Could my 7 year old son have SPD?

by Emma


I have been concerned about my son who is now 7 on and off since he was about 2 as he has always shown a lot of autistic like traits. However, something has never added up as I understand that autism is primarily a problem with communication and social interaction. My son actually has excellent verbal and non verbal communication and pretty good social skills. He does struggle though with large group situations which I'll come to later. I have looked at the DSM 1V criteria for autism and try as I might I struggle to tick even a couple of the criteria, let alone 6! I have voiced my concerns often at nursery, then school but, until now, they have been reluctant to take it further. He has been labelled naughty, my parenting skills have been called into question and have been told he'll "grow out of it." However, his new teacher has taken my concerns seriously and agrees with me that there are definitely issues. He is very behind with his schoolwork which has prompted the school to take action. Now he is 7, the difference between him and his peers is more obvious. Most of them have calmed down and he seems very immature in comparison.

He has been observed by a lady from the ASD team in school. Her main finding was that he has "major issues with sensory integration" and has recommended that he be assessed by an occupational therapist. I did ask her if she thought he was autistic and all she would say was that there was a lot to suggest that he isn't but wouldn't commit herself any more than that as, clearly, further assessment is required. However, I googled "Sensory Integration" and wound up here! I never actually knew that you could have sensory problems and not be autistic and autism was previously the only explanation I could think of for my son's behaviour. I can now see that many of his traits could possibly be explained away by sensory problems. His main issues are as follows:

Very poor attention span, easily distracted by outside noises eg. lawnmower. Now affecting his learning. Particularly behind in numeracy and literacy.

Very hyperactive. Has trouble remaining still or waiting for even the shortest time. Insists on having a car or toy to fiddle with when we go out “in case it’s boring”, although he hasn’t seemed quite so reliant on this recently. Has always been like this but has become much more noticeable recently as his peers have matured and calmed down.

Poor fine motor skills, his handwriting is appalling!!

Poor sleeper. This has developed over the last year and is getting worse. Sometimes plays noisily in his room until 11pm. Previously a good sleeper.

Sensory issues: Particularly noise, light/dark, touch. Has improved a lot with age e.g. will now go on a bouncy castle, play in a sunny park or go into a disco when he wouldn’t previously, but still causes the following issues:-

Will not join in with certain large group games such as football or party games. Often acts strangely by humming and playing alone with a car (or imaginary car). Says he doesn’t join in because it’s too noisy and he’s scared of getting hurt. He also does this when waiting in the playground before school - the other kids are either running around playing tag or football or waiting in line with their parents - he can do neither!!!

Often finds the playground too noisy and teacher sometimes finds him in the toilets.

Often finds socialising in the playground difficult as he cannot play the noisy and boisterous games most of the boys play. Tends to play with girls and younger children, presumably as he prefers the gentler, role play games they tend to play.

Dislikes having his hair cut, having his clothes tucked in or cycle helmet being put on.

Occasionally refuses to go into dark places. Avoids bright sunshine, will always sit in the shade.

Dislikes sitting on the floor. Eg. on holiday he really wanted to watch a magic show. All the kids were sitting on the hard ballroom floor but he seemed unable. He asked me to get him a chair to sit on and he sat there at the side happily enjoying the show. He has problems sitting on the floor at school and will get up, wander around, or perch on the edge of a table instead of sitting in the circle with the other kids.

NB. If his desire to do an activity is stronger than his fear of the noise, dark etc, he will go into the noisiest soft play centre or swimming pool, darkest cinema or play in a noisy playground if

engrossed in a game. Even went to an airshow with no problems!

Has always been hugely interested in cars, trains, planes etc, and anything electrical or mechanical. Makes electrical appliances out of cereal boxes, bits of string and lego, and will “plug them in” around the house. Pays incredible attention to detail where these interests are concerned e.g. if drawing a house will include aerials, telephone lines, satellite dishes etc, immediately noticed when a new street light was installed in our road and mentioned it several times! He also loves science (is an enthusiasic member of the school science club), arts & crafts, lego, making things.

I realise the obsessions could be an autistic trait but I wouldn't say his interest was "abnormal" or "restrictive" as described in the autism criteria as the play is very imaginative and extends to other characters and situations. He prefers to play the games at home with his sister rather than alone. He does have other interests outside of his main ones such as cycling and swimming and enjoys going out and about seeing new things.

