For my son, throwing up is the ultimate horror show of sensory overload.  He’ll avoid it at all costs…actually preferring to swallow it than throw it up.” – A conversation I had with a friend when my son was sick

Dear American Academy of Pediatrics-

I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to your position paper on Sensory Processing Disorder and its inclusion in the new DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

I meant to write to you that night when the paper came out.  I read all the media coverage.  The articles with headlines like “Doubt Cast on Usefulness of ‘Sensory’ Therapies for Autism“, with quotes like “there isn’t much evidence that such therapies actually work” and “some other issue could underlie their reactions to stimuli, such as a behavioral issue.”

I read all this and I was angry.  How dare you? I thought.  We’ve been living with sensory processing disorder for over six years now.  Do you? How do you know?

I took the time to read your actual position paper.  I cooled off a little.  I needed some time to think before I could share how I felt.

But I’m not going to respond as a writer with interviews and counterpoints.  My friend Brenda did an amazing job of that with her post at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.  I hope you read it.

Instead, I’m simply going to respond as a parent.

I’ll admit it.  I had no idea what sensory processing disorder was until about 4 years ago.  All I knew was there was something going on in my son’s body that I couldn’t figure out.  Back then, we called it “not comfortable in his own skin.”  He couldn’t sleep without touching me and would wake up every 45 minutes.  He wouldn’t eat anything with chunks.  Smells and noises threw him for a loop.  He wouldn’t want to be touched, yet he would smash his body into me and everything around him.  He couldn’t handle the world around him.

We called our pediatrician.  She told us to call early intervention.  We filled out the Dunn Sensory Profile.

It was the first time I cried as a parent over a form.  The questions kicked me in the gut.  It was clear that my son had “definite differences” in many areas.

We qualified for early intervention for occupational therapy for his sensory issues.  Once a week, the OT came to visit.  She would have him carry heavy balls around and knock down towers.  She put him in a body sock and sang songs to him.  She created obstacle courses and did joint compressions.  She “brushed” him.

I’ll admit it again.  At first I thought…what the heck is this?  How could this help?

But it did.  My son was calmer after his sessions with his OT.  Some therapies worked better than others.  We did what worked and stopped when it didn’t.

In preschool, he had a very set routine with the school OT for a in-school sensory diet that consisted of before school “tune-ups”, and many sensory breaks as needed throughout the day which included walks, jumps on the trampoline, and swinging in the therapy swing. We also had a routine at home. The school sensory diet piece got dropped at the beginning of his kindergarten year – or perhaps more precisely, the need for this sensory diet was not as understood at the kindergarten level – and we had quite a downward spiral in behavior in the classroom and at home. Now, with the guidance of the school OT, my son has a much better prescribed sensory diet in the classroom in conjunction with his behavior plan, and he’s doing much better.

Now, I’ll tell you, American Academy of Pediatrics, in reading the actual paper, there are some interesting pieces in there. One piece is is making pediatricians more aware of sensory issues, and encouraging parents to delve deeper into the route causes of the sensory overload. For many parents, like me, I noticed the sensory stuff WAY before any of the signs of autism spectrum disorder. I believe that any conversation about this between parents and doctors is a positive step, and you’re asking pediatricians to have frequent follow up appointments with parents who are doing sensory integration therapies. Stemming from this, I am also happy to see the idea of telling parents that it’s okay if one therapy isn’t working and to stop it and perhaps try something else.

But…

I know plenty of parents desperate for help and recognition of these sensory assaults who get dismissed by their doctors, or perhaps given an alternative diagnosis that doesn’t really fit their kid but allows them access to services. I wish you had told doctors to refer parents to a qualified occupational therapist for help with the sensory therapies, so that parents aren’t out there trying things on their own with no guidance. The two professions should be working together for the good of the individual child.

I have three boys, different as morning, noon and night.  My oldest definitely has sensory issues.  Hates certain clothes, incredibly picky eater, smells throw him over the edge, can’t stand noisy places. But no diagnosis.  My youngest?  Has the PDD-NOS diagnosis, but his sensory issues are almost zero.  No different from mine.

But my middle guy?  The one I’ve been writing about here?  The one with both the SPD and PDD-NOS diagnosis?

I firmly believe that my son’s sensory “fight or flight” reactions are the driving force behind all that he does. His inability to process his world is his biggest issue. Social skills issues, his hyper-focus, his sleep troubles – all sensory. I can say is that the therapies devised by our OT have worked for my son in helping him organize his body and thoughts.

I’d like you, the American Academy of Pediatrics, to spend just one day in my house.  Then perhaps, spend an evening with another child who has SPD.  And then, talk with an adult with sensory sensitivities. Just like every autistic person is different, sensory issues present themselves differently in every person as well.

I can tell you that it is real.  For my son, it is his reality twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

As his parent, it is my reality too.

Perhaps, AAP, we should shift our mindset away from phrases like “treatments that work” and focused more on “therapies that help”.

I can NOT behavior therapy away his SPD.

My child and thousands like him need access to the sensory tools that will help him cope.

I think that SPD should be a stand alone diagnosis.

Put yourself in his shoes for just one day.  Please.

Let’s keep talking about this.  I have a feeling that soon you’ll change your mind.

How can you resist this face?

Sincerely,

Alysia

Your mind is made up you won’t even try
You didn’t even cry this time
You say that we could never see eye to eye
And one of us just must be blind

We have our differences
We’re still the same
See what we want to see
But you take a second look
And maybe things wouldn’t seem the same
If you could see what you mean to me” – Put Yourself In My Shoes by Clint Black

From the SPD Foundation: “Your voice is needed NOW to say that SPD does exist and that many are suffering. Research on SPD already exists, more than enough for inclusion as “a new category that needs additional research”!

Act NOW!  The final deadline to show informed support for the inclusion of SPD in the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is June 15, 2012.”

Click HERE for more information

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