My 3 yr. old daughter was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder at 24 mo. when I took her to our county board of developmental disabilities for speech therapy. I've read that there is a connection between SPD and autism and I've read that there is no connection between SPD and autism.
In my experience every child/adult on the autistic spectrum has some level of Sensory Processing Disorder, whether that is mild or severe.
But you can have Sensory Processing Disorder without autism as well.
I also believe that Sensory Processing Difficulties will, at some point, be included in the diagnostic criteria for an autistic spectrum disorder. At the moment, for some bizarre reason, it is not included!
What is included is Speech and Communication difficulties which can either be delays or a speech disorder such as Semantic Pragmatic Disorder or Echolalia.
Difficulties with social interaction/social communication that affects the child's ability to socialise and interact. Children on the spectrum can range from appearing oblivious to others, or odd, or can be inappropriate and not leave other children alone. But whether it ranges from 'oblivious' to 'in your face', it is still inappropriate.
Then there are usually difficulties with imagination which does have an effect on their ability to play, rigid behaviours or adherence to routines or rituals, tantrums at change or unexpected outcomes.
So the answer to your question is that you really have to take a broader look at her development. Is she playing and interacting with children her own age. When she is at nursery, at the playground, at a party is she in the middle of it, or is she on the outside and not part 'of the group'.
When you have to leave the house to go to the supermarket or shopping what is she like in that kind of environment?
Are there any other behaviours she has that are of concern to you?
Many professionals do not use Sensory Processing Disorder term and diagnose it as PDD-NOS - which is pervasive developmental disorder (unability to interpret sensory inputs is Pervasive disorder) and thus, bring it under ASD unmbrella.
I have sensory processing problems, also ADD, and mild OCD. I do not have autism, though have a lot of overlapping issues.
My daughter was diagnosed with PDD a few months ago. In addition to the issues/symptoms I have, she has very delayed language and speech and has ritualistic behaviors and routines that are slightly different from OCD. She actually is quite interactive with people but there are differences in how she interacts so she still meets that particular qualification for autism spectrum disorder according to both the public school system and the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed her. She does not understand social cueing. Her eye contact has improved with sensory integration therapy so that it is almost normal. But, she has a lot of problems initializing communication. And using language to communicate. For her she knows vocabulary now, but it's more labeling and she has to be prompted for everything. She is also very echolalic and has problems understanding questions. She does have imaginative play, but it is different than most children her age. She also developed imaginary play at a later age than most kids. So even though she's now doing it, she learned to do it later.
The other thing is that I've learned from therapists and doctors that kids with autism usually develop at different rates, an unevenness of skills. While some things are developmentally behind there are usually some things that children with autism do ahead of time. My daughter knew her entire alphabet in and out of order at 24 months. She could shape and color sort at 18 months when her cousin who had just turned 3 couldn't do it. She knew her numbers early. And now at the age of 3 (recently turned), she is learning how to read both by site reading and also starting to recognize phonix, letter sounds, etc. It is not normal for kids to start learning to read at 3 either, it's quite early. But, she is only just now combining 2 words together, and that even requires prompting usually except for a few set phrases. She's probably more than a year behind on spoken language and receptive language. And she has problems with functional use of language (using language to communicate). But she is social. Even the doctor who diagnosed her said she was social and the therapists who assessed her in the school system, but that kids on the autism spectrum either have a lack of communication or can have differences in how they socialize. That's probably where the differences in diagnosis come in (Typical autism, aspergers, and PDD-not otherwise specified). The way she socializes is that if she sees a kid on a playground, she'll just approach them and start following them around like a lost puppy. Sometimes kids find it endearing that they have a new best friend who will chase them around, and some kids find it incredibly annoying. She also has problems understanding emotions. Like if a kid is crying, sometimes she thinks it is funny and will laugh her head off. She doesn't understand why they are crying, not because she can't empathize... she just doesn't get it. Once a girl was calling out for her mommy and my daughter joined in because she thought it was a game to scream the word mommy over and over (she was laughing the whole time and the poor girl thought my daughter was making fun of her or something). I guess the big thing with our daughter is the ritualistic behaviors in addition to the sensory issues and language delay. You do something in the incorrect order and she will have a meltdown. And she has problems transitioning between activities. Also another element that leads towards meltdowns.
Having a diagnosis of SPD is a good thing. Maybe it's not the accurate diagnosis, or maybe it is... but at least they're in the right ballpark. At least they are dealing with the sensory issues which can be a major thing for kids. And it sounds like they are dealing with the language delay as well. Those are the two things we are focusing on with our daughter. Sensory integration therapy has helped her overcome a lot of things immensely, including helping her language develop. The rituatlistic behaviors we figure are just how her mind works and how she processes things so we haven't really done anything to change her in that way.
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