Sensing trouble

March 1, 2010

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Most people have some sort of sensory processing issues or pet peeves, from disliking loud parties to being bothered by the feel of a turtleneck. It’s when those problems interfere with everyday life or become extremely distressing that sensory processing disorder may be the cause and occupational therapy could be warranted. Symptoms to watch for:

■ Over-sensitivity to stimulation such as touch, taste, sounds, or odors

■Strong dislike of baths, haircuts, or nail cutting

■ Using an inappropriate amount of force when handling objects, writing, or interacting with siblings or pets

■ Clumsiness and frequent bumps, bruises, or falls

■ Difficulty learning new movement tasks, following instructions, or sequencing the steps of an activity

■ Lack of enjoyment in age-appropriate motor activities such as swinging, climbing, sports, drawing, assembling puzzles, or writing

■ Difficulty with balance, perhaps becoming disoriented or fearful on elevators or escalators

■ Extreme sensitivity to texture and temperature of food

■ Tendency to lean against things or slump in a chair

■ Dislike of being in crowds or accidental jostling while waiting in line, for example, or shopping in a store

■ Low tolerance for being approached from behind or touched unexpectedly

■ Difficulty with physical closeness, hugs, or cuddling

■ Difficulty focusing attention, or being over-focused and unable to shift to the next task.

Sources:, the website of the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation; Jane Koomar and Sarah Sawyer of Occupational Therapy Associates-Watertown; and Kathy Carley, of Project CHILLD, a Beverly-based occupational therapy clinic.

A catalog of psychiatric disease

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used to diagnose mental and developmental abnormalities such as autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. The manual has been revised three times since 1952, and the fifth edition is being drafted now for release in 2013.

Twelve conditions that weren’t included in the manual’s fourth edition, published in 1994, are being considered for inclusion this time, including sensory processing disorder, Internet addiction, seasonal affective disorder, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Insurance companies generally cover disorders that are included in the manual, and more research funding is available. Plus, there is more public awareness and acceptance of the disorders on the list, making proper diagnosis more likely.

The American Psychiatric Association, which produces the manual, wants to hear from parents about sensory processing disorder.

“We’re eager to get both their experience with that particular disorder,’’ said Dr. Darrel Regier, director of the association’s division of research, “and why an additional diagnosis in this area would be important to them.’’

Learn more about the manual or register to comment at

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