How to Distinguish Between Sensory Processing Issues and ADHD

When a child begins to exhibit problems with behavior, the first assumption for parents and teachers is often ADHD. This condition tends to be more highly publicized than other conditions that may cause similar signs and symptoms, and many professionals believe that ADHD is frequently diagnosed.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are different issues that have a number of signs and symptoms in common. The fact that the two conditions can occur at the same time increases the likelihood that the child will be diagnosed with ADHD when they have both conditions, or when they only have sensory processing issues.

The same is also true of those with ADHD being diagnosed with SPD, although to a lesser degree. Diagnosing ADHD and/or SPD is essential for providing children with the learning methods they need to reach their academic potential.

Children with either ADHD or SPD may appear hyperactive, be unfocused, and exhibit signs of impulsiveness. When a child has both conditions, they may have problems learning and be unable to follow directions or complete assignments. In spite of the relationship that exists between the two conditions, there are very real distinctions that set them apart.

An Overview of ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurological condition that has long been thought to result from chemical imbalances in the brain. One characteristic of ADHD that sets it apart from SPD is that children exhibit the same behaviors in any environment. Many are unable to complete tasks such as homework assignments in spite of making every effort to do so. ADHD is treated with medications and cannot be impacted by changing the child’s environment.

An Overview of Sensory Processing Disorder

A child with SPD is unable to accurately “translate” information received through their senses so that it can be used functionally in life. While some children are hypersensitive to stimuli, others are hyposensitive. Children are often hypersensitive to some types of stimuli and hyposensitive to others, meaning that they avoid those they perceive too strongly and seek out those they want to perceive repeatedly.

To a child with SPD, certain sounds may stand out as overwhelmingly loud, while they are normal to everyone else. Odors may be perceived as pungent, or they may respond to a change in any part of their routine negatively. Often these children are placed on a special sensory diet, and offensive stimuli are removed to help them stay on task. Observing children in the absence of stimuli will help determine whether their signs and symptoms point to ADHD or SPD.

Helping Students with ADHD and SPD Learn to Their Potential

Neither ADHD nor SPD is a sign of low intelligence. They are conditions that make it more difficult for children to learn in the same environment as those without behavior disorders or learning disabilities. While there are differences in the causes and the way these two conditions are treated, John Cardinal O’Connor School is one of the best schools for children with ADHD and those with SPD because we understand the similarities and differences between these, and other conditions, and make them a part of our teaching structure.

Our instructors use multi-sensory teaching techniques to help children with SPD achieve academic success. They have also had great success teaching children with ADHD through individualized instruction.

By identifying the conditions and learning methods that are best for the child, our teachers have helped to improve academic results of children diagnosed with ADHD without the use of medications. Considering the harmful side effects some of these medications produce, this results in a more desirable outcome that the child and their parents will feel good about.


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