How Is Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosed In Children?

Most of us take for granted the simpler things in life: the taste of food, the sound of music, the scent of a flower, or the sight of a beautiful sunset. For some people, even these common experiences can present a gargantuan computational problem for the mind. Sensory processing disorder (or SPD) is a condition that forces the subject to experience life with less structure than most of us are used to. Those who have this disorder have brains that can’t interpret sensory information.

This can mean a variety of things, and it all depends on the person who is diagnosed with the condition. While one person might simply be hypersensitive to a smell, a sound, or a number of visual stimuli, another might have difficulty with coordination while taking an ordinary stroll down the street. One might have trouble avoiding obstacles. Engaging in conversation can cause issues as well. Depth perception can be a great struggle for those with SPD. Imagine not knowing how far away the vehicles are when you’re trying to cross the street. These are the problems some people face every day.

For a parent, SPD can be a terrifying diagnosis. To others, the mere possibility is strange, since diagnosis isn’t always easy. After all, sometimes kids seemingly cause trouble for no reason at all. The reasons behind their actions are difficult to determine, and that’s why we might not immediately jump to conclusions if they aren’t in the mood for a cuddle or a kiss, or just don’t want to talk. Kids often trip over their own feet, so how are we to know if something really is wrong?

It’s important to look for signs of SPD as early as possible. When a child is an infant or toddler and continuously struggles when being clothed, this is an early warning sign. The child might routinely avoid affection or be unable to eat or sleep without a tantrum. When children get older, take note of any sensitivity to common actions. If your child can’t adapt to different situations, has a difficult time when trying to write, or just gets too easily distracted, then there might be a bigger problem.

SPD isn’t as rare as you might think, either. Researchers out of the University of California at San Francisco determined that anywhere from 5 to 16 percent of children experience a form of SPD while growing up. If you suspect your child has a hard time with common activities and is hypersensitive to sights or sounds, then you should find an occupational therapist who can assess the likelihood of SPD.

At first, the child will be given a series of interviews in order to determine typical behaviors and responses to certain stimuli. After that, treatment might be personally tailored depending on your child’s situation. Therapy for one child can be completely different for therapy for another, and this is a direct result of the many different forms that SPD can take. No matter what, it’s important to take these steps as early as possible in order to make life a little easier in the early years of school, and a lot easier down the road.

SubType 3: Sensory Discrimination Disorder

Children that suffer from sensory discrimination disorder often have a hard time perceiving information. Discrimination is the brain’s ability to interpret information and disregards irrelevant information. A disorder of discrimination means the brain sometimes jumbles or confused environmental stimuli.

Each of the 8 senses has their own discrimination disorder and a child with this subtype of SPD can have any combination of all 8 discrimination disorders.

Tactile Discrimination Disorder – a child that suffers from this is not able to process things that they touch, they must be able to see it.

Some common signs of tactile discrimination disorder include:

  • unaware of being touched
  • unable to identify objects through touch
  • unable to describe a texture via touching

Gustatory/Oral Discrimination Disorder – usually happens in conjunction with olfactory discrimination

Common signs of oral discrimination disorder include:

  • unable to distinguish taste and texture while eating
  • unable to distinguish temperature of food

Olfactory Discrimination Disorder – usually happens in conjunction with gustatory/oral discrimination

Common signs of olfactory discrimination disorder include:

  • unable to identify the source of odors
  • unable able to identify smells (like something burning)

Auditory Discrimination Disorder – children who suffer from this disorder are sometimes misdiagnosed with ADHD or get in trouble for never listening. When a child suffers from this disorder they have a very hard time separating background noise from the noise of a teacher or parent.

Common signs of auditory discrimination disorder include:

  • unable to determine who is speaking
  • frequently mistakes sounds in language for homophones (for example, cars and cards, Arizona or around the corner)
  • difficulty following verbal instructions
  • talking too loud or too quietly
  • appears to ignore others

Visual Discrimination Disorder – children who suffer from this have a hard time reading emotions and recognizing patterns and letters

Common signs of visual discrimination disorder include:

  • difficulty in distinguishing between colors
  • difficulty in distinguishing between shapes
  • difficulty in identify objects that are slightly hidden
  • poor depth perception
  • difficulty in knowing left from right
  • difficulty distinguishing similar letters like p, q, g, b, and d.
  • lining up numbers in a math problem

Vestibular Discrimination Disorder – children who suffer from this is unaware of where his body is in the space around him

Common signs of vestibular discrimination disorder include:

  • difficulty determining head or body position
  • poor perception of elevation
  • poor posture
  • clumsiness
  • constant falling and being unable to stop self
  • gets disoriented easily

Proprioceptive Discrimination Disorder – children who suffer from this are unable to determine how much for is required to interact with an object

Common signs of proprioceptive discrimination disorder include:

  • unaware of how much force needed to pick or hold an object
  • constantly slamming doors or not closing them tight enough
  • breaks utensils
  • roughhousing to the point of someone getting hurt
  • unable to judge how much force to use throwing a ball

Interoceptive Discrimination Disorder

  • unable to tell when hungry, thirsty, full or quenched
  • unable to tell the difference between hunger and nausea
  • unable to determine the necessity of using the bathroom
  • unaware of being out of breath

Unlike over-responsiveness and under-responsiveness, discrimination disorders are harder to pinpoint and are frequently misdiagnosed due to the behavior problems associated with school. However, there are many ways to help your child, such as signging them up for occupational therapy.