Washington Post / Health & Science
The debate over sensory processing disorder: Are some kids really ‘out of sync’?
By Suzanne Allard Levingston May 12, 2014
Playing with bubble wrap is a silly activity that delights most preschoolers. But for one 2 1/2 year-old from Silver Spring, loud noises such as the pop of plastic bubbles were so upsetting that he would cover his ears and run away. Some days the sound of a vacuum cleaner would make him scream. The child so persistently avoided activities with too much noise and motion that his preschool’s administrators asked to meet with his family — and soon an assessment led to a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, or SPD.
Comment: Once again must consider the question: What constitutes a “normal” reaction to sensory input in an environment that is artificial? The modern social environment is plagued by noise, chemical substances, artificial lighting, constant visual “novelty” and human interaction. We could ask, What compensations have been made by humans who CAN tolerate unnatural environments? Are “normal” children really “immune” to the negative affects of being “trapped in” unhealthy environments, or are they also being made unwell – with behavior problems that either are accepted as “normal” or don’t reach a threshold of “being disturbing” to others?
SPD is a clinical label for people who have abnormal behavioral responses to sensory input such as sound and touch. Some children with SPD seem oversensitive to ordinary stimuli such as a shirt label’s scratching their skin. Others can be underresponsive — seemingly unaffected by the prick of a needle.
Comment: Could this “unaffectedness” not be a product of the child having parents who do not create a “problem” with “going to the doctor” – getting shots or other routine examinations? That is, “being calm” is a learned behavior.)
A third group have motor problems that make holding a pencil or riding a bike seem impossible.
Comment: Is “having motor skill problems” a sensory processing disorder? Aren’t there many “normal” children who can’t “instantly” learn to ride a bike, but must practice and persist? Holding a pencil “correctly” is difficult for many children; if no one demonstrates an efficient and comfortable writing method, then “bad habits” set in and writing may never become facile. What about children who are very physically active? They may simply lack patience and focus – not “abnormal sensory processing”.
An American hysteria over rigid requirements for conformist developmental “signs” and “portents” in infants and children has taken over a more reasonable and casual acceptance that children are not identical products that drop off an assembly line into a box, and are shipped free to parents by Amazon.
Whatever the difficulty, such kids are often described as “out-of-sync,” a term popularized by Carol Stock Kranowitz’s 1998 book “The Out-of-Sync Child,” which has sold nearly 700,000 copies. (KA-CHING $$$!)
As many as 16 percent (What is the source of this “guess”?) of school-age kids in the United States may face sensory processing challenges. And yet there’s debate over whether these challenges constitute a discrete medical disorder. Some experts contend that SPD may be merely a symptom of some other ailment — autism, (is not an ailment; it is not even a medical condition) attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder or fragile X syndrome (a genetic condition), for example – while others insist it is a separate condition that should be labeled a disorder when it interferes with daily life.
Comment: As a scientist who is Asperger, I would point out that too often the described relationship of “cause and effect” is inverted: sensory processing differences – which are not abnormal, but represent a range of individual sensory processing sensitivities leads to behavior that is then labeled ASD. Asperger individuals avoid social environments because we are not social humans. Our sensory “apparatus” is tuned to a NATURAL environment: confining us in hyper-social artificial environments is like confining wild animals in ZOOS – which is torture for animals and results in Zoochosis – “pathologic behavior” – That same mismatch of environments produces PAIN in us.
The fact that Asperger Humans exist, demonstrates that human sensory sensitivity, “reality” processing and behavior are not confined to an arbitrary and rigid “normal” definition as insisted upon by psychological theory – and a racist / culturally biased American psychology which seeks to dominate other cultures.
Asperger types are HUMAN – and we count as part of “what makes us human.”
The debate over how to classify SPD is not merely matter of semantics. Such discussions can affect research funding and can guide whether insurers will reimburse therapy costs. (KA-CHING $$$!)
The mother of the Silver Spring boy said that since SPD is not recognized as a disorder by much of the medical establishment, she and her husband must pay out of pocket to send their son to a school that caters to his needs (strange word choice, as if he’s a spoiled child) and for occupational therapy, which can cost more than $6,500 a year for weekly, hour-long sessions. (What an obvious incentive to get your child diagnosed ASD and not SPD This is NO WAY to “do” medicine or science)
Laura Pittman, of Colorado Springs, whose son was diagnosed with SPD as a toddler, said the challenges families face are not understood.
