Can You “Cure” Sensory Processing Disorder?

Can you "cure" SPD?

Here are some of the most common questions I hear when discussing a child’s sensory processing skills with their parent:

“Is he going to be OK?”
“Will he make a full recovery?”
“Will he eventually just grow out of it?”
“Is OT the cure?”

These parents are all essentially asking the same question: Are we going to “cure” their child’s sensory processing disorder?

Short answer: “Kind of…”

Long answer: Keep reading.

Here’s the thing- we ALL have sensory preferences. I can’t stand dry sand under my fingernails and I happen to be highly distracted by auditory input.
But do I have sensory processing disorder?
Not so much.
And how do I tell the difference between a sensory preference and SPD?
Sensory processing disorder interferes with daily functioning.
Any other questions I want to ask myself?
Eh, not right now.

So sure, I love the beach, but I’m probably not going to dig a sand castle with my bare hands. I also know that if I want to read a book or type a report, I either have to have complete silence or listen to a white noise app on my phone. With these simple strategies I can adapt to be a (somewhat) typically functioning adult.

However, what about the child that can’t sit still in their chair because they crave vestibular input? They might be missing out on fine motor skill development because they aren’t appropriately participating in school work.

What about the child that can’t stand the touch of a tag in their shirt? Refusing to wear clothing can make it kind of challenging to get out the door in the morning and participate in life.

Another issue that makes sensory processing disorder different is that I know that I can’t sit still at a conference for 8 hours straight. I bop my leg up and down or I chew gum to keep myself alert. A child doesn’t always have the reasoning skills to say, “Hmm, I had better just chew some gum rather than bite through my neighbor’s pencil.” Their nervous system is driving them to find the input they need, and they might not know the most appropriate or effective strategies to use.

That’s the point when OT comes in handy. We teach children and parents the strategies that are most effective. Essentially, how to get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to sensory input. A child that pings around from activity to activity might just need some assistance to choose something more appropriate, and stick with it long enough to receive the benefit of the input.

Now, say that OT teaches the child what they need to know, and the parents follow through with appropriate sensory activities at home. Does this mean the child will be “cured”? Not essentially. It means that they will have more control over their bodies. We are working with the idea that the brain is “plastic”, meaning it can change and make new connections. The theory behind sensory integration supports the hope that the nervous system will become better able to handle and modulate sensory input to the point that a child can function appropriately.

However, will a child that is extremely under-responsive to movement input choose a desk job when he grows up? Probably not. This is the child that might choose snowboarding as a hobby, or something that provides the input he still craves. Or on the other side of things, a child that is sensitive to most input is probably not going to pick a job in a factory with a lot of loud, unpredictable noises.

So throw the words “cure” or “fix” out of your vocabulary when it comes to sensory processing disorder, and think more along the lines of “adapting”. Hopefully a child’s sensory processing disorder becomes manageable sensory preferences that allow them to lead their lives the way they want.

Related Posts:

Sensory Processing Disorder: Is it Real?

Sensory Processing Disorder: Is it Real?

Sensory, Behavior, or Both?

Sensory, Behavior, or Both?

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About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Lessons Learned, Occupational Therapy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Can You “Cure” Sensory Processing Disorder?

  1. First off I love your writing style. You are very open and witty in your posts.

    Agree with all that you wrote in this post. Just want to add an additional perspective. I think it is also about finding talents in addition to adapting. Everyone has unique traits and mannerisms that effects our day to day function. The key to success is finding each of our talents and building on them. If there are other things that are getting in our way of improving our talents we need to adapt the environment to help us to flourish. So the fact that someone would never tolerate a desk job helps that person to choose a career path in life that would not require that. Or you need excessive movement to stay alert perhaps you will be best at various careers such as fitness instructor or door to door mail delivery. I know that is a long term perspective from childhood to adulthood but in reality the job of parents, teachers and therapists is to help children to grow up to be the best that they can be!

    Therefore, I second your statement throw out the words FIX or CURE and focus on the positive.

