On February 19, PBS aired an investigative report that stated Adam Lanza, the young man who killed 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in December, had been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) when he was a child. ABC.com contacted the SPD Foundation the day before the story aired asking us to provide information about SPD. Dr. Lucy Jane Miller explained SPD and the vital importance of support for the individuals and families impacted by this disorder. Read the full story at ABC.com.
Although we deplore the reason SPD has now come into the national spotlight, we appreciate the opportunity to explain SPD, and how parents and their children with SPD need the support of the educational and medical communities.
There is so little information about Adam Lanza’s diagnostic conditions and any treatments he may have received. We want everyone to know that SPD is real and that there are effective treatments. Most important, there is no direct correlation between sensory issues and the type of aggression and violence exhibited by Adam Lanza.
SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER DOES NOT CAUSE PREMEDITATED VIOLENCE
Adam Lanza, the young man who committed the atrocity in Newtown, CT, has been the subject of intense investigation by the media.
Adam was identified with Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (previously labeled sensory integration dysfunction) as a young child. SPD is a neurological condition that affects approximately 1 in 20 individuals. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.
SPD is not autism or ADHD or anxiety disorder. It is a separate condition, although it can co-occur with a wide variety of other disorders.
Individuals with SPD do not resort to guns and premeditated acts. Some children with SPD do have aggressive symptoms caused by the way their bodies process “fight or flight,” the brain’s natural and automatic response to stressful or dangerous situations. For example, a child with sensory over-responsive SPD (one of the six subtypes) who is bumped from behind standing in line at school may have an instantaneous reflex to protect himself by “fighting” back, causing him to turn around and push or hit the child who bumped him. The child would not harbor anger and “get even” at a later, more opportune, time.
SPD DOES NOT CREATE DANGEROUS LONERS
For some children with SPD their natural “fight or flight” response is flight. These children may find social situations too stressful and withdraw. They may have difficulty making friends and playing with others. They are unhappy, but they do not have fantasies about murdering others.
SPD CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY TREATED
The younger a child is when treatment is obtained, the more flexible the brain is to change. Research shows that SPD can be remediated with appropriate treatment. Treatment must educate/coach the caretakers as well as impact the child’s ability to maintain a calm state, to engage with others, and to respond typically to sensory input.
FAMILIES LIVING WITH CHILDREN WHO HAVE SPD NEED SUPPORT AND SERVICES
Recently the American Psychiatric Association’s committee on diagnosis turned down an eighteen-year effort to get SPD accepted into the fifth edition of the diagnostic guidebook, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). Since 1994, when the previous version of the guidebook was published (DSM-IV), the SPD Foundation has focused on stimulating rigorous research as the method to show that SPD is a real diagnosis, different from other conditions. Clearly, this scientific approach was not enough; an advocacy effort is needed to bring awareness and acceptance of SPD and the need for treatment to parents, teachers and the medical community
SPD IS REAL
Families of children with SPD are suffering. They deserve assistance and support. Three keys to success include: (1) early intervention; (2) parent education and coaching; and intensive treatment (3 to 5 days a week) for several months.
SPD SHOULD BE TREATED AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
Parents often know when something is wrong or different in their young child. Problems can be identified at pre-school, at medical check-ups, or by comparing a child to the children in other families as well. Personnel at schools know which children are suffering from social isolation and depression. They do not know which students have violent fantasies but they do know those who do not ‘fit’ into school roles, are alone, are bullied, and are unhappy. Society needs to direct resources into these unfortunate individuals and their families.
SPD CAUSES PAIN AND SUFFERING.
BUT SPD DOES NOT CAUSE VIOLENCE, KILLING, AND SOCIAL ATROCITIES.