Janet Marshall is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Living section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter. She thinks most things are fine in moderation.
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Too bright, too loud, too rough
October is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Month. I generally don’t care much for awareness months — there’s one for seemingly everything — but some get a lot more attention than others. SPD isn’t life-threatening and isn’t on most people’s radars, so it rarely garners headlines, and I haven’t seen a ribbon for it.
But it’s a condition that can radically affect a person’s life. It’s most common in people who are on the autism spectrum, but it also can affect people who don’t have an autism spectrum disorder. What is it? It’s a malfunction in the way the brain processes the information the senses — of sight, smell, touch, etc. — take in.
For a person with SPD, this may mean that lights are too bright, sounds are too noisy, touches are too rough. A child with SPD may be irritated to the point of meltdown over a flickering flourescent light or the sound of a chair being dragged across a classroom floor. He may go into fight-or-flight mode after getting bumped into in a hallway because his brain processes it as a threat, not an innocent bump.
Some children with SPD are hyper-sensitive to the information their senses take in, while others are hypo-sensitive, or under-sensitive. These kids might seek out physical contact, roughhousing with extreme intensity, because they crave more sensory stimulation.
Kids with SPD can feel like outcasts; it can affect their friendships and their schoolwork. They may act out and be considered behavior problems when the reality is that their brains are wired a bit differently.
There are a variety of red flags and manifestations of SPD, and the severity of the problem can vary from person to person. You can learn tons more about SPD and its treatment (which generally involves working with an occupational therapist) on the website of the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, spdfoundation.net.