Is Sensory Processing Disorder Related To Autism?

If your child has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, then you are likely left with a lot of questions. One question is probably in the forefront of most every parent's mind: is sensory processing disorder related to autism? The two distinct conditions can overlap in interesting (and sometimes confounding) ways.

First, it's helpful to understand what makes sensory processing disorder and autism unique conditions. According to Psychology Today, sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a condition that makes it difficult for people to interpret and process the information from their five senses. In other words, persons with SPD may be over or under-stimulated by certain sensory stimuli. A birthday party filled with screaming, laughing children may seem like heaven to most kids, for instance, but the child with SPD could find the whole event too loud, chaotic, and overwhelming to have any fun. What's more, SPD is still being studied, and it is not yet officially recognized in the DSM-5, as noted by the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder.

Autism, on the other hand, is a condition that's gained more awareness in recent years. According to Autism Speaks, autism is a type of brain development disorder often characterized by difficulties with social development, communication, and repetitive actions. Thanks to the condition's increased awareness, though, most parents have at least an idea of what it's like to raise a child with autism.

So to understand the relationship between SPD and autism, think back to geometry class. Remember the idea that every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square? This idea can be applied to the relationship between SPD and autism: persons with autism often experience symptoms of SPD, whereas persons with SPD may or may not experience symptoms of autism. As explained by the STAR Institute, as many as 75 percent of children diagnosed with autism also show signs of SPD; however, most children who are thought to have SPD do not have autism. These are separate conditions that often have a high co-morbidity rate, but they are not the same thing.

What's more, the differences between autism and SPD can be very nuanced, and sometimes the lines get blurred. As explained by a piece in Spectrum, for parents of children with SPD and autism, it can be difficult to say which idiosyncrasies belong to each condition. If your son has an aversion to loud noise, for instance, who's to say that it's the result of autism or SPD? In general, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between autism and SPD. As it stands today, however, these are regarded as separate conditions in which there is a high rate of co-morbidity.