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SPD is also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction

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How Is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Treated?

Living With and Treating Sensory Processing Disorder
What does Occupational Therapy Look Like?
Barriers to Treatment

Living With and Treating Sensory Processing Disorder

Most children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are just as intelligent as their peers. Many are intellectually gifted. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs.

When children with SPD are accurately identified, they can begin a program of occupational therapy (OT). OT, which is conducted in a sensory-rich environment, helps these children to manage their responses to sensations and to behave in a more functional manner.

The goal of OT is to enable a child to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping. It can take place in a hospital OT department or in a private practice setting; the therapy is tailored to the needs of each child.

Parents are encouraged to get involved and work with the occupational therapist, so they can learn more about their child and incorporate their family's priorities into treatment. The treatment plan will usually include a number of ideas that the parents can use at home and at school to help their child become regulated and coordinated.

An added benefit of OT is that parents come to understand that their child's disability is real, even though it is a "hidden handicap," and they are encouraged to become strong advocates for their child at school and elsewhere.

What does Occupational Therapy Look Like?

Treatment is fun! It usually occurs in a large, sensory-rich environment with lots of swinging, spinning, tactile, visual, auditory, and taste opportunities.

Many occupational therapists use an approach called "STEP-SI" (pronounced "step - S - I"). With input from parents, they work to understand how a child perceives sensation and how that affects his attention, emotions, motor skills, and learning abilities.

The therapist evaluates the child’s abilities in several areas:

  • Sensory - the responses in each sensory system (e.g., movement, touch, taste, etc.)

  • Task - the need for more or less complexity and structure in completing activities

  • Environment - the responses to "enriched" and "simple" surroundings

  • Predictability - the preference for "old" or new experiences

  • Self-Monitoring - the ability to preview and adjust responses before acting

  • Interactions - the need for less or more intense interactions with others

The overall goals of OT are to improve social participation, self-esteem, self-regulation, and sensorimotor abilities.

Barriers to Treatment

Studies show that as many as five percent of all children suffer from SPD. Yet despite this high rate, information and help for those with this disorder is still very limited. This lack of resources, combined with the fact that SPD often looks like other disorders, often results in misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment for many children. And even when parents do obtain a diagnosis and referral to appropriate therapy, most insurance companies do not cover the cost of the treatment.


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