“I feel like it’s an invisible disorder,” she said. Her son had trouble transitioning from indoors to outdoors and adjusting to changes in routine; he ran all the time. The first-time mother worried that the difficulties were her fault. She wept in relief when an occupational therapist told her that there was a label for his condition. (OTs are typically on the front lines in assessing these children.) (This is sick socially-induced nonsense!)
Pittman thinks that recognition of this disorder by established medicine would help parents. “I feel like it would give freedom to many parents across the country that didn’t have to work the system to get services for our children,” she said. (This is the sick American healthcare system. Totally backwards! We “define” disorders by “parental” coercion, not by actual medical diagnosis of actual MEDICAL conditions)
In the past two years, the cause of increased recognition for SPD has been dealt a few setbacks. In a 2012 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised pediatricians not to use sensory processing disorder as a diagnosis.
“We have no evidence that it is a separate disorder,” explained the statement’s co-author, Michelle Zimmer, a pediatrician in Cincinnati. “The pediatrician’s first thought needs to be: What else is going on here? What other disorder could this be a part of? It needs to be thought of more as a symptom rather than a disorder in and of itself.”
The AAP’s action was followed in 2013 by an expert committee’s decision not to include SPD as a diagnosis in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association. This decision came despite a vigorous campaign to include SPD in the DSM for the first time.
Comment: According to the DSM 5, Asperger’s does not exist, either, but our “symptoms” (our differences and special characteristics) still exist! The psych industry cannot simply “erase us”.
“I do not doubt that the people that report this . . . are really experiencing something,” said Catherine Lord, a member of the DSM-5 committee. “But we don’t know very much about what it is that they are actually experiencing,” (Well there’s a telling admission that the psych industry is way off base! “They” diagnose children as “being abnormal or defective” on subjective, not medical criteria. If you are going to diagnose, label and treat children for “having abnormal sensory experiences” – and subject them to social discrimination and bullying, you damn well ought to know “scientifically and medically” what those experiences are!
A diagnosis of SPD may seem easier to accept than, say, the stigma-fraught label of autism. “SPD, I think, for many parents, sounds better, sounds like a more minor thing; it sounds like it’s easily treatable,” said Lord, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and the director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. But Lord said a parent’s acceptance of an incorrect diagnosis can harm a child: “People focus on something like that and don’t deal with the fact that this child has multiple difficulties and many of those multiple difficulties are treatable.” (So why do psych/psych professionals continue the charade?)
Part of the problem is that SPD manifests itself in varied ways. “There are different kinds of sensory processing challenges,” said Elysa Marco, a cognitive and behavioral child neurologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “And certainly no two kids with that label are going to be exactly the same.”
Comment: The blah-blah-blah excuse we hear over and over again by “professionals/experts” who cobble together non-medically-based disorders out of “nonsense” – a socially-created system of “enforcing” elitist “lists” of proscribed pathologies and narrow socially-approved behaviors.
Zimmer noted that some unusual behaviors may not last and are not necessarily indicative of anything larger. “Maybe it doesn’t turn into anything,” she said. “Maybe it’s just certain kids’ temperament. . . . Maybe they’re just more oversensitive to things, and usually those kids honestly grow out of it.”
Comment: WOW! Then why is the psych industry still “pushing” a system of “hysterical” pathologies (and expanding it) that harm families and their children? (KA-CHING $$$!)
Research and a diagnosis
Sensory processing has been in the news and on the minds of parents for decades — ever since occupational therapist and psychologist A. Jean Ayres focused on what was called sensory integration dysfunction in the 1960s.
It’s amazing that in American “science” one person – NOT a scientist – can create a “science event” that passes into psychological dogma, and is by “popular acclaim” taken by the public, and many so-called experts, to be valid scientific “knowledge”.
But getting to the bottom of SPD has never been easy. Since SPD is not recognized by the likes of the AAP and the DSM-5, (Which dictates $$$ acquisition – The status quo do not want to “share funding” with more researchers) researchers in the field face particular funding challenges. Marco, who is director of research for the autism and neurodevelopment program at UCSF, is considering using crowdfunding for an upcoming project.
To foster scientific inquiry into SPD, since 2002, the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation has been convening a work group of leading researchers. One of them is John J. Foxe a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “I’m interested in the underlying neuropathologies that give rise to these kind of symptoms,” Foxe said. (What a NOVEL APPROACH – automatically these sensory differences are pathologies. How about for once, just studying something without this preconceived bias?”)
