Spectrum Disorders vs. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

It is often difficult to distinguish between Spectrum Disorders and SPD. But they are indeed two different diagnoses, with a lot of overlap. This is often where the confusion comes in.

So... even though there is overlap (probably about 90% of Spectrum Disorders having SPD) an individual can definitely have one and not the other, or both.

That being said, an OT has to be able to distinguish between the two. A neurologist, or neuropsychologist should be able to give a proper diagnosis,which is the key to proper treatment.

In an ideal world, these kids would have a thorough workup for both Spectrum disorders and SPD (using the SIPT and Sensory Processing Measure, among other diagnostic tests). Once an evaluation is done, proper treatment and therapy can follow.

As far as treatment goes, it is difficult. The diagnosis will depend on how the kids will respond to SI therapy in particular. One of the most distinguishing issues between Autism and SPD for example, is that you will see a decrease in the behaviors (ie, sensory seeking, picky eating, etc.) when Sensory Integrative approaches are used.

For example, say you want a child to do a task and they are hyperfocused on some "ritualistic/ compulsive" behavior... spectrum disordered kids will have a much more difficult time being redirected. With SPD, if you give them the right type of input they are seeking, it will be easier to engage them and maintain their attention, focus, and arousal.

The "behaviors" are the clues as to what type of input a child is seeking, especially if you approach it from an SPD stand point. Their behaviors will be exactly what they are telling you they need or avoid. Then it takes some clever detective work to figure out how to safely and appropriately give them what they are needing or gradually introduce them to the input they are avoiding.

Two very important SI Therapy approaches that should be used in every session are proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation. But, again, you must be careful to pick the right activities, with just the right challenge to their neurological system... then couple this with the other issues they are working on. Their bodies must first be prepared for the tasks they are to work on. Their neurological systems must be more and more organized as therapy progresses. If SPD is the issue, behaviors will improve.

The absolute best resource to sort all of this out and find treatment strategies is an amazing book called "The Mislabeled Child: Looking Beyond Behavior to Find the True Sources and Solutions for Children's Learning Challenges" by Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide

The similarities and differences between Spectrum disorders and SPD are so complicated and require more research!! This is being done, but not fast enough! So, for now we do the best we can with our clinical reasoning skills and amend treatment plans and ideas as we notice more or different things to work on.

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Related Resources

Essential Guide To Autism - If you're really worried a loved one with Autism might never truly enjoy life to the full.

The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide - A Complete Resource Guide For Parents Who Have Children Diagnosed With Aspergers Syndrome.

Sensory Processing Disorders - How does it REALLY feel to have SPD? Come take a realistic look at how a world is perceived by an SPD child or adult.

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Parent of three year old SPD child - recently "diagnosed" 
My story more comes in the form of a question. We knew our child had issues - though not formally diagnosed as SPD, since he was very young, and he has …

Statements do not seem to be worth the paper it is written on in Brighton.hove UK 
Silly me i was delusional in believing my son finally being diagnosed was a reduction in issues However returning to his primary the school felt i was …

I thought the jigsaw had fallen into place but i am now finding lots of lost pieces and it is upsetting Not rated yet
guess i should have updated sooner my son is now 15 he was 10 when was finally diagnosed with sensory processing and hypermobility. Iw as able to see …

I think this is the first explanation that makes sense. Not rated yet
I've always been "different" and never knew why. My parents were frustrated and tried lots of different approaches and consulted with different doctors …

The jigsaw has fallen into place Not rated yet
I was sure from a young age something was wrong with my son.He did not have a sense of humour anything said to him was misinterpreted and his angry outbursts …

The complex process of diagnoses Not rated yet
Differentiating spectrum disorders from SPD is indeed a complex process, even for trained professionals. This is because our diagnostic procedures are …

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