ADD/ADHD and Sensory Integration Disorder: More common than you think
It’s not as unusual as you may first think, really. As a parent with a child who has ADD/ADHD or an adult who deal with it daily, you may already recognize some of the symptoms. What am I talking about? Sensory Integration Disorder.
The chances are good that you haven’t heard of it, yet. Simply put, sensory integration disorder is the inability of the brain to fully utilize the information it gathers through all the senses in any organized or effective way.
Without the proper processing, your child (or you) may have difficulty finding what others would consider to be the right balance in reaction to this information. A person with sensory integration disorder reacts in extremes to normal things that he sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels – objects, sounds and other sensory stimuli that we take in stride as a daily part of life.
Your first instinct – especially if your child is responding like this – is to think that he is trying to get attention through his extreme behavior. This though entirely misses the mark if he really does have sensory integration disorder.
You may recognize some of the symptoms because they’re so similar to the ones associated with ADD/ADHD. The list of symptoms is rather long:
- Short attention span
- Sensitivity to sounds
- Unusually sensitive to smells
- Fascination with lights
- Walking on the toes
- Coordination problems
- Indifference to pain or temperature
- Refusal to wear certain types of clothing (your child may want to wear long sleeved shirts all year round so his skin isn’t showing)
- Difficulty with accepting changes
- Self-injury or aggression
- Avoiding physical contact with people
- Strongly reacts to any stimulation on the face, hands or the feet.
- Dislike and avoidance of grooming (brushing his teeth, washing his face, having his hair brushed or cut.
- Either a very high, or a very low activity level.
- An very high level of awareness of background noises
- Engaging in the habit of spinning items or taking items apart
When the brain isn’t interpreting incoming information properly, then the individual just can’t create what we would call a “proper” impression with the combined use of their eyes, ears, sense of balance and the other ways we grasp the world. And while you may see these reactions as “misbehavior” the person afflicted with this problem is bordering between fear and terror.
Imagine living in a world in which some of the smallest sounds, by our standards, are startling loud . . . not being able to dismiss or get beyond the background noise at a restaurant (or worse yet for your child, in a classroom!) . . . not being able to be comfortable when your feet aren’t touching the ground or floor.
Everyday activities can become quite traumatic.
But the oversensitivity of stimuli is just one way sensory integration disorder may manifest itself. Your child may show what you would consider an apathetic response to extreme hot or cold. He may not be engaged in activities as you think he should. Many individuals with this disorder actually display not hyperactivity – but an avoidance of activity.
Some children, moreover, experience profound problems with balance. For some being uncoordinated is just the tip of the iceberg. Children with SID have been known to have difficulty just sitting upright in at a classroom desk.
Extreme reactions to sensory stimuli are a problem that affects more individuals than you would initially believe. In children alone, according to The Diagnostic Manual for Infancy and Early Childhood, approximately five to 10 percent of children who display no other problems have sensory integration disorder.
Among children who are autistic, the rate of those with sensory integration disorder jumps to a staggering 88 percent.
Exact statistics are tough to come by though. Sensory integration disorder has yet to receive any recognition in the psychiatric literature. So in some medical quarters it’s a condition that doesn’t even exist.
Lucy Jane Miller though, head of the STAR Center in Denver, which specializes in treating children with SID, wants this disorder included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM), which identifies all psychiatric disorders. The fifth edition is scheduled for publication in 2012.
Acknowledgement in this diagnostic book, would lend the disorder greater credibility. For researchers, this means that winning grants to study the problem would be easier. For parents, it would mean that the chances of getting your child’s treatment paid for by insurance companies would improve.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a new disorder. A. Jean Ayres first identified this problem more than 35 years ago, in 1972. That’s when she first published a book on the condition.
And the official lack of recognition doesn’t mean no research is currently being performed. Quite the contrary. A growing and concerned group of medical experts have slowly been building a very fine research base. In fact, some of the studies have already identified neurological differences between children who have SID and those who respond to stimuli normally.
One set of experiments, for example, expose children to a variety of stimuli including a siren, the strong scent of wintergreen, and the light brush of a feather against the cheek. The reactions of the children are measured through electrodes attached to the hands. This measures nervous system activity.
Each stimulus is presented to every participant eight times.
With the first exposure each child – whether he has SID or not – reacts with a strong electrodermal reading. However, with repetition the healthy child displays little response, having become accustomed to the stimulus.
By contrast, the children with sensory integration disorder never become accustomed to the stimuli, reacting with the same strong response with every encounter.
Normally, SID treatment is conducted by an occupational therapist. Sensory Therapies and Research – also called STAR Center just outside of Denver Colorado treats nearly 50 children weekly for Sensory Integration Disorder.
Other sites to read about Sensory Integration Disorder:
- Wikipedia Article on Sensory Integration Dysfunction
- The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation
- Sensory Integration Disorder Recommended Books
Do you have any experiences or comments about sensory integration disorder? Please share them in the comments below.
[tags] Sensory Integration Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD [/tags]