Sensory processing disorder is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or listed in the DSM, but some counselors provide treatment for it and many parents believe their children suffer from this condition. Problems with sensory integration may be associated with extreme temper tantrums and other behavioral problems that are otherwise unexplained.
Some kids react with extreme displays of anger to seemingly minor events like getting splashed with water or having their clothing changed. They may throw long, intense temper tantrums or constantly complain that their clothes feel itchy or their shoes feel tight. They may suddenly panic in a new situation or when surrounded by too many people making too much noise. Often, parents interpret these issues as simple behavioral problems until someone tells them about sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Integration Issues
The theory behind sensory processing disorder is that some children have difficulty integrating the information from their senses, causing them to either find sensory input overstimulating and upsetting or to constantly crave more sensory input. The two types of sensory integration are associated with different behavioral problems, according to the Child Mind Institute, an organization committed to finding more effective treatments for childhood psychiatric and learning disorders. Some kids with SPD go out of their way to avoid or flee from any intense sensations. Others go out of their way to experience them.
A child who is hypersensitive to sensory input may do well in a calm, comfortable and quiet environment but suddenly have a frighteningly intense emotional meltdown if the environment isn't quiet or calm enough. Hypersensitive kids may run away from caregivers in an attempt to escape from an overwhelming stimulus. They can also react explosively to sensations such as an overly tight piece of clothing or even a hug from a parent. These are not really behavioral issues but panic responses to confusing sensory input, according to the Child Mind Institute. Sensory integration problems of this type are common in autistic children, while a 2011 report in "Psychiatry Investigation" by Ahmad Ghanizadeh, M.D., found that sensory processing problems were also common in kids with ADHD.
A child with the hyposensitive form of SPD may display symptoms and behavioral problems opposite to those of a child with hypersensitive SPD. Some of these behaviors can be dangerous, according to the Child Mind Institute, such as eating rocks or paint, running and crashing into walls or other hard objects, or going into the water without supervision. These behaviors might seem reckless or defiant, but are actually motivated by the need to seek more sensory input. Even though sensory processing disorder is a controversial diagnosis that has yet to be formally accepted, some treatments are available such as occupational therapy and the use of special sensory gyms to help kids who may have this disorder.