ADHD Misdiagnosis and Sensory Processing Disorder


Of the more than 50 things that can act just like or mimic ADHD, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is one of the more difficult ones to explain to parents and to fully understand.

Sensory processing disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes a child to have difficulty absorbing, figuring what to do with, and appropriately responding to what his or her senses tell about what’s going on in the environment or within their own body.

Senses that might be affected include:

  • Taste (gustatory)
  • Touch (tactile)
  • Smell (olfactory)
  • Sight (Visual )
  • Hearing (auditory)
  • Vibratory (vestibular)
  • Positional (proprioception).

A child suffering SPD may have deficits in one or more of the seven senses and the level of impairment might be so mild as to be hard to detect or so severe as to cause a disability in academic and social situations. Each deficit can cause the SPD child to show behaviors that are often confused with and cause ADHD misdiagnosis!

What types of problems do these kids have?

  • Difficulty planning and organizing just about everything
  • Impulsivity related to a need for stimulation-sensory input
  • Inattentiveness due to withdrawal and avoidance of sensory input felt to be annoying
  • Problems playing with others or engaging in social activities without being intrusive or pushy

These are just a few of the reasons SPD are mistakenly diagnosed and labeled as ADHD. I’m sure you can see how that could happen!

The cause of SPD is unknown and there is currently no cure. However, effective therapies are available that allow an SPD child to learning coping skills that allow for more normal integration into school, social settings and work places.

Key Note! ADHD and sensory processing disorder can co-exist! We call the association a co-morbid condition and recognize that any child suffering both will probably have many more behavior problems that children suffering only one condition.

In my next post we’ll discover more details about SPD and touch on how to detect it at an early stage when therapy is most likely to be successful.

Dr. Frank

You might wish to take a look at this excellent book on sensory integration disorder (same thing as SPD) and childhood social skills. Raising a Sensory Smart Child, by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske

To get an idea of how sensory deficits can affect kids, please take a look at this article:
“Autism May Be Caused By Sound Processing Problems” 

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