“OCD-like” behaviour.
School have mentioned that he has certain rituals he likes to follow such as placing his water bottle away from the others, putting it back if moved (although apparently he recently stopped this), and sitting on the carpet at the end of the day with all his bags instead of leaving them on the table as instructed. He tells me it’s because he is worried these things will go missing. I have never noticed anything like this at home although in the past he used to get very upset if I parked the car in a different space or moved things around his room. This no longer seems to be an issue – in fact I recently had a major clear out in his bedroom, he responded quite positively and certainly wasn’t upset. Generally, he is not routine driven.

Humming. Has done this since he was very young but seems to have got worse and he now does it a lot of the time. Also makes lots of car and other silly noises. Worse if excited or stressed. Doesn’t seem to know he’s doing it and blames his cars!

Diarreah. Has had this from birth. Initially told it was “toddler diarreah” but he didn’t grow out of it. Have had many investigations but all inconclusive. Once told it could be “squash drinking syndrome” but it makes little difference.

Hurting his sister
Has become more of a problem recently, although we did have major problems when she was a small baby and he was 3, but things improved a lot when she was old enough to play with him. Its become a particular problem at school drop off, possibly since he stopped taking a car to fiddle with in the playground. Keeps subtly poking, prodding, pinching and fiddling with her hair. He has also bitten her a few times recently at home. He knows its wrong and is actually very fond of her (he keeps saying how “cute” she is) but seems unable to help himself. It’s almost as though he gets a “kick” out of seeing her distressed. Will also “overhug” her when saying goodbye to her and I sometimes have to pull him off. Has also starting pinching me occasionally.

Craves attention
Behaviour improves dramatically if he is with me alone, eg. will be helpful in supermarket instead of disruptive when his sister is present.

On the plus side.....

As well as the good communication skills mentioned previously, he comes across as very happy, smiley, friendly, sociable & lively, has great imaginative play, can concentrate well if interested in activity, interacts well individually and in small groups, has a few close, longstanding friendships (mainly with girls), very interested in world around him (asks lots of questions), understands & uses sarcasm, good sense of humour, affectionate, emotional.

So, does SPD sound like a possibility here?? I also wonder if he could have ADHD, as I believe they are very closely linked and a lot of people with SPD also have ADHD. Also, is it usual for the symptoms to improve with age or only be present in certain situations i.e. the fact that he will tolerate the noise if its an activity he's interested in.

I know its not a good idea to try and self diagnose using the internet and that most of you are not doctors! However, I have to do something during the VERY long wait for appointments so would be grateful to hear from anyone who can identify with what I've written. Also, apologies for the length of this post but I needed to get as much info in as I could. Many thanks in advance.

Comments for Could my 7 year old son have SPD?

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Jun 21, 2011
by: Emma

Well, we had a 2 hour assessment at our Child Development Centre and were told that my son does not have ASD or ADHD. He is being referred to an Occupational Therapist for possible SPD! They also think he may have a learning disability, maybe dyslexia so we're going to get that looked at too. They did say he was rather immature for his age which could be a result of the SPD/Learning Disability or that he is just a bit of a late developer!

Jun 18, 2011
sensory integration and lyme disease
by: Anonymous

My son is 3 years old and seems to have all of the traits that you mentioned. My son was also said to not be autistic. They say that you can get all those traits without being autistic. I also had my son checked for yeast and he has alot of yeast in his bowels. I'm treating him for this now. I also have found out that there can be a strong relation between lyme disease and autism and Sensory integration. Lyme disease is much more common then most people think. Sometimes you don't even know that your son was bit. I'm in the process of having myself tested and my son. I was bit by a tick when I was pregnant. They told me that I didn't have lyme but I didn't go to a lyme specialist then. It's just something to rule out for you. good luck

Jun 14, 2011
by: Anonymous

Sounds like SPD to me, I always thought my son had ASD, but many many therapists ruled it out. If you can there was a wonderful show on PBS called: "Autistic-Like: Grahams story" about a young boy who was diagnosed as being autistic but really had SPD. He had obsessions, poor fine motor, etc, etc. My son is also very easily distracted by noises and it often breaks his concentrations very easily! My sons sensory problems relate more to where is body is in space, his motor planning is aweful! He also has low muscle tone.

