Autism And Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Sensory Processing Disorder)

Many wonder... are Autism and Sensory Integration Dysfunction (now called Sensory Processing Disorder) the same? Are they related? Do you have to have SPD to have Autism? And vice versa?

These are great questions! At this point in time, the research says they are indeed two separate and distinct disorders. Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, author of Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) conducted one study in which 40 children with high functioning Autism or Aspergers were tested for SPD. Results showed 78% of the children with Autism or Aspergers also had significant signs of SPD, 22% did not.*

In another study of 100 children referred for SPD, 0% (none) of the children had Autism.** The significance is less about the actual numbers but that SPD can exist without Autism and Autism without SPD, or they can overlap as co-morbid conditions.

Dr's Brock and Fernette Eide, esteemed neurologists and authors of  The Mislabeled Child: Looking Beyond Behavior to Find the True Sources and Solutions for Children's Learning Challenges say this about Autism And Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Sensory Processing Disorder):

"Both children with autistic disorders and those with sensory processing disorder show difficulties with high-level tasks involving the integration of different brain areas. These include complex sensory functions and also emotional regulation. Typically, though, the deficits seen in children with autism, with greater sparing of higher-order functions in areas like language, social affiliation, and empathy... The majority of children with SPD are not autistic because they do not experience breakdowns in the connections that control social affiliation and emotional empathy.

Like children with autism, children with sensory processing disorder typically show signs of problems with the long-distance connections that integrate different areas of their brains, with the cerebellum (which helps to regulate and 'smooth out' the brain's different perceptions and responses), and with the frontal lobes (which help coordinate brain activities)."

Although there are differences between Autism and Sensory Integration Dysfunction (or SPD as it is now called), there are more similarities. It is with this in mind that I dedicate this section of my website to Autism Spectrum Disorders. It is clear we cannot talk about Sensory Processing / Sensory Integration without talking about Autism.

So, I leave it to the experienced parents, researchers, and professionals in the field of Autism and Spectrum Disorders. They truly specialize in this, in a way that does not even compare to what I know. Below, I share with you the gift of their knowledge, passion, and experience.


* Miller, L.J., S. Schoen, J.Coll, B. Brett-Green, and M. Reale. Final report: Quantitative psychophysiologic evaluation of Sensory Processing in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Los Angeles, CA: Cure Autism Now, February 2005.

** Miller, L. J., J. Coll, J. Koomar, T. May-Benson, S. Schoen, B. Brett-Green, and M. Reale. "Relations among subtypes of Sensory Modulation Dysfunction." Manuscript in progress.

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