When Future Horizons offered to send me to the Sensory Conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas, by paying for my registration, I was very excited. I made travel arrangements and arrived early that morning to sign in and get ready for the first session.
At first, I felt intimidated. There were some other parents there, but the crowd was larger than I had expected, and most of those present were professionals of some sort. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they considered me a sort of expert on Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) because I am parenting a child with SPD. I started to relax.
The information presented by Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and Paula Aquilla, BSc, OT, was amazing. I was overwhelmed with the amount of information!
For the next few weeks, I will share my notes from each session of the Sensory Conference on Saturday. This week I share session one, which covered the six subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder.
Sensory Conference: SPD Subtypes with Dr. Lucy Jane Miller
Dr. Lucy Jane Miller began her talk by sharing about the STAR Center and SPD Foundation. She also shared the early history of SPD Theory, including the work by Jean Ayres, whom Dr. Miller visited and recorded working with children.
Then she moved into a discussion of SPD as it relates to everyday life, explaining that SPD, like so many things, presents along a spectrum and is only considered a “disorder” when it affects a person’s ability to function effectively.
SPD is not a behavioral or parental problem. It’s a physiological problem.
Dr. Lucy Jane Miller
When she said, “SPD is not a behavioral or parental problem. It’s a physiological problem.”, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was so nice to listen to someone who understands that my daughter’s behavior when she’s overstimulated isn’t a result of poor parenting skills, which is something I’ve heard too many times. She also stated that the physiological data for children with SPD looks like the data from children with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). SPD is real, and it’s something these kids need help with.
During the rest of the session, Dr. Lucy Jane Miller shared the six subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder. It was very informative, so I’m going to share them now from her slides and my notes.
There are three types of Sensory Processing Disorder, with two subtypes of each, leading to six total subtypes of SPD. It is important to note that it isn’t unusual for these subtypes to occur in combination.
The six subtypes of SPD are:
- Sensory Modulation Disorder: 1) over-responsitivity, 2) under-responsivity, 3) sensory craving
- Sensory Based Motor Disorder: 1) Postural Disorder, 2) Dyspraxia
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Sensory Modulation Disorder
- Difficulty regulating responses to sensory input – responses are not adjusted to the situation
- Difficulty achieving and maintaining an optimal level of arousal and adapting to challenges in daily life
- Must be severe enough to disrupt ability to adapt to challenges in daily life
Children with Sensory Modulation Disorder are either over-responsive, under-responsive, or sensory craving.
Children who are over-responsive respond too much, too frequently, or for too long to sensory stimuli, can be aggressive or impulsive when overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, are irritable, fussy, or moody, and are unsociable, anxious, withdrawn, excessively cautious, and upset by transitions and unexpected changes. These children usually respond well to calming activities like deep touch pressure and proprioceptive input (heavy work, brushing/joint compressions, etc.).
Children who are under-responsive are uninterested in exploring games, objects, or the world around him/her, passive quiet, and withdrawn, difficult to engage in conversation, easily lost in his own fantasy world, apathetic and easily exhausted, excessively slow to respond to directions or complete assignments. These children need activities for increasing arousal, activating muscle tone, challenging core stability, and practicing balance reactions.
Kids with sensory craving want much more stimuli than most people but become more disorganized when they receive it. These children are helped by having lots of activity, but make sure it is purposeful and interrupted movement.
Sensory Based Motor Disorder
The two types of SBMD are Postural Disorder and Dyspraxia.
- Poor postural tone and/or poor stability
- Poor endurance and tires easily
- Slumps over when writing
- Poor balance and falls over easily, even when seated
- Does not consistently use his dominant hand
Children with Postural Disorder may appear lazy, unmotivated, or indifferent, weak and limp, tire easily or appear tired most of the time, give up when challenged physically (and often cognitively), and have difficulty with physical endurance especially in competitive games. These children are helped with multisensory input, especially proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation to enhance muscle activation, and they need to do activities that improve their core stability and that engage both sides of the body.
Children with Dyspraxia are clumsy, awkward, or accident prone, have difficulty keeping personal space organized, have difficulty with multi-step motor activities, may not have had age appropriate motor milestones, and have difficulty with sports and/or handwriting.
They may also:
- Prefer fantasy games and talking to doing
- Prefer sedentary activities, not active play
- Have a messy or sloppy eating and a disheveled appearance
- Be frustrated when unable to complete tasks due to poor motor skills
- Lack self-esteem
- Be extremely smart
- Be able to talk, but can’t do
Activities that help children with Dyspraxia include those that experiment with many variations of activities, are games with specific directions of body parts in space, and should grow towards planning and executing a sequence of actions.
Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Children with Sensory Discrimination Disorder have difficulty interpreting stimuli. They may have trouble distinguishing exactly where something touches their bodies, judging how much force is required for a task, identifying and distinguishing similar sounds and letters, and difficulty following directions. They may get lost easily, refuse to play with puzzles or other visually detailed games, need directions repeated, and need more time than other children to perform tasks.
I definitely see a combination of issues in my daughter. Having this information has helped me to better understand her behavior and to be more dedicated to helping her with sensory regulation.
What are your thoughts on the six subtypes of SPD?
More posts in this series:
- Sensory Conference: Strategies for Regulation with Dr. Lucy Jane Miller
- Sensory Conference: Perception is Reality with Paula Aquilla
- Sensory Conference: Sensory Integration Fun with Paula Aquilla
Please join me for more informational posts, product reviews, and giveaways for Autism Awareness Month. You can find all the links as they go live on the landing page.
Disclosure: I received free registration from Future Horizons to the Sensory Conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I paid my own travel expenses and was not required to write positively about my experiences. All opinions are my own. I received no further compensation for this series of posts.