Because of the lack of long distance communication between their cerebullum and frontal lobes, SPD and autism can lead to children being overwhelmed by noise or conversely needing music played at all hours of the day. Like I mentioned above, some children may refuse physical contact, while others might touch every object they encounter. Some children will only eat mild foods with similar consistencies, whereas others will crave spicy foods with a variety of flavors.
Therefore, it’s true that children who have autism or SPD demonstrate similar behaviors. There is, however, an essential difference between children on the autistic spectrum and those with SPD. That difference lies in social interaction. Children with autism struggle with connecting emotionally to those around them, whereas those with SPD have no such problems. So, SPD is all about physical struggles whereas autism also has an emotional and social component – and that’s the real difference.
SPD and Academics
The first way that sensory processing disorders affects academics is simply in the child’s ability (or inability) to sit still when there is a plethora of sensory information in a classroom. Many sensory seeking children cannot help getting up to touch a letter on the bulletin board while over-responsive children will flinch at every noise. In this way, classrooms of twenty-five children or more can make learning difficult for children with SPD.
Carol Stock Kranowitz in her book The Out of Sync Child explains the second way that SPD affects learning:
Your child yanks the cat’s tail, and the cat hisses, arches its back, and spits. Normally, through experience, a child will learn not to repeat such a scary experience. He learns to be cautious. In the future, his behavior will be more adaptive.
The child with SPD, however, may have difficulty “reading cues,” verbal or nonverbal, from the environment. He may not decode the auditory message of the cat’s hostile hissing, the visual message of the cat’s arched back, or the tactile message of spit on his cheek. He misses the “big picture” and may not learn appropriate caution.
While this situation is both dangerous and frightening, it also illustrates a larger issue within academic learning. If your child cannot decode sensations (the pencil is held in his hand in a certain way, the pursing of the lips to form the letter “B,” or the nuanced difference between the phonemes /d/ and /t/), he will have difficulty grasping the concepts essential for elementary reading, writing and math.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of living with a child with SPD is that they are often bright and motivated, yet cannot seem to function in an orderly fashion. For that reason, it is important to remember that the inability to function smoothly is not because the child won’t, but because he can’t. Once you are able to recognize this, helping your child decode and interpret the sensations are him becomes significantly simpler.