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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

& Sensory Processing Disorder

What’s the difference?

At first, a description of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and can sound the same as a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. Constant fidgeting, difficulty paying attention, getting easily frustrated, being impulsive, having meltdowns in public, difficulty focusing with distractions, playing roughly and taking physical risks can be a sign of BOTH ADHD and SPD. Although ADHD and SPD share similar characteristics, treatment for ADHD and SPD are very different because they address different underlying causes/issues.

A closer examination of a child with SPD will reveal additional symptoms that are NOT likely visible in a child with ADHD (unless the child has both). These SPD symptoms can include:

  • Dislikes being touched
  • Sensitivity to sounds and smells
  • Fears for their safety even when there’s no real danger
  • Difficulty with changes including a new routine or a going to a new place
  • Sensitivity to the way clothing feels
  • Difficulty gauging personal space
  • Seems clumsy or uncoordinated
  • Avoids walking on grass or bumpy surfaces
  • Shows an intense desire or avoidance of swinging or spinning
  • Shows a strong gag response

Some children with SPD will are described as “out of sync”, “hypersensitive” or “anxious” when compared to other children. Other children with SPD may have subtle symptoms that are so similar to developmental behaviors, that they can be mistaken for mere personality quirks.

Can a child have symptoms of both ADHD and SPD?

The short answer is YES. The correlation of ADHD and SPD symptoms is shown by a new national study of children ages 2 to 21 done at the University of Colorado. Parents reported that, of children who showed symptoms of either ADHD or SPD, 40% displayed symptoms of both, according to Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D., director of the Sensory Processing Treatment and Research (STAR) Center at the Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Getting an answer to the question “What’s wrong with my child?” can be harder than many parents expect. However, once you recognize the possibility of SPD in your child, the next step is to locate a knowledgeable professional, usually a trained occupational therapist, to evaluate him.

For more information on sensory processing disorder or questions about your child’s development, please call our office at (704) 821-0568 to speak with one of our licensed Occupational Therapists.

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