Sunday, January 31, 2016

Do You Have ADHD, SPD or Both?

Do you find yourself easily distracted or hyperactive and also startle when the phone rings and jump when someone touches your shoulder?  If so, you might have ADHD, officially diagnosed or self-diagnosed, and sensory processing disorder?  This is not unusual. There’s a lot of overlap between SPD and ADHD.  

Both can cause you to be:
·      Distracted
·      Impulsive
·      Hyperactive
·      Disorganized
·      Anxious
·      Socially awkward
·      Depressed

So the question is -- how do they differ?  This is hotly debated. Researcher and OT Lucy Miller, fortunately has identified ways to distinguish ADHD from SPD.
Those with ADHD,
·      Cannot stop impulsive behavior regardless of sensory input
·      Crave novelty and activity that is not necessarily related to specific sensations.
·      Do not become more organized after receiving intense sensory input.
·      Have difficulty waiting or taking turns.
·      Wait or takes turns better with cognitive than sensory input.
·      Tend to talk all the time, impulsively interrupting, and have trouble waiting for turn in any conversation.
·      Stimulating meds work with ADHD but not with SPD
So do you have ADHD or SPD or both?
Actually Lucy Miller found around 50 to 70% to have both. For instance, ADHD children commonly demonstrate aggression, sensation seeking, and tactile sensitivity, suggesting sensory modulation difficulties, as well as clumsiness, dyspraxia and sensitivity to movement (poor vestibular processing) and become easily dizzy.
But it’s also possible that in some cases ADHD is mimicking SPD and mistaken for SPD. 
Ways ADHD Mistaken for SPD
Noise:  If noise distracts you, it is hard to concentrate and focus on what you are reading.  
Seeing:  If your brain scrambles what you see, you may ignore, or have difficulty following written instructions and seem distracted.
Hearing:  If your brain scrambles what you hear, you may ignore, or have difficulty following verbal instructions and seem distracted.
Sensory defensiveness:  If you are bothered by the tags in your shirt or, when you were a child other children sitting too close to you, you will squirm, wiggle or jump about and appear hyperactive. If you are auditory defensive, noise makes it hard to concentrate and focus. If you are visually defensive, hypersensitivity to lights, patterns, and movement make it hard to focus.
Overstimulation:  If your work environment overwhelms you with people too close, constant chatter, buzzing fluorescent lights, intense colors, and cold air conditioning, your mind will be in a fog and, finding it hard to make sense of what you see, hear, or feel, you appear spacey. 
Sensation seeking:  If you are a sensation seeker, you get too easily bored to focus on anything but the next buzz and might appear hyperactive and distracted. This is because your cortex lacks sufficient dopamine to engage in the world and you seek activity to boost it. 
Hypo-responsiveness:  If you are hypo-responsive to sensation, you tune out to your world easily and may not pay attention, appearing unfocused and out of it and have poor memory.
Discerning whether you have SPD, only ADD, or both conditions is crucial as the treatments differ. For instance, if distractibility and hyperactivity result from SPD, taking the psycho-stimulant Ritalin has no effect and it will delay your progress as the sensory issues that underlie the behavior will persist. 
Treating ADHD & SPD
Stimulating Meds -Helps with ADHD but ineffective with SPD.
FYI:  One of the ways to know if you have SPD misdiagnosed as ADHD is whether or not the meds work.
Sensori-Motor InterventionsHelps both SPD and ADHD. 
FYI:  Studies show interventions such as deep pressure and strenuous exercise can significantly improve problem behaviors such as restlessness, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
CBT - Helps change thinking patterns and self-defeating   thoughts in both ADHD & SPD.
Talk Therapy - Helps both those with SPD & ADHD to feel better understood and validated, building self-esteem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Power of Keeping a Gratitude Journal

If you don't think every day is a good day, just try missing one. 
~Cavett Robert

