I begin with the first article. It starts on page four of the December 2012 issue, the first ever, and its title is "Sensory Processing Disorder."
The first thing they did wrong is make an article in Autism Parenting claim to be just about Asperger's when it is really about the whole Autistic spectrum and some people who aren't even on the spectrum. Something like 80% of Autistic people have sensory processing disorder (SPD), and that holds across all of the subsets.
The initial description of SPD is reasonable, though the anxiety, depression, and school failure described as being possible results "if the disorder is not treated effectively" are quite easily results of many of the therapies used to "treat" SPD as well as possible problems that people with SPD can face. Be very wary of most treatments, as the most effective thing to do is generally to try to avoid sensory triggers. Occupational therapy can be helpful in some cases, but finding ways to avoid triggers (some of which were listed, and those methods are good) is often the better choice. Additionally, while hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity are, in fact, common issues, many sensory processing differences are not as simple as hyper and hyposensitivity. There is also sensory seeking and sensory avoidance, which may or may not match up along the hyper and hyposensitivity lines that you might expect. A person can, in fact, be sensory seeking for something they are hypersensitive to because the sensation is just that good. It can also be more complicated than simple hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity for senses as a whole by way of being more or less sensitive to single sensations, such as my hypersensitivity to mint and hyposensitivity to spices. Both are oral sensations, so calling me simply orally hypersensitive or orally hyposensitive would be incomplete.
As a first introduction to sensory processing disorder, this article is fairly good, though it should make it more clear that this is an autism issue in general as opposed to being just an Asperger's issue and put more emphasis on finding ways to avoid triggers rather than occupational therapy, which often involves forcing triggers onto people while they melt down until it doesn't make them melt down anymore, as in the case of brushing. Some people with sensory processing disorder may, in fact, like brushing, but if it is painful, it is painful and is not acceptable to do to a child.
And finally, here are a few tricks for SPD that I think are important but were not mentioned in the article:
- Mint is actually a pretty common issue. It's a strong sensation, and people either love it or hate it, and a lot of people with SPD fall into the "hate it" camp. Toothpastes that are not mint flavored may be harder to find, but if mint is an issue, this is more than worth the time. Flosses that are not minty may also be a good idea.
- Sometimes knowing that a sensation that triggers sensory issues is coming ahead of time can help. If so, having "gets advanced notice of fire drills" or "is seated facing the clock" as accommodations can help.
- Try all different kinds of toothbrushes. Electric ones are actually worse than manual ones for me, something about the vibration.
- Bring snacks with you, so you can still eat even if all the food you are provided with contains sensory badness.
- Carbonated beverages can be painful. If they are for you or for your kid, bring water or something else you can drink. You have no idea how many times I have gone to social events only to find that every beverage they offer is carbonated, and I can't drink them. Even shaking and stirring to try to make them go "flat" isn't enough.
- If hairbrushing is an issue, get a haircut. Comfort is more important than looks, and anyone who tells you different is to be laughed out the door.
- Certain fabrics can be problems. Which ones will vary from person to person, but don't try to make someone wear a fabric that is a sensory issue. Finding different clothes is worth it.
- Strobe lights can be extremely disorienting, even for those of us who are not officially considered photosensitive. It's not the same level of big deal for us as for a person with photosensitive epilepsy unless we actually have photosensitive epilepsy, but it's still good to avoid. Turn flash off if this is an issue.
- Unscented soaps and deodorants are your friend.
- Tight clothing may be a problem. If so, do not force your kid to wear stockings, leggings, or other tight clothing. Comfort is a prerequisite to being able to function, and it's still more important than looks.
- Footwear can also be interesting. Many people do best with crocs, some with sandals, some barefoot. Try different things if shoes are a problem.
- Along the lines of footwear, some people just can't wear socks. If this is you or your kid, choose shoes accordingly so that you don't get blisters.
- Short of legal regulations such as requiring shirt and shoes to be served and the issue of indecent exposure, all dress codes can be modified for disability. It's no different from the person who has a doctors note saying that they have to wear sneakers instead of dress shoes.
- Carry a stim toy, always. By stim toy I mean something you can use to get a sensation for which you are sensory seeking. Maybe carry multiple. Certainly have one that can be used discretely.
- Puberty doesn't make SPD go away. Whatever the requirements for clothing may have been, expect it to continue, and expect either the same requirements or stricter ones to apply to any new undergarments.