Foxe, who is also the director of research at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein, said that he has indeed seen children with only sensory processing problems: “The kids are out there, they’re suffering, and we need to get to the bottom of it. That’s really what matters here.” (Blah, blah, blah…)
Although a biological basis for SPD has been assumed for decades by some, it was first demonstrated only last year in a small study by Marco and other scientists from UCSF. Their research, published in NeuroImage: Clinical, an online journal, used an advanced imaging technique to show differences in connectivity in the part of the brain that processes information from the senses between boys identified with SPD alone and a control group. (Aye, yai, yai- assumptions about “correlation”)
“That’s, I think, the first study that showed a concrete, measurable structural difference in brains of kids who carry that label,” Marco said. Her next study will compare children with SPD alone and those with autism. (But causation is not established by this type of “group study” observation)
Other challenges to understanding SPD include the variety of its presumed causes and the fact that it changes over time: What you see at age 2 is going to be very different from what you see at 8 and 18, Marco said. So far, researchers have studied possible causes ranging from genetics to structural brain problems to premature birth. Studies in animals have linked sensory issues to prenatal exposure to lead or alcohol.
Comment: Oh yeah, it’s time to toss in everything, including the kitchen sink! Who needs legitimate analysis when “guessing” is so much fun. How does one jump to “causation” when admittedly “…we don’t know very much about what it is that they are actually experiencing,” – C. Lord above.
Foxe said his research — recording children’s brain wave patterns — found evidence that children identified with SPD are processing sensory inputs in a somewhat different way from others. (Well, that’s certainly illuminating! It’s the “brain lights up” crystal ball magic again.) “For me,” he said, “this is a home run from a science perspective that it’s clear that their brains are somewhat different.”
OMG! How embarrassingly idiotic!
Foxe and his colleague Sophie Molholm posit that a typical child processes, for example, the sounds, sights and feel of an object or an event as a whole experience (What does this mean?) whereas a child with SPD would not be able to integrate (What does this mean?) these parts as easily. As a result, Foxe said, the world could become overwhelming for the SPD child.
The frustrations of these sensory challenges can lead to temper tantrums and meltdowns. Kids sometimes get expelled from preschool because of their intense behavior issues. “Everybody thinks they’re ‘a bad kid,’ ” (Yeah – especially if you label the child as being “defective, abnormal and their behavior as pathological) said Lucy Jane Miller, clinical director of the Sensory Therapies and Research Center in Greenwood Village, Colo., which works with about 400 families a year. “But they’re not a bad kid, they’re just misunderstood.”
Such children can be helped through a variety of therapies. Often, an occupational therapist and/or a psychologist provide the treatment. Miller, who is also research director of the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, explains that the big goals of therapy are “social participation, self-regulation and self-esteem.”
Comment: Here we go again – the goal is to train the child to at least appear to conform to socially-mandated behavior; to endure actual pain caused by the environment; to force “illness” (zoochosis) in the child, all for imaginary results: How does this “treatment” produce “self-esteem”? This is the same mindset that was used to justify cultural extermination in Native American children.
The occupational therapy usually takes place in a gym with multisensory challenges such as climbing, jumping, riding zip lines and diving into a container of bubble balls. Other techniques might include comforting a restless child by covering him with slightly weighted blankets or gently brushing a child who is underresponsive.
Most experts believe OT can help children with sensory processing issues, but some, such as Lord, caution that there’s little scientific evidence to prove it. With the lack of in-depth data on treatment comes the possibility that families may be taken advantage of by the false promise of cures — a situation that can happen with other puzzling conditions such as autism or Asperger syndrome.
Zimmer encourages families dealing with sensory issues to have their pediatricians (your pediatrician has been ordered to believe SPD doesn’t exist) help navigate the child’s treatment by occupational therapists. OT sessions, which can run roughly $125 to $200 an hour (KA-CHING $$$!) are often conducted weekly, but some practices offer intensive programs over several weeks. Whereas insurance may not pay for treatment for SPD, these visits may be covered for a coexisting condition such as autism (Can anyone be surprised by the rapid rise in ASD diagnosis?) or for developmental delays or low muscle tone and/or coordination issues that interfere with daily life. (Yeah – for ANYTHING you can come up with)