Sensory integration disorder, also called sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a controversial, little known problem in children. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, SPD is a problem in the way the nervous system receives sensory information and processes it into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. A lot of kids may be affected – perhaps as many as one in five. Some cases are severe enough to disrupt daily life and stall development.
Sometimes only one sense is affected – touch or taste or sight – but some kids have multiple sensory issues. For example, some children find the touch of clothing unbearable while others may not respond normally to sound or pain or to hot or cold temperatures. The cause of this disorder isn’t known, although some research suggests that genetic factors or complications before or during birth may play a role. Unhappily, these kids are often misdiagnosed, if they’re diagnosed at all. Those who overreact to stimuli might be mistakenly tagged with the label of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although these kids are of normal, sometimes superior, intelligence, they may have difficulty in school, become socially isolated, or suffer from low self-esteem.
Treatment focuses on occupational therapy to foster appropriate responses to sensation so that kids can function normally at home, in school and with friends. As far as food and nutrition are concerned, my main recommendation would be omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil, which has been used to help relieve the symptoms of ADHD in children. Consult your child’s pediatrician for the correct dose. Some of these kids give new meaning to the term “picky eater” by resisting whole food groups, which can compromise their nutritional status. If so, they’ll need supplements for normal growth and development. Nutrients that may play a role in sensory integration disorder are vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, and protein. Here, too, check with a pediatrician for correct dosages before giving a child supplements. Food allergies, food sensitivities and blood sugar regulation (especially in relation to excessive sugar consumption) may be involved, as may gastrointestinal issues related to proper absorption and elimination. To deal with sensory integration disorder, you need a knowledgeable and sympathetic physician familiar with this problem, an experienced occupational therapist and, perhaps, other health professionals. (To find providers with expertise, log onto the directory of the SPD Foundation. With the right help, SPD kids do very well, even excel.
Andrew Weil, M.D.