Many children with PDD or Autism are at one point or another also said to have “Sensory Integration” problems. Often this “diagnosis” precedes the more accurate one of PDD/Autism, other times it is something a family finds helpful after the diagnosis PDD/Autism is made. Whether it represents an “additional” diagnosis or is rather part and parcel of PDD/Autism is debatable.
Sensory integration is a relatively new and controversial “construct” coming out of the Occupational Therapy field. It postulates that certain young children have developmental delays on the basis of a neurologically based difficulty “integrating” or processing sensory inputs. Such children become easily over-stimulated and when they do they “shut down” and become defensive, avoidant, and they fail to learn, grow, socialize and relate to their environment in a normal way. The critics of Sensory Integration theory (of which I am one) would hold that this is nothing more than a new way of slicing the same old pie… that such children have a variety (each his or her unique combination) of other more traditionally defined disorders such as ADHD, Autism, PDD, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, extreme shyness, Motor Dyspraxia, etc. This argument over theory, however, is in some ways beside the point. Whether or not “Sensory Integration” problems are a new and separate diagnosis, the fact remains that “Sensory Integration Therapy” can be VERY BENEFICIAL for many children with any and all of the above diagnosis and as such represents an advance in the treatment we have available.