There I was, spending a quiet evening at home, munching diligently on some freshly-baked oatmeal cookies when my eyes scanned the internet headline “Why ‘Sensory Integration Disorder’ Is A Dubious Diagnosis.” The author of the article, Peter L. Heilbroner, MD, PhD, states that Sensory Processing Disorder (or Sensory Integration Disorder, as it’s also known) is not a real condition.
As I began to violently shovel oatmeal cookies into my mouth, I read and re-read his article over and over. Below, I have written a counter-argument, because I believe Sensory Processing Disorder is real and those of us with SPD deserve advocacy. Since I am an adult with SPD, I will do the advocating!
“Many children with autism have “sensory issues” such as oversensitivity to touch. Similar symptoms occur with other neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems (including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and anxiety disorders. However, the prevailing medical view is that “sensory symptoms” are a nonspecific indicator of neurodevelopmental immaturity rather than a distinct disorder. Such symptoms can also occur in children considered normal.”
Yes, many children with autism do have sensory issues, as do children with various other neurological disorders. And yes, sensory issues can come about throughout early childhood as the brain is still developing and growing, and this is totally normal.
But, when children are struggling for long periods of time with basic sensory-related acts, it’s time to question whether or not that child is neurologically immature, or if there’s an actual problem with the child’s neurology that needs fixing.
“Moreover, except in cases of autism, these sensory symptoms are virtually always outgrown. Do you know of any non-autistic adults with the type of “sensory problems” said to occur in SID? I work in the largest neurology group in my state. Although we see every conceivable neurological complaint, I have yet to hear from my colleagues of even one case of “SID” in an adult. In my experience, children who had been diagnosed with “SID” were overly anxious and come from a family that includes others who suffer from an anxiety disorder.”
First thing’s first. Ok, I’ll admit it: those of us with SPD are usually very anxious people. But why are we so anxious? Oh yes, it’s because our sensory difficulties make ordinary life tasks difficult and anxiety producing. I know for myself, anxiety and sensory issues are two separate things, but SPD can make my anxiety worse, and anxiety can make my SPD worse. However, I rarely confuse the two – or smush them together as one – because their symptoms manifest very differently.
Second, just because you haven’t personally met an adult with a sensory disorder does not mean that these people do not exist. I’m telling you – there are thousands of adults with SPD, many of us are living with no diagnosis for various reasons. Some of us struggle so immensely with our SPD that we cannot live normal lives. Thanks to the internet, many adults have reached out for help and found support. They are startled to find that their symptoms are shockingly similar – not just regarding anxiety, but symptoms such as extremely poor coordination, or severe distress around bright lights, or the inability to wear certain fabrics, or feeling ill around certain odors. These people are not autistic, yet they suffer from severe sensory issues.
“Since few (if any) adult patients have SID, it is reasonable to question whether costly interventions are really necessary for what are most likely self-limiting problems of neurodevelopmental immaturity and anxiety.”
Am I “neurodevelopmentally immature?” Gee, I hope not. I like to think of myself as “neurodevelopmentally unique or divergent.” The different wording makes it sound less like I’m to blame for my own neurological problems, and it gives me more hope that I can manage my life better.
Costly research and interventions have helped change the lives of millions of people with neurological disorders. Without research and treatment exploration, people living with conditions such as autism, epilepsy, PTSD and other disorders of the brain would still be receiving inappropriate treatment, or none at all. Some of these conditions were completely misunderstood and stigmatized until science – and humanity – caught up. I want the same to be said for Sensory Processing Disorder.
Here is a link to a recent study that found quantifiable differences in the brain structure of children with Sensory Processing Disorder. This is the first time science has found biological evidence of SPD:
Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids
“Most children develop and improve their behavior spontaneously. Since few (if any) adult patients have SID, it is reasonable to question whether costly interventions are really necessary for what are most likely self-limiting problems of neurodevelopmental immaturity and anxiety. Well-designed scientific studies are needed to determine whether or not SID is a definable disorder, and even if so, whether the treatments currently prescribed are effective or necessary. Until studies along these lines are conducted, the diagnosis of SID should prompt a healthy degree of skepticism. Working with a friendly and relaxed therapist can be calming to children. I believe that families with children with behavioral or anxiety disorders would be better off getting standard treatment than investing time and money in unproven approaches.”
Don’t rush into investing time and money on treating sensory issues before you truly know if sensory issues are the problem. Anxiety treatment is not the same as sensory treatment, but treating anxiety can help a person with sensory issues. Visit an Occupational Therapist to see if what you’re experiencing is SPD or something else. It’s rarely a good idea to self-diagnose and treat. An OT will be able to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan specifically designed to help sort out sensory issues.
Most importantly, adults with Sensory Processing Disorder do exist, and SPD is definitely not a dubious diagnosis.
Here is the link to the article by Mr. Heilbroner if you wish to read it in full: http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/sid.html
What are your thoughts on this topic?