how we successfully treated Jafta’s sensory processing disorder (SPD)

I haven’t talked much publicly about it, but my oldest child has Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder).  I blogged about our road to diagnosis in this post, and shared the full story in this book.  SPD is a neurological condition that effects how children process sensory input. For some kids, it means that are extremely averse to sensory input . . . they have difficulty tolerating touch, noise, sounds, and new tastes.  For other children, it manifests in sensory seeking – these kids crave more sensory input than typical kids, and their behaviors look very similar to ADHD.  Most children with autism have sensory processing issues (“stimming” is a sensory seeking behavior), and some consider SPD to be on the spectrum of autism.  Children with SPD often have difficulty with balance, coordination, and fine motor tasks like writing, tying shoes, or buttoning shirts.

Jafta’s SPD manifests with a lot of extra movement.  He has a hard time sitting still.  He has poor body boundaries – often falling out of his chair without noticing, or running into others.  I don’t know what it’s like to live in his body, but he often seems like he’s dizzy and trying to get his bearings.  He talks too close, and often too loud, and he’s overly touchy.  This gets mixed reviews from other children – some don’t notice, while others (who are more on the sensory-averse side) are really annoyed by it.  He’s been lucky to make friends with several boys with a similar preference for physicality, but SPD has caused some social problems in the past.  It also resulted in several meetings with the kindergarten teacher last year in regards to the accommodations for his constant movement.

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Last year, we sought out a psychiatrist (again) after the meeting with the teacher.  I never wanted to explore medication for him while he was still at home, but I always said we would give it a try if there were issues at school.  I firmly believe that medical intervention can make a huge difference for kids who are truly struggling with ADHD.  In my practice, I’ve literally seen stimulant meds turn a child who hates school into a child excited to go to school.  While I completely agree that our country is overmedicated (in fact, the only medical paper I’ve ever published was on that very subject), I also think there are many who vilify psychotropic drugs as a “crutch” even in legitimate circumstances. ADHD is an issue of faulty neurochemistry of the brain. Why shouldn’t medications be used that can help balance the brain? I don’t think parents who choose to medicate a child with diabetes or asthma get the same amount of judgment from the general public.  For me, I was perfectly willing to do a medication trial, and to see if it improved his focus at school.

While SPD and ADHD look very similar, they have difference neurological causes, and stimulants have not been shown to be as effective for kids with SPD.  For Jafta, the stimulant didn’t result in any behavior change.  We suspected this going in, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but I’m glad we ruled it out.  It helped confirm that his behaviors were a result of SPD and not ADHD.

Over the summer, I decided to finally try taking Jafta off of gluten and dairy.  There is a lot of evidence that a GFDF diet can help symptoms of autism, but not as much in regards to SPD.  Still, I figured it was worth a shot.  We spent a couple weeks tapering off wheat and dairy, and within a month, we saw changes.

HUGE CHANGES.

I would even categorize it as a nearly-full recovery from SPD.

It seems like taking him off of gluten and dairy cleared the fog in his brain.  He is more mindful of his body and has a better time focusing.  He is more considerate of the space of others.  Most of all, he just seems calmer.  Less keyed up, compulsive, and on-edge.

When Jafta started first grade this year, I was really curious to see how things would play out in the classroom on the new diet.  I didn’t mention the SPD to the teacher until the first parent-teacher conference, and when I did, she seemed surprised.

She hadn’t noticed any SPD symptoms.  At all.

I really do credit the diet, because we seeing a regression in behaviors any time we “cheat”  A morning of pancakes can lead to an afternoon of hyperactivity.  After a couple times of being lenient with the diet and seeing immediate regression, we got pretty serious about restricting.  He’s been GFDF since August.

It has been a challenge, but it has been so worth it.  I’m hoping to write a bit more about how this plays out on a practical level, and give some ideas for how to cook GFDF for a large family.  I am actually GFDF now as well.  I’ve struggled with migraines for a few years and they’ve been reduced, but it also makes it easier for Jafta to have someone else in the family on the same diet.

I know I have a lot of adoptive families reading here, and I know that many adopted children struggle with SPD as a result of the neurological  effects of early neglect, trauma, or prenatal drug exposure.  If your child is struggling, I would definitely encourage a trial of the diet.  We are really thrilled to feel like we’ve conquered SPD, and it’s been pretty incredible to see the confidence and peace that Jafta has gained from being symptom-free.


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