Biomedical Treatment of Sensory Integration Disorder

For those of you who know your child has SID (Sensory Integration Disorder) or, as it is often called, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I don’t need to tell you that kids who have sensory pain can be a nightmare to parent.  A nightmare to discipline.  A nightmare to figure out.  A nightmare for teachers.  A nightmare to feed.  A nightmare to try to get to get dressed or sit still.

Does your child have angry outbursts?  Can they be fixated or obsessive?  Do they have a lot of issues with transitions and behaviours?  Do they struggle with self-regulation?  The underlying trigger may be sensory.  And sensory issues can be successfully treated through biomedical treatment.

For those of you who don’t know but suspect, please… please…please have your child’s sensory system assessed.  Sensory issues = pain.  When your child is in pain they often behave abnormally, have trouble focusing or sitting still, have intense tantrums, are non-compliant. Basically, it becomes a nightmare which your child can drag you into when their sensory system is under pressure.

Sensory information is taken in through VISION, HEARING, TASTE, MOVEMENT AND TOUCH.  Irregularities in sensory processing can produce symptoms in these systems.  Many children with developmental delays also have issues with sensory processing.  Improving symptoms of sensory malfunction improve focus, behaviour, learning, social interaction and quality of life.  Sensory symptoms are a sign of an underlying medical issue with neurotransmitter (the chemicals that govern brain function) balance.

It is estimated that 5-16% of school aged children have SID, which receives little focus because it is so commonly associated with autism and ADHD.  A recent imaging study showed distinct changes in brain architecture for children suffering with sensory processing disorder.  These microstructural abnormalities of white matter were unique to sensory processing abnormal white matter and likely change the brain’s ability to receive and integrate information from multiple senses.

So, we have an idea of what SID / SPD is and who may be impacted.  Now, what do we do about it?  This is where we veer away from the “known” and enter into anecdotal clinical knowledge (with a healthy dose of first hand parent experience thrown in…).

I have written blogs on the methylation cycle and its importance in helping children diagnosed with autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome.  I have been a practicing naturopathic doctor specializing in biomedical treatment since 2003.  In that time, I have treated hundreds of children with sensory processing disorder but thousands of children struggling to integrate sensory information.  Ninety percent of children diagnosed with autism have sensory issues.  The same percentages of kids with ASD have methylation impairments.  Methylation is the process responsible for making important neurotransmitters like serotonin:  THE MASTER REGULATOR CHEMICAL IN THE CORTEX.  Low