A Sensory Processing Disorder is neurologically based and causes difficulties with taking in, processing, and responding to environmental stimuli. It occurs when sensory signals are not received through the senses in an organized way. A sensory disorder can cause inappropriate responses, behavioral problems, anxiety, and challenges in performing everyday tasks. Experiencing food selectivity (picking eating), abnormal pain sensations, sensory integration and self-regulatory issues are typically a part of the picture. This condition used to be called sensory integration dysfunction. Some people with sensory processing disorder is oversensitive to things in their environment. In a condition called Misophonia, familiar sounds may be painful or overwhelming. Sometimes the light touch of a shirt or a blade of grass may irritate or chafe the skin. Individuals with sensory processing disorder may lack coordination, are unable to tell where their limbs are in space and have difficulty engaging in conversation and play. Sensory processing problems are usually identified in children but can also be present in adults. These problems are common in those with developmental disorders like autism.
Sensory Processing (Integration) Disorders (SPD) are not recognized in the DSM-5; and as dictated by the Academy of Pediatrics, “it should not be given as a diagnosis by pediatricians.” However, many will agree that it is a genuine condition. If you suspect your child may be suffering from SPD, I highly recommend The Out-Of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, and The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book by Tara Delaney.
Autism Spectrum Disorders & Sensory Issues Are On The Rise
We are facing an epidemic. The number of children diagnosed with autism or a related disorder has grown exponentially, and a crisis of epidemic proportion. In 1975, about one out of every 5,000 children had autism. Today, one in every thirteen children have a life-threatening food allergy, and even more, have numerous food sensitivities. According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorders are now affecting 1 in 68 children. Some estimate that it is closer to 1 in 45 boys. Also, 1 in every ten boys take medication for ADHD; the CDC reports that as much as 1 in 6 children have a developmental disorder. Also, research studies conducted by the SPD Scientific Work Group suggest that 1 in every six children experience sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday living. Numbers like this was unheard of a few decades ago. All of these disorders are closely tied.
Traditionally, sensory processing disorders, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders get diagnosed by occupational therapists or psychotherapists such as myself, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who recommend traditional therapy and medications to address neurological symptoms. Parents are told that their child’s diagnosis is complex and multifactorial; and a result of genetic, psychological and others factors widely unknown. Most doctors are taught to treat the emotional and mental component of these disorders with medication. And, the physical or medical issues these children often share are rarely noted or discussed. Some of those include eczema, asthma, chronic illness, gastrointestinal distress, food sensitivities, yeast overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, hypoglycemia, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalances, and sleep disturbances. Typically, proper testing also reveals high levels of heavy metal and environmental toxins relative to neurotypical children.
Environmental Factors Leading To The Increase - It's Not Genetics Alone
The issues are systemic. We are living in a toxic world. These pollutants are integrated into every aspect of our lives from the toxins in our atmosphere, to the foods we eat to the medications we take to the clothes we wear to the cosmetics we use. We are poisoning ourselves, and the consequences are starting to show with the incredible rise of neurological issues, and diseases like cancer, asthma, diabetes, and many autoimmune disorders like autism.
The environment in which we live and breathe, pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods, heavy metal and the chemicals we eat and inject have a direct influence on the expression of our genetic code, by altering the expression of genetic information. In the study of disease, researchers in the field of epigenetics are increasingly finding that the “turning “on or off” our genes are preventing us from detoxing these toxins effectively. These mutations inhibit the body’s ability to digest food, transport substances between cells, and utilizing essential nutrients appropriately.
When we seek help from a naturopath, Defeat Autism Now doctor, Integrative Neurologist, Functional Medicine Doctor or a Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs physician, it becomes more apparent. Testing reveals that many of our children have numerous genetic mutations. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Accumulating evidence points to the involvement of epigenetic modifications as foundational in creating ASD pathophysiology.”
Processed food, as well as our soil, is entirely void of any whole food nutrients. When tested we discover, most of the persons with such disorders are deficient in important brain minerals, vitamins and amino acids that create our feel-good hormones and help our brain fire properly. Remember: Bad gasoline causes engine damage and poor performance, and an empty gas tank cannot run at all.
15 Holistic Approaches For Addressing Sensory Issues
Although we are all bio-individual and it is never a one-size-fits-all, and there is no magic bullet, here are the top 15 recommendations:
1. Find a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor that can conduct a complete metabolic workup and reinforce the importance of gut healing. Gut health is a critical component in my day-to-day conversation with those who are trying to heal themselves and their children. A workup would include testing for metabolic, immunologic and digestive conditions. Unfortunately, only addressing one piece of the puzzle yields a less than favorable outcome.
