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Ask Dr. Lucy

By Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR
Founder and Executive Director, SPD Foundation
Director, STAR (Sensory Therapies And Research) Center

Q: What is the relationship between Emotional Behavior Disordered kids (SIED if you will) and children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

A: Children with emotional disorders may demonstrate over or under reactivity to the physical environment, to people, and to situations that do not go as planned. However, they are not specifically sensitive to sensory stimulation e.g. sounds, touch, movement, etc. We do see children with emotional problems become over aroused and over-excitable with activity, at times. However, the kids with emotional problems are not "driven" by their sensory reactions to their environment and bodies as much as they are driven by their anger, aggression, anxiety, depression and similar emotions. Children with both sensory and emotional issues have behavioral responses that include a range of "fight, flight or freeze" reactions such as aggression, withdrawal, tuning out, or becoming disorganized and moving around continuously. Both sets of children have social issues including difficulty forming relationships, difficulty interacting appropriately with same aged peers, and/or trying to control events. However, children with SPD are reacting specifically to sensory stimulation external to themselves or within their bodies. Children with emotional issues have had traumatic events, life situations, or sometimes genetic predispositions which cause their dysregulation.

Q: Do you recommend typical OT-SI intervention for a child with emotional problems?

A: I do recommend occupational therapy, by a pediatric therapist trained in psychiatry. Sensory activities may or may not be a part of that therapy.











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