Autism/PDD or a Sensory Issue: Understanding the Differences. (Families Reaching Professionals ASK THE OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST)

By Orloff, Susan N. Schriber | The Exceptional Parent, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Autism/PDD or a Sensory Issue: Understanding the Differences. (Families Reaching Professionals ASK THE OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST)


Orloff, Susan N. Schriber, The Exceptional Parent


I receive lots of questions about the difference between sensory integration and sensory related issues and the characteristics specific to autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and Asperger syndrome. It is even more complicated because autism and related diagnoses are entwined with sensory-based irregularities.

Autism as a sensory issue is very tricky since so many things overlap and intertwine. The classic indicators seem to almost be the same. In fact, I really hold to the opinion that the two diagnoses are irrevocably meshed.

Having said that, however, there remains a need to differentiate between these two distinct issues.

The two lists offered here are to help illustrate just how careful occupational therapists (OT) and other professionals need to be in suggesting parents further investigate clinically observed behaviors. I also suggest that clinicians use these lists as informal checklists as part of their parent in-take process or in the course of therapy, as needed. I advise making this into one list but keeping the items separated, and then note which items from the two categories are most prevalent.

The suggested items* for each issue are listed in the following lists.

Sensory integrative issues may be characterized in the following ways.

* The person is either in constant motion or fatigues easily or goes back and forth between the two.

* The person withdraws when being touched.

*complied from various sources

* The person refuses to eat certain foods because of how the foods feel when chewed.

* The person is oversensitive to odors.

* The person is hypersensitive to certain fabrics and only wears clothes that are soft or those they find pleasing.

* The person dislikes getting his or her hands dirty.

* The person is uncomfortable with some movements, such as swinging, sliding, or going down ramps or other inclines. Your young child may have trouble learning to climb, go down stairs, or ride an escalator.

* The person has difficulty calming himself or herself after exercise or after becoming upset.

* The person jumps, swings, and spins excessively.

* The person appears clumsy, trips easily, or has poor balance or odd posture

* The person has social skills issues/authority issues.

* The person has tantrums.

* The person is overly sensitive to criticism.

* The person is either always on the go or very sedentary.

* The person has memory difficulties and/or problems following directions

* The person has difficulty handling small objects such as buttons or snaps.

* The person is overly sensitive to sound. Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, hair dryers, leaf blowers, or sirens may upset the child.

* The person lacks creativity and variety in play. For instance, the child may play with the same toys in the same manner over and over or prefer only to watch TV or videos.

Autism and/or PDD issues may be characterized in these ways.

* The person insists on sameness and has a resistance to change.

* The person has difficulty in expressing needs and uses gestures or pointing instead of words.

* The person repeats words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language. …

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