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Is Sensory Processing Disorder a Real Condition?

June 24, 2014

This question is the headline on a story, surprisingly, in the New Republic. It’s a good piece that lays out the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that some kids have problems processing sensory stimulation, leading to behaviors that range from irritability to inconsolable meltdowns.

It also lays out skepticism, in the psychiatric community, that these problems can best be understood as a disorder, and that the treatments that have been devised for them are legitimate or effective.

I’m glad to see this getting attention because I know many parents are frustrated by this rift, between the occupational therapists who diagnose and treat sensory processing problems and the psychiatrists and psychologists who may be treating these same kids for other conditions, like autism or ADHD. Among other things, it allows insurance companies to avoid paying for treatment.

As the article notes, what’s needed is more standardization in how SPD is diagnosed, and more measurable outcomes for the interventions. Above all, what’s needed is research, and that’s kind of a catch-22. “It’s hard to fund the studies because SPD is not a real diagnosis,” notes Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, founder and director of the SPD Foundation, “yet it can’t be a real diagnosis without more studies.”

The story also lays out some of the more “out there” interventions that have been offered to parents. “A lot of it is myth and magic,” notes Dr. Miller. What’s real here is the need, both for understanding these kids and for helping them.

Tagged with: Sensory Processing