Although not yet recognized in the DSM-V, Sensory processing Disorder can be identified and categorized by a occupational therapist with advanced training in sensory processing and integration. Of primary importance is linking sensory impairments to challenges in functioning at home or school.
Identification usually begins with screening, which is basically a professional’s search for red flags that indicate enough differences in development to warrant a more comprehensive assessment. Screening may take place at school, in your doctor's office, or at a private practice clinic. Wherever it occurs, you are likely to be asked to fill out one or more parent checklists and a developmental history to supplement the observations of the evaluators.
If differences exist that are sufficient to warrant further assessment, evaluation will follow. An evaluation for SPD involves standardized testing, detailed clinical observations, and parent-report measures. If a multi-disciplinary team is involved, the evaluative process may also include a general health and physical evaluation, speech/language evaluation, psychological evaluation, and possibly referral to medical or other specialists if a specific problem area is identified.
A standardized assessment allows comparison of a child’s functioning to a normative sample. These assessment procedures are particularly helpful when qualifying a child for services, obtaining a baseline of current functioning, determining strengths and weaknesses and establishing an initial treatment plan. Currently there is no gold standard assessment tool for diagnosing all 6 subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder. There are many evaluation tools available that can provide enough information about a child’s sensory and motor development in order to make a determination of SPD. The most commonly used assessments include:
Other standardized tools are used to supplement the evaluation of sensory and motor processing for children with language challenges or difficulties in social-emotional functioning.
The Sensory Profile, Short Sensory Profile and /or Sensory Processing Measure are screening that are often completed by parents or teachers. These scales are report measures and therefore should not be considered a complete assessment; they only screen for indications that a comprehensive evaluation is needed.
In addition to standardized assessment, all OT evaluations should included detailed observations in a clinical setting to determine strengths and weaknesses in a more ‘real-life’ situation. Sensory modulation challenges (e.g. responsivity to sensory experiences) can also be observed that may be impacting participation in daily life activities and routines. Most also include a thorough interview with parents and/or teachers.
The arguments for early diagnosis are strong, but don't worry if you are the parent of an older child or an adult! A correct diagnosis of SPD fosters understanding at any age, even in adulthood, and many elementary school children, adolescents, and adults benefit from occupational or other therapy after diagnosis later in life.
For more information about treatment, please visit STAR Center, colocated with the SPD Foundation