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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010

Don't confuse defiance with brain 'disorder'


By John Rosemond

On their website www.spdfoundation.net the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation defines SPD (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder) thus: "A condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses." They go on to liken SPD to "a neurological 'traffic jam' that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. 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."

Those are not tentative, "we think" statements. They boldly declare the existence of a brain condition called SPD and they assert its nature. As such, these statements are completely misleading. (The preceding sentence is also declarative.)

The following statements are factual: In the absence of obvious, significant, quantifiable brain deficiency, as would be the case with, say, cerebral palsy, there is no known way of determining that certain otherwise normal children's brains don't organize sensory data appropriately. Therefore, the above statements from SPDF are completely speculative. Therefore, the existence of SPD is completely speculative.

A mother recently tells me that her 4-year-old daughter has been diagnosed (at a prominent hospital clinic) with SPD. (The clinic had recommended therapy, which the parents had not pursued up until asking my advice.) The primary symptom was complaint of her clothes, especially underwear, not feeling right. They itched. They scratched. They felt funny. Almost every morning for the past two years, tantrums have occurred over getting dressed, during which time the father stays in his daughter's room until they find something to wear that feels OK. This trial-and-error process sometimes takes a couple of hours.

Instead of speculating on why this little girl would find certain clothing/fabrics uncomfortable, I focused on what was actually taking place: the child was refusing to get dressed in the morning. That is known as defiance.

I told the parents to strip the little girl's room of everything except essential furniture and clothing. She could sleep with her favorite stuffed animals, but they were to be removed in the morning. All of her toys were henceforth kept in a play room. Her parents then explained that this was not punishment. Rather, "The Doctor" had recommended removing all distractions so she could focus on getting dressed. Furthermore, no one was going to help her get dressed or come to her aid if she had a problem. When she woke up, she had to stay in her room until she was dressed in whatever she wanted to wear. "Take as long as you want," they said.

Two weeks later, I received the following e-mail from Mom: "The very first morning, (daughter) reminded us to remove her sleep toys so she could get dressed. She then put on underwear and clothes and came out for breakfast. She has done this with no tantrums or requests for help since we began two weeks ago."

At this writing, it's been five weeks since this little girl complained of her clothes not feeling right.

I report. You decide.