Recently, an angry mother took a disturbing video in which a TSA agent in the Dallas airport pats down her special needs boy who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Furious, she posted the video online, where it has been watched well over five million times as of this writing. The boy was patted down by TSA despite the mother’s request for an alternate screening method due to her son’s SPD.
Until this video surfaced, many people had never heard of Sensory Processing Disorder. It is a relatively uncommon disorder that is diagnosed in about 2.5% of children. Another estimated 10 – 20% of children do not have the disorder, but will suffer from some of the symptoms of SPD.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder that interferes with how a person processes the information they receive from their senses of smell, sight, touch, hearing, taste, and even from their sense of movement or their perception of body position. People with SPD perceive the same things as other people, however their brains process the information differently which may cause them discomfort, confusion, or distress.
Sensory skills are used for social interaction, attention and focus, and motor skills. Everyone has preferences – they dislike a certain odor or perhaps they can’t concentrate when sounds are present. But, people with Sensory Processing Disorder fall on the extreme end of the spectrum. For these people, SPD disrupts their emotional and physical development and can affect their behavior and the way they learn. Children with SPD often have challenges performing routine tasks because their senses may overwhelm them or may cause them to respond inappropriately.
A great example of a child who may have SPD is one who will only eat two or three foods and flatly refuse to eat anything else. While you may think they are simply picky eaters, their food aversion may possibly come from the fact that they don’t taste food the same way you do – it may be extremely bitter or your child may be repelled by the texture of the food.
In the past, SPD was known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction and the names are often used interchangeably. Right now, researchers aren’t sure what causes SPD, although some studies indicate it may have a genetic component.
Sensory Processing Disorder comes with a variety of indicators that are unique to each person who has the condition. Some people may have just a couple of SPD symptoms and others may experience a wide range of them. Additionally, it is not unusual for a child to experience symptoms one day and not the next. An extensive list of SPD indicators can be found on the Star Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder website.
Help for Sensory Processing Disorder
The brain is constantly evaluating information and sometimes certain stimuli will disrupt normal brain function. Overloading yourself or depriving yourself of sensory stimulation can change how you perceive things on a day to day basis. Keep in mind that just because a child has some of the symptoms of SPD, it doesn’t mean they actually have the disorder.
Rather, if you have concerns, being aware of the symptoms of SPD can be a way to open a dialogue with your child’s pediatrician, an occupational therapist, or your child’s mental health professional. There are many ways to help people who have challenges with SPD, but these methods vary with the person’s symptoms and the degree in which they suffer from the condition.
Some ways in which people with Sensory Processing Disorder have been helped are through:
- Dietary changes
- Listening programs designed to help people who have auditory challenges
- Vision therapy
- Sensory therapy in which certain activities are repeated daily until the person has learned to self-regulate their sensory perceptions
- Desensitization therapy
Our Children’s Center Can Help
If you have questions or concerns about Sensory Processing Disorder and how your child responds to stimuli, the professionals at our child-focused department, The Children’s Center, can help. For more information, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.