Jun 09, 2011
Sounds like it could be
by: Anonymous

The biting and hugging too hard are classic symptoms of SPD. Your son is craving sensory input and isn't reaching his threshold so therefore his body needs to do things harder. He needs to squeeze or bite. It does sound to me like it is SPD.

Jun 08, 2011
SPD possibility
by: Lisa

We just had our son's IEP today. he is 4 yrs old and luckily we are in a wonderful school district where many people are on his side. We also have been working with a Shadow, a developmental psychologist and an OT for a while. we are seeing a lot of growth. After 2 years of working with a combination of the above, the majority rule is saying that our son has SPD, the issue is they say he is way too young to know for sure what is going on. The upside is that the early intervention we have done so far is making a huge difference.

I truly believe that if you have the right team in place, do a lot of research, don't take no for an answer and take all of the professional feedback and advice you can and put it into action, you will see progress. It may be slow, it could take years but know in anything that you do, sometimes it is 2 steps forward 4 steps back before you have 6 steps forward and no steps back.
hang in there, keep reaching out for help and don't give up hope that you will find the answers you need to get your 7 yr old son the help he needs to be successful.
I started a blog the other day to hopefully help encourage people to not give up on what they believe their child needs to be successful. if you care to follow my blog you can view it at:

Feel free to post questions to this blog as well and I will do my best to answer them.

You and your family will be in my thoughts.

Jun 07, 2011
by: Anonymous

As you read this, please understand, that I am by no means making light of the fact that chemical toxins have created a vast array of neuro-muscular diseases. I have two handicapped children and know, all too well, that chemicals cause crisis:

My daughter has SPD, she also had Lyme Disease which presents with many sensory anomalies. All that said, she is also a child, and children do express themselves differently throughout life.

I honestly feel that many parents are scrutinizing their childs behaviour beyond what is needed; finding normal behavior to be abnormal.

It is not just us, it's the world. Everyone is looking for perfection in an otherwise imperfect paradigm.

I have had round after round with the school system my daughter is in Drugs is all they suggest.

Therein lies the problem: quick fixes for systemic sensory overload.

I am in my 60's with an adopted 9 year old. If she was wild at home I "WOULD" drug her!!! I would have to...I'd go crazy. She is wonderful, not always focused, then neither am I. Not always compliant, but then neither am I. She has a perceptual impairment causing some interesting reactions...don't we all?

When I was in school...last century...60's...I had a 630 on my SAT score. I flunked my SAT's! At the same time my grade point average throughout school was 92%. I read at a 12th grade level in 6th grade. That said, I could not comprehend written math questions or directions while at the same time the "Lliad and Odyssey" made sense to me. Algebra and physics were very difficult, I hated them, but now quantum physics, TOE, makes perfect sense.

No one suggested drugs or a plethora of testing; they suggested tutors. I survived and these kids will, too.

If we spent as much time tutoring as we did testing, we may find that our out of sync children are more in-sync than we think.

Normal, is like socially acceptable. It changes.

I have been able to see aura's since I was a many of these kids "see?"

Many of these kids are very intuitive. Why?

You may want to do some research...Solfeggio frequencies and Emoto...Messages from Water. Rupert Sheldrake, Cambridge, also has some very interesting insights into Morphogenetic's.

As we are electo-magnetic fields fueled by H2O, the old adage, 'The Power of the Word' may prove to be much more potent than we realized.

Mary Ann

Jun 07, 2011
ASD but good communication & social skills?
by: Anonymous

Sorry, but how? I thought they were the key impairments for a diagnosis of autism. If a child doesn't have those impairments but can still be autistic surely the diagnostic criteria is flawed??

Jun 07, 2011
by: Anonymous

Dear Emma, ​​the premise that autistic spectrum disorders, are different from child to child as also in the same person may show some symptoms closest to autism and other more minor classic as PDD-NOS. The fact that in addition to the symptoms you listed have a good language and intelligence, does not exclude the possibility that both ASD. sensory disturbances are often part of an on primary disorder. I'd recommend observation over time. Greeting

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