UCSF Study Reveals Measurable Brain Differences in SPD Children

Knowing when you first suspected that your child wasn’t exactly like everyone else’s isn’t important. Maybe it was when your baby didn’t like being cuddled, or maybe your toddler had difficulty switching from one activity to another, or maybe it was when your preschooler had sudden mood swings or temper tantrums. You consulted experts, only to be given a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Often parents wonder if they did anything to contribute to it. The good news is that a recent study conducted by University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found that children with SPD have a different brain structure than other children, which means they will do things differently. Educating them will require teachers and schools that understand this and what it takes to reach kids with special needs.

Sensory Processing Disorder is the inability to use information received through the senses in order to function easily in daily life. The sensory signals do not get organized into appropriate responses, and that creates challenges for the 16% of school age children who have it. SPD can affect just one of the senses, or all of them, including how the child reacts to clothing that touches their skin, to the texture of food, to motor skills. This can be incredibly frustrating, and it often causes these children to react differently in a situation than other children would, sometimes oversensitively and sometimes under-sensitively, which ultimately impacts almost every aspect of their lives, from academics to social skills.

The UCSF study is the largest imaging study ever done of children with SPD. The researchers took care not to focus on kids who fit a particular psychological or psychiatric background, such as autism or ADHD. It’s also the first to compare the white matter tracts in the brain of typically developing boys and girls versus those with an SPD diagnosis. According to UCSF, “the brain’s white matter forms the ‘wiring’ that links different areas of the brain and is therefore essential for perceiving, thinking and action.”

While parents have provided anecdotal information, this study has allowed researchers the opportunity to get direct measurements of auditory and tactile functions, and understand more about the white matter and sensory functioning. This study comes after another UCSF study done in 2013, which was the first to find that boys affected with SPD have quantifiable regional differences in brain structure when compared to typically developing boys.

What makes these studies so groundbreaking is that they confirm what every parent of a child with SPD already knew: That they are wonderfully intelligent, but they will have challenges with auditory and tactile processing, and will require more academic support beyond traditional learning methods.

These students need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information. This may include allowing students an opportunity to move about the classroom, taking breaks, having small student to teacher ratios, and working with students to find appropriate ways to express their needs.

At the John Cardinal O’Connor School in Irvington, we know this, because it’s how our school is designed. It was created specifically for children who learn differently. Call us today at 914-591-9330 to find out how our multi-sensory teaching techniques, a noted approach for children with SPD, can help your child achieve academic success.





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