals may like busy patterns, bright or flashing lights, or spinning objects.
Who Gets SPD?
While people tend to associate SPD with children, the condition can occur in all age ranges. It is often associated with children because they are less able to cope and compensate for it. This means that their triggers will disrupt them and potentially cause them to exhibit disruptive behaviors. This is why the diagnostic process is often initiated when kids begin school.
However, adults can have SPD as well. It often happens that adults have developed skills to cope and compensate without diagnosis. This usually involves avoiding triggers. These individuals might still benefit from diagnosis and treatment.
Sensory processing disorder is often diagnosed in concurrence with other conditions. It is often associated with autism spectrum disorder. While the two can and do co-occur, SPD is not specifically or only associated with autism spectrum disorder. Sensory processing disorder often also occurs in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Genetics likely plays a role in an individual’s chances of having SPD, but the exact genetic mechanisms have yet to be elucidated.
What About Diagnosis and Treatment?
As with most neuropsychological conditions, early diagnosis and treatment tends to provide the best results. If you or your child are struggling with sensory stimuli, come see us for an evaluation. The diagnosis will involve a series of neuropsychological evaluations, which will be professionally administered and subsequently scored.
Following your diagnosis, a treatment plan will be made. These treatment plans often involve the help of our neuropsychologists, who can assist you with neurodevelopmental growth. Additionally, they can refer you to and work with other professionals, such as occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, or audiologists.
Most of the time, these treatment plans involve sensory integration techniques. This includes items such as specialized chairs or fidget tools. The treatment will also likely involve a variety of therapies, such as listening therapy and exercise time.
We understand the importance of school and are aware that the school setup isn’t automatically accommodating to everyone. That is why we work with schools in Arlington Heights and beyond to make a plan that is reasonable for the classroom but also provides the student the resources needed to help them succeed.
This plan can involve the aforementioned tools, but it can also include dietary changes and schedule alteration. For individuals with specialized auditory needs, the school may be able to make an allowance for noise canceling earmuffs or headphones that play approved music. A schedule that allows a certain amount of the time be spent walking can be arranged for those with motor needs.
The plans will change from person to person. However, no matter what your needs are, we are happy and qualified to help you reach your goals.