How easy is it to tell the difference between ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD)?
Both make kids bouncy and inattentive. Both can cause learning disabilities. Up to 50 conditions mimic ADHD, and SPD is one of them. Time magazine is calling SPD “the new ADHD” — missing the point that maybe it’s the old ADHD!
The problem with ADHD is that it is diagnosed by observation, not by tests. So it’s all in the interpretation.
A neuro-different kid with a grab-bag of behaviour and attentional issues is more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis than anything else. The diagnosing practitioner is usually very, very insistent.
Will a trial of stimulants to “prove” whether or not it’s ADHD?
Unlikely. Stimulants work for everyone. Ritalin is a more popular drug than opioids on college campuses–because it helps with all-nighters and long reports.
So ritalin isn’t “proof” of anything.
Also, stimulants have significant side effects, some of them long-term. Kids with SPD have heightened sensory responses and anxiety, so they can end up developing tic disorders and paranoia.
My opinion — meds are not a route to take unless you know the kid has ADHD and nothing else has worked.
So what’s the difference between ADHD and sensory processing disorder?
There is no short answer. But here are some points to consider:
- SPD is still controversial. I don’t know why, but it is. Many psychs don’t “believe” in it. But most psychs believe in ADHD. Hence the high rate of ADHD diagnosis.
- Occupational therapists who specialize in sensory problems are best at diagnosing SPD. In fact, they’re the only ones who really know what it is. So see the psych, then see the OT, then decide who’s right.
- Just to make it more complicated, a kid can have both ADHD and SPD. Or SPD and LD (learning disabilities), which can look like ADHD. So having one doesn’t cross out the other.
- Was your kid grouchy as a baby? Did the colic never end? This suggests a possible sensory problem.
- Is your kid left-handed or no-handed? Big clue. SPD kids often have handedness issues.
- If the kid does not have a learning disability, then lean toward SPD. ADHD is a learning disability condition. It’s probably not ADHD if school grades are good and attention for things he/she likes is fine, even if he/she has the behaviour of a gibbon and a mind perched in a different galaxy.
- Consider sensory integration programming, regardless.It’s extremely helpful to ADHD kids, even if they aren’t classic SPD.