For some children, playing in the dirt or attending a noisy birthday party feels like the ultimate form of punishment. That’s because, for these children, a sensory processing disorder (SPD) may affect the way they interact with the rest of the world in a major way. And when it’s time to introduce these kids to the bright, noisy expanse of a classroom, parents may be understandably wary. Because SPD may affect your child so strongly,you may wonder if sensory processing disorder is a learning disability. This question is straightforward, but the answer is anything but.
As a quick review, sensory processing disorder is a condition that makes it difficult to interpret and respond to information from the five senses, as noted in WebMD. The signs of sensory processing disorder in kids include clumsiness, strong food texture preferences, and difficulty engaging in play. In general, persons with sensory processing disorder are over- or under-stimulated by everyday sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations.
Although this condition may present all kinds of obstacles for kids in a classroom, the way SPD is currently understood and categorized prevents it from being considered an official leaning disability. For starters, there is dispute over whether SPD should be categorized as a disorder at all. And because SPD is still being researched and not listed as a condition in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), no one can be officially diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, as explained in Child Mind. Sure, your occupational therapist or social worker may informally treat your child for the symptoms of SPD, but it is not yet considered an official diagnosis or condition.
What’s more, sensory processing disorder is also not categorized as an official learning disability. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), learning disabilities are neurological conditions that make the acquisition of knowledge and skills particularly difficult. As further explained by the LDA, conditions such as dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and language processing disorder are specifically considered learning disabilities. So although a sensory processing disorder may interfere with your child’s ability to learn and function in a traditional classroom setting, SPD does not qualify as a designated learning disability at this time. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), SPD alone will not qualify your child for special education services.
Of course it’s important for experts to carefully consider the factors that make up a true learning disorder, and these reviews take time. Unfortunately, there are plenty of children with SPD symptoms who are struggling in the classroom right now. They probably don’t care whether they have an official disability or not; they just want to understand their lessons. How can you help these kids in the meantime?
There are two broad approaches you can take to get your child official help with sensory processing issues at school. First, be aware that SPD often overlaps with other conditions such as AHDH or autism. If your school is able to test your child for other conditions that are covered by IDEA, then you may be able to secure an Individualized Education Program that provides occupational therapy, as noted by Understood. This therapy may also help address the SPD issues that interfere with your child’s ability to learn. As further explained by Understood, you may be able to get a 504 plan for your child without an additional diagnosis, as these offerings tend to be less restrictive.
Granted, all of this may feel like you have to go around your elbow to get to your thumb. And yes, a lot hinges on official labels and diagnoses. But the end goal — providing a quality education for your child — is worth the hassle.