The DSM-V and Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Almost everything a person does from playing a sport, eating, washing, writing, or taking a drink requires integration of the senses to make these activities successful.
Dr. Jean Ayres was the first person to coin the term Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. SPD Foundation research has found that 1 in every 20 children experiences symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder that are significant enough to affect their ability to participate fully in everyday life.
Those of us who live and work with people on the autism spectrum know that SPD is often part of the autism profile. Sensitivity to light, sound, certain fabrics, food textures, oral motor difficulties which makes eating difficult, struggles with handwriting, and balance issues can make the simplest things which come automatic to most people a huge challenge for those with SPD. These difficulties can often lead to anxiety issues, challenging behavior, poor academic performance and isolation from peers.
I can remember an incident that my daughter Julia had two years ago in school. Julia is quite auditory defensive. The fire alarm went off unexpectedly and her first response was to cover her ears and hide under her desk. She was left behind in the school – good thing there was not a real fire that day! The whole incident made me furious because I had explained many times Julia’s auditory sensitivities and how that could impact both her learning and safety. It fell on “deaf” ears.
So why have SPD in the DSM V? If SPD is recognized as a disorder, it may mean insurers cover the therapy. Therapy provided by an occupational therapist and/or physiotherapist is costly. Sometimes special aids are needed like noise blocking headphones and the cost of such items may be covered. If listed in the DSM V, scientists may conduct research into SPD’s causes and treatments. The Food and Drug Administration may approve medications that can be marketed for it.
How will this change the lives of families who live with SPD? Well, the disorder is legitimized and is no longer an “all in your head” diagnosis. Professionals have a label and a protocol within which to work. Funding may be available for school and therapy programs. Doctors may see the red flags in an infant such as poor sleeping and eating habits, resistance to cuddling, arching away when held, and no ability to self soothe. (I experienced all of this with my son when he was a baby and when I asked my doctor about these signs, I was told I was a panicky first-time mother.)
The general public can go to the DSM V website and add comments on any of the proposed additional disorders or conditions that are being added to the manual. I would encourage people to do so that their experiences and research can be heard. It is often parents who are the most observant when it comes to their own child. Help to give this real disorder a place in the new DSM V.
Suggesting Reading on Sensory Processing Disorder:
For Teens: The Sensory Team Handbook
For more information on attending a conference about SPD, click here.
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