Sensory processing disorder or SPD is a hypothesized neurological disorder. While SPD is not yet recognized in standard medical manuals such as the ICD-10 or the DSM-IV-TR, the term sees use by some practitioners and patients to refer to a range of difficulties with taking in, processing, and responding to sensory information about the environment and from within one's own body (visual, auditory, tactile, olfaction, gustatory, vestibular, and proprioception).
For those identified as having SPD, sensory information may be sensed and perceived in a way that is different from most other people. Unlike blindness or deafness, sensory information can be received by people with SPD, the difference is that information is often registered, interpreted and processed differently by the brain. The result can be unusual ways of responding or behaving, finding things harder to do. Difficulties may typically present as difficulties planning and organizing, problems with doing the activities of everyday life (self care, work and leisure activities), and for some with extreme sensitivity, sensory input may result in extreme avoidance of activities, agitation, distress, fear or confusion.
The term SPD is now often used (though not without controversy) instead of the earlier term sensory integration dysfunction which was originally used by occupational therapist A. Jean Ayres as part of her theory that deficits in the processing and interpretation of sensation from the body and the environment could lead to sensorimotor and learning problems in children. The theory is widely acknowledged, but also has generated tremendous controversy.
Some state that sensory processing disorder is a distinct diagnosis, while others argue that differences in sensory responsiveness are features of other diagnoses. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, advises against a diagnosis of SPD unless it is a symptom due to autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental coordination disorder, or childhood anxiety disorder. The American Psychiatric Association also recently rejected SPD as a diagnosis to be included in the recently updated DSM-5, and requested additional studies be done before the disorder can be recognized. On the other hand, SPD is in Stanley Greenspan’s Diagnostic Manual for Infancy and Early Childhood and as Regulation Disorders of Sensory Processing part of the The Zero to Three’s Diagnostic Classification.
There is no known cure; however, several therapies have been developed to treat SPD. Because the amount of research regarding the effectiveness of SPD therapy is limited and inconclusive, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises pediatricians to inform families about these limitations, talk with families about a trial period for SPD therapy, and teach families how to evaluate therapy effectiveness.
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