Sorting out Attention Deficit Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder

Written by: Brandon Combs

While ADHD and Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) share many overlapping symptoms, there are some symptoms that are more pronounced in each disorder.  A recent article published in the Research in Developmental Disabilities Journal* compared the behavior and physiology of children with ADHD, SMD, and dual diagnoses.  They found that all these groups had greater levels of sensory, attention, activity, impulsivity, and emotional challenges than typical peers, but some symptoms were more elevated for the groups.  Inattention was greater in ADHD than in the SMD group. Children with dual diagnoses had more sensory-related behaviors than ADHD and more difficulties with attention than SMD.   Children with SMD had greater levels of sensory issues, physiological reactivity, somatic complaints, anxiety and depression, and difficulty adapting than did children with ADHD.   These findings have important treatment implications.  Interested readers will find more information by following this link.

As parents , there are good reasons to seek out a definitive diagnosis of Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder ( ADHD) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – insurance reimbursement, school accommodations and expectations, and medication considerations – to name just a few.  However, when considering behavioral interventions, children with either diagnosis benefit from sensory input.
Quite often children with ADHD or SPD have trouble waiting in line or, are squirmy when asked to sit for any length of time, and often seem impulsive and/or explosive.  Regardless of the cause, there are skills we can teach our kids to help them regulate their behavior.
Sensory activities provide children with ADHD purposeful tasks to focus on during difficult times.  While the same sensory input for children with SPD is to improve the effectiveness of that child’s nervous system.
Consensus is that, children with ADHD respond positively to sensory intervention, but their symptoms continue after a sensory diet has been tried.  SPD children will begin to regulate more appropriately when provided the appropriate sensory diet. For more well researched information, try
JoAnne Loper is the Director of Parent Training at Tuesday’s Child. She lives in Chicago and has four boys. Tuesday’s Child helps families address behavioral issues through individualized training for both parents and children. The agency has been a member of NPN since 2009.
Meg Kincaid, PhD is the Clinical Psychologist at Tuesday’s Child.  She also works in clinical settings, serving as a cognitive behavioral psychologist for pediatric and adult patients in private practice and in hospital settings.
*Miller, L.J., Nielson, D. M., & Schoen, S.A.  (2012)  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sensory modulation disorder:  A comparison of behavior and physiology.  Research in Developmental  Disabilities, 33, 804-818.
Posted on May 09, 2013 at 3:50 PM