Neuroscience has a saying, "What fires together wires together." Those of us with SPD can be filled with negative, "I can't do it," "I'm stupid," "I'll never succeed," thoughts. But these thoughts perpetuate in our brain negative feedback loops and, focusing more on what we don’t have than on what we do have we feel too discouraged to take action. 
If we can learn to feel grateful for what we do have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t have and take on an attitude of gratitude, we will feel encouraged to take action to change our life. Once we do, we will break this negative feedback pattern and our life will take on different meaning and perspective.
How can we do this? Do what Oprah and Lady Gaga do:  keep a gratitude journal. Every night, make it a habit to write at least 5 things you are grateful for.  And it doesn’t have to be something life changing.  Simple joys will do, like seeing a rainbow or snowfall, watching an inspiring movie or having the will power to pass up that chocolate candy bar and so forth. Over time this will rewire your brain into a more "I can do it and I'm going to take the action to do so" mode.
Here are some ideas of what you can be grateful for when nothing extraordinary has happened in your life that day.
  • I am grateful for my kids, mate, or a loved one;
  • I am thankful for my dog’s unconditional love;
  • I am grateful that I live in a democratic society;
  • I am thankful for all my good friends;
  • I am grateful to have a considerate quiet co-worker;
  • I am thankful I didn’t get the flu that’s going around;
  • I am grateful for eating healthy today.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How Art Can Change Your Brain at Any Age

I suffered visual spatial processing problems my whole life, as well as slow auditory processing. As I was bright, I compensated well enough and problems were never picked up. Nevertheless, I felt dumb and my family thought I was dumb.  
In my youth, I took years of dancing, mostly jazz. In class, you learn a dance routine taught in sequential small sequences. By the end of the class, the students are joyfully dancing away, the steps learned and automatic. My brain did not translate what the teacher’s feet were doing into my feet and I had great difficulty learning even a small sequence. By the end of the class, I was still struggling to figure it out and each step took effort. Needless to say, I never made it to Broadway. 
At age 60, I became an avid painter and painted virtually daily for hours. I painted mostly from my imagination and without formal training and it would often take me months to finally get a face to look like a face, as I continually reworked the shape, mouth, nose and eyes. Six years after I started painting, I began Zumba classes. Amazingly, I picked up the steps immediately as the teacher demonstrated and danced away! No lag. No effort. All the hours spent figuring out space on a small canvas had grown loads of brain highways that rewired the visual cortex in my brain and greatly improved my visual spatial processing.  
The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks proves false. Granted, neuroplasticity doesn’t happen overnight.  You must persist, persist, persist. 
If you like to dabble with colors, you don't have to be an artist to experience the joy of colors. Just buy one of the now popular adult coloring books.  
To see more of my paintings, check out my website.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Could You Have SPD? Good Chance If You Are Uptight & Off Center

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is more and more in the news but still not well understood. A common misconception is that it exists largely in special needs children who are hypersensitive to sensation. For instance, they jump at a loud noise and rip out labels in their clothing.

But this description is misleading.  In fact, SPD is quite common in all age groups and all levels of functioning. Nor is it confined to hypersensitivity. Basically, you have SPD if: 
  • Some sensations drive you up a wall or, the converse, you seek pounding music, flashing lights and heavy perfumes.
  • You have two left feet and move little, or you can’t sit still and fly all over the place.
  • You avoid exercise like the plague.
  • You put on the pounds from looking at chocolate cheesecake.
  • You confuse right from left.
  • You get dizzy easily.
  • You find everything an effort.
  • You can’t get around the block without a GPS.
  • You feel feel jumpy and anxious.
  • You suffer addictions.

Does any of this sound like you?  If so, good chance that you’ve never gotten diagnosed but instead have been treated for anxiety, panic, OCD, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and so on as mental health issues go hand in hand with SPD.  

Before you pop another pill, find out first if SPD could be the cause of your mental health issues or at least be greatly contributing to them. Surf the internet and read up on SPD and all its many manifestations and treatments.  In a nutshell, if you are "uptight" and "off center," you likely have SPD. 

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Too Loud, Too Bright,Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in anoverstimulating world and Uptight& Off Center, How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance& how to create stability.  Her website is and email