  2. Jana Hoffman says:

    I appreciate your blog very much and, like Margaret, I love your style. I changed my diet a year and a half ago. I am now eating only whole foods, I cut out foods I am sensitive to, and take supplements to support my organs. One of the many changes I have noticed is that I can sit calmly in a regular seated position for 2 hours in a lecture. Prior to the diet change, I needed the deep pressure of sitting on my hands, or sitting on one leg or both, or sitting on the floor with my arms tightly wrapped around my knees in order to tolerate attending to the speaker. It makes me wonder how many kids/adults would benefit from a diet change. As an OT who is new to the school setting, this question is always in my thoughts.

  3. Sorcha says:

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. I found this post by accident (while researching nails…go figure) and totally identified it regarding my son and, surprisingly, myself. I am extremely sensitive to noise to the point where I now wear earplugs daily. Do I freak out over it? Not any more. Am I “cured”? No, and I never will be. Do I want to be? Is this not part of who I am? All these questions surface….

    I am going to devour the rest of your blog.

    Thank you.

  4. tammy says:

    As the parent of a child with SPD, I thank you for this article. Very well said.

  5. As a special educator myself…I totally agree with you..teaching our kids to adapt…that is the best way.

  6. Alli Mercier says:

    I am 14 years old and I had severe sensory problems when I was little. Anything like a tag in a shirt, light contact on my back, or even rain made me cringe. I would have to strip down and find someway to distract myself, like tv, to make the sensation decrease. When I was 8, I had therapy where I lied on my back, on a rotating bed, listened to a varying arrangement of music, and looked at a specific color light for 30 min 2x a day. It worked but after about 3 yrs, the sensory started to come back. I went back to therapy again at age 12 but it was unsuccessful. It’s still here, it’s always here, I’ve just learned to ignore it. Even reading the article brought back painful memories and feelings of my childhood. My note to parents is to not get upset when your child has an episode because there is nothing in the world they want more than the “pain” to go away. Adding stress to the situation makes the sensation last longer and the headache, for the both of you, become more agonizing. MOST IMPORTANTLY talk to your child but if they’re not ready to talk, don’t make them

    • valorie says:

      Alli, I love your post it is very good advice! I used to get so upset with my son and just make the situation worse. It took me awhile to understand that my son was not doing the things that he was doing on purpose. He really could not help it. When i realized this i became more patient with him and that help for awhile. I still did not know what was wrong with him. He has been diagnosed with ADHA and was already on medication for that but it only improved a few things. I knew there was something else going on with him. The sad thing about getting a child the help he needs for this disorder is i have not found any place that will treat him that uses insurance. My son has 3 different kind of insurances and they are useless when it comes to getting my son help. I am going in a few days to get a personal loan for 12,000 to get treatment for him. I do not understand why kids that need mental health treatment at a young age have so much difficult finding someone to help them without it costing thousands of dollars? People wonder why there are so many mass shootings, suicide bombers, murders, violent crimes, happening more and more all over the world. I think maybe it is because parents like me can not find help for their children. If they do find help then they can not afford to get it. Mental heath care today is a joke. I work in ER as nurse i see what happens to the pople that come in our ER for help. It breaks my heart to see this happen to people everyday. If as a child they had some kind of help maybe there would not be so many adults having these mental health problem! I will not be a parent who is going to let money stop me from getting my son help!! We may have to go without food for awhile but his mental health will be addressed. If anyone knows where to get my son helped that wont cost thousands please let me know.

  7. vblackwell says:

    My four year old’s teacher thinks our child has sensory issues. She didn’t want to say processing disorder because the school’s are so careful not to act like doctors and I appreciate that. But I came home from that meeting and looked up Sensory Processing Disorder and my child’s behavior matched every item on the checklist for someone who is understimulated. I am now looking to get him evaluated specifically for SPD, so my husband and I can do the earliest possible intervention. Until I get him properly diagnosed and get him into a treatment program are there any strategies my husband and I can apply to help our son gain some self-control. We are frightened he is going to hurt someone, innocently to satisfy his need for physical contact.

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