4 Sensory Processing Disorder Myths

by Elizabeth Welsh, OT/L, CLT

We are constantly seeing, hearing, touching our world around us. Sometimes we find challenges in dealing with all of that sensory input. For example, you may avoid hugs, fear loud noises or be bothered by certain clothing because of the way it feels. Everyone has quirks, but when these quirks get in the way of everyday life it may be more.

Sensory processing disorder. What is that? What does it mean? It has become a common topic, but it can bring up more questions than answers, and it can be confused with other medical conditions like ADHD and autism. Let’s discuss a few of the more common myths.

Myth #1: Kids with sensory processing issues are just being difficult or experience poor parenting.

Fact: Kids with sensory processing issues can be fussy and get angry for no apparent reason. For example, they might throw a fit or appear anxious in a noisy restaurant. Or they might refuse to wear certain clothing or brush their hair. This is usually the result of hypersensitivity to sound, touch and other senses, though, not as an act of rebellion.

It might seem like kids with sensory processing issues are just trying to push buttons—especially if you’re a parent dealing with these behaviors every day. But they’re not. If you can learn about common triggers for kids with sensory processing issues it can help you to understand and help them cope.

Myth #2: Kids with sensory processing issues are hypersensitive all the time.

Fact: Although being hypersensitive is a common sign of sensory processing issues, kids with these difficulties can also be hyposensitive (under sensitive). This means they may show little or no reaction to heat, cold, pain and other sensations.

This can be scary for parents. Kids with hyposensitivity might inadvertently find themselves in dangerous situations—like touching surfaces that could burn them. Remember, too, that this isn’t an either-or situation. Kids with sensory processing issues can be both hypo- and hypersensitive, going back and forth between the two behaviors.

Myth#3: Sensory processing issues is just another name for ADHD.

Fact: They’re separate issues, but it’s common for kids to struggle with both. Sometimes parents notice sensory processing issues first, and that ultimately leads them to a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But it’s important to keep in mind that not every child with sensory processing issues has ADHD, and not every child with ADHD has sensory processing issues.

Myth #4: Sensory processing issues are a form of autism spectrum disorder.

Fact: Sensory processing issues are not a form of autism spectrum disorder. However, many kids with autism have sensory processing issues. But that doesn’t mean every child who’s overly sensitive to stimulation—like the sound of a vacuum cleaner or the feel of a scratchy sweater—has autism. Researchers are still trying to determine what causes sensory processing issues.

If some of these behaviors seem familiar for your child, you may be wondering what you should do. Sensory processing issues can be treated with Occupational Therapy at Southwest Health.

There are many forms of sensory processing difficulties like children having unusual or frequent poor behaviors, poor tolerance to touch from people or clothing, and food aversions like gagging or being a “picky eater”. An Occupational Therapist can assist you and your family in working with regulation of these sensory issues in a fun, playful, patient-centered approach.

Please contact Occupational Therapist, Elizabeth Welsh, at 608-342-6300 to discuss if this treatment is right for your child and if so how to begin.

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