2. Cook and eat organic whole – nutrient dense food from the earth and less from a box. A good start is to eliminate all processed food from the diet and limit exposure to as many environmental toxins as possible. Food additives & environmental triggers contribute to a child's sensory, attention, mood, focus, and sleep issues. Avoidance of MSG, food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, aspartame, BHT, and BHA in food.
3. Clean up your home environment. The most effective way to reduce the number of neurotoxic chemicals in your environment is to clean with natural products such as vinegar, lemon, baking soda, and castile soap. Avoid burning toxic candles, or using Teflon coated cookware, and parabens, phthalates, BPA, formaldehyde, and dioxin to can help ease neurological sensitivity.
4. Identify and treat mineral deficiencies. Numerous studies have shown evidence of mineral deficiencies in children with ADHD and beyond namely zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and selenium. In the case of SPD, magnesium and potassium deficiency are often linked to fatigue, weakness, irritability, and sensory integration issues as well as depression, and anxiety. Minerals help to send signals through the nervous system.
5. Investigate potential heavy metal toxicity. Toxicity caused by heavy metals such as aluminum and others can promote neurological malfunction including sensory issues. Being familiar with these metals and appreciating the importance of detoxification is hugely beneficial for resolving neurological conditions. Caveat: Heavy metal detoxification should never be attempted without a qualified doctor or practitioner. Supporting the gut, liver, and kidneys is essential. Homeopathy is a gentle, yet effective way to help eliminate the toxic burden.
6. See a functional medicine Lyme literate practitioner about PANS/PANDAS. One of the many neurological symptoms of Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric is sensory processing issues. PANS/PANDAS is caused by a weak immune system not being able to handle Lyme Disease, a Strep infection, Epstein Barr, Mold and other pathogens. If you suspect brain encephalitis due to viral/bacterial load, I highly recommend the book, Brain Under Attack written by the board members of Epidemic Answers.
7. Seek out a homeopathic physician. Homeopaths have been addressing “sensational” individuals by assessing each person’s individual history, illnesses and response to stimuli to formulate a treatment plan with the goal of helping the immune system and brain chemistry reset itself. Homeopathic remedies such as Nux Vomica is used to treat irritability, impatience, digestive ailments, insomnia, and sensory integration issues. Mineral cell salts also They stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms to satisfy mineral imbalances.” A couple of useful cell salt remedies to have around is Silicea (Sil) for noise and light sensitivity as well as, Kali Phosphoricum (Kali Phos) which is widely used in the homeopathic remedy for anxiety, depression, sleep, irritability, and ADHD symptoms.
8. Eat healthy fat such as fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. 60% of our brain is made up of fat. So, it is no surprise that a deficiency can lead to neurological issues. There is mounting evidence that eating sardines and supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids can help lessen depression, ADHD, and sensory issues.
9. Investigate the MAO-A genetic mutation. Monoamine oxidase is the enzyme that should break down the neurotransmitters, and when it is faulty, it can lead to If an individual has the MAO-A mutation balancing and regulating serotonin levels becomes a critical factor in managing people with aggression and sensory system imbalances such as touch, sound, etc. The herb Ginko Biloba, riboflavin and high-quality B complex supplements are sometimes suggested.
10. Work with an occupational therapist to help retrain the senses by using a sensory integration approach, and address primitive reflex integration. The reflexes are vitally important for the proper development of the brain, nervous system, and sensory systems. If these reflexes have not dropped off in the first two years of life, it can adversely impact a child’s development and can lead to a sensory processing disorder.
11. Look into brain training therapies. Research has shown that the brain has a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity. Brain therapy training such as neurofeedback, integrative reflex, Auditory Integration Training (AIT) and Brain Balance TherapyTM can make a world of difference.
12. Seek out a Behavioral Optometrist. The eyes and brain work in partnership to interpret the world. Much of our sensory input is visual. Motor planning problems, lack of eye contact, focusing issues, coordination and depth perception, and even learning, reading difficulties and dyslexia can be a result of convergence issues and visual field deficits. Eye exercises and Syntonic Phototherapy is used very successfully for a variety of visual processing difficulties and should be explored.
13. Therapeutic massage, cranial sacral therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and other bodywork practices are also worth a try. When a sensory processing disorder occurs, it is like there is a short circuit in the processing machine. Light manipulation allows the body to gently realign all systems to help facilitate better communication between the body and the brain. The goal is to balance the autonomic nervous system and to improve the neural connections so that the sensory and motor components of the central nervous system interact more successfully.
14. Be consistent with your treatment therapies, strategies and goals. Treating sensory processing issues takes a change in lifestyle changes permeability and other issues may take time, hard work and perseverance. E.g., If you need to eliminate certain offending foods as part of the protocol – cheating will delay the healing process!
15. And the most important advice I can give is to TRUST YOUR Intuition! You know your child and your own body best. Our intuition is our best guide!