Tuesday, 15 October 2013

‘Sensory Processing Disorder ( SPD…) The Why’s and How’ by  Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2013

So what is Sensory processing disorder or SPD?
We all have varying degrees of tolerance to most things… hot and cold extremes, taste, sound, touch (tactile) clothing, and space to name a few. Almost everything we do involves using one or more of our senses… from tasting food, smelling the flowers, feeling the cold… the list is endless, however some of us have a much higher or lower tolerance than those that would take the middle ground.

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Have you ever been told that you have a thick skin (can stand the cold) or an asbestos throat (able to drink extremely hot drinks? Maybe you get in the shower after your partner and scald yourself, why? This is due to our various receptors being more or less responsive than others and is caused by a neurological variation, which by some is classified as a disorder. Those, like me, with this disorder have a faster or slower reaction to the various signals received by the brain from the sensory transmitters such as our ears, nose, tongue, limbs and on the surface of the skin and together we know this as multisensory integration.
We have problems with our brain receiving these inputs and organising/processing them into rational reactions in a given time (rather like a 64gb processor compared to a 120gb in a computer, reaction time would differ) and therefore can fail to organise inputs coming from multiple sources, such as proprioception (limb and body positions) , vision, auditory system, tactile, olfactory (sense of smell), vestibular system (movement and orientation), interoception (internal stimuli, stomach etc.), or taste - in order to adequately function.
Different people experience a wide range of difficulties when processing inputs from some or all of their senses. For example, some people find wool fabrics itchy and hard to wear, while others don't. Some individuals might experience motion sickness or a sense of giddiness whilst being on a boat or a merry go round, these people will also have problems with car journeys. Again, this only affects a small number of people, many others are fine… fear can also cause the same feeling.
However, Sensory Processing Disorder is characterised by significant problems to organise sensation coming from the body and the environment and is manifested by difficulties in the performance in one or more of the main areas of our daily existence and not just the fun side (like learning to ride a bike through balance, touching the ground and feeling the pedals through our feet)… it can affect our study, our relationships and our social functionality too. This in itself can lead us to over or under react on any given occasion, to the horror or bemusement of others, due to their lack of understanding.
We have three main sensory types and we can have varying levels of each, which will, in turn, alter our tolerance levels and also our reaction times and these are as follows -
Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) refers to a variation of over or under response, as a result of anxiety, negativity or stubborn types of behaviour, or complexity of something presented to an individual and is processed by our central nervous system… eating hot / cold food, drinking a cold drink on a hot day… exposing ourselves to sensory overload in our highly complex central nervous system.
Next, let’s look at one that is common in those like myself with dyspraxia (DCD) - Sensory-based motor disorder (SBMD) - This highlights motor output that is disrupted, partially as a result of incorrect processing of sensory information and has a significant affect with our postural control causing us to wobble or lose our balance trip and even fall with no apparent reason.
Thirdly let’s look at sensory discrimination disorder (SDD ) - This is considered as inappropriate or incorrect processing of sensory information. For instance, this could be construed as day-dreaming due to lack of understanding or focus, picking up the wrong things being said to you and therefore over or under reacting, lack of clarity and organisation in most of the things we do and ultimately coming up short when taking on or learning new routines.
So, what is needed? You have all heard the saying ‘different strokes for different folks’, that is it in a nutshell… we need to have a greater awareness and understanding of our differences and we need to cater for those differences in our day to day lives, be it at home, school or out and about. Being different is what makes our planet so interesting.
I would have found going to nightclubs difficult due to noise and crowds, some may find eating at others houses problematic, due to lack of variation of cuisine (one dish on the menu).
There are moves to correct this, or at least understand it, through research but at this point the information is very complex and makes little sense to many. However, it’s safe to say that we have receptors in all of us and some are highly active (sensitive) and some less active.
We would therefore show varying degrees of likes to…
Clothing, shoes and certain hygiene products (strong scented soaps, perfumes) this can affect lifestyles and how people live their normal day-to-day lives.
Skin to skin contact and people sitting in what you consider to be your space. I used to hate going to stay with relatives as we were put two to a bed and I hated the sensation of skin contact.
Noise intolerance which make affect a family outing to a firework display, racetrack or even going to a coffee shop. Have a look around next time the staff use the ice machine to make a frappuccino… have a look at the amount of people that pick up that increased noise level.
Maybe you have motion sickness to the point you won’t travel unless it’s an emergency.
Be funny about using other people’s clothing, shoes, etc.
I for one hate light touches, and prefer a tight grip or hug… greater pressure applied!
Feel seriously discomforted, sick or threatened by normal sounds, lights, movements, smells, tastes, or even inner sensations like a heartbeat. Some hate the smell of cigarettes, coffee and other pungent smells and can lead to people gagging or, at worst, vomiting.
Diagnosis is very much based on questioning the information mentioned above and the assessor asks you a series of questions or gets you to fill out a tick box questionnaire. It is normally carried out by a healthcare professional…OT or Psychologist.
It is important to get this diagnosed if you feel it is very extreme and affecting the life of the sufferer and of their immediate family. Some children and adults can even appear hyper as a result and it is very important to look closely at this, so they do not receive an incorrect diagnosis.
Whilst others might only have a slight reaction to variations of sense, in the extreme it can take control of people’s lives and even affect their working day… for instance, a fireman that can’t tolerate having his face covered and be unable to wear breathing apparatus or someone highly susceptible to noise couldn’t work at a pop concert or a motor racing grand prix.
Working in a cold room or a health and leisure club (sauna/steam room) if you dislike extremes of temperature, or working in a hairdressers or beauty parlour if you are sensitive or allergic to perfumes and hairsprays.
The easiest way forward is to compile a list for yourself or for your children which will help you to plan and if necessary avoid activities or events that can trigger a reaction to your or their sensitivities.
And remember we are all sensitive to something, no matter how big or small… tolerance and understanding are to very powerful tools.

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All my posts are written for guidance purposes only and professional advice should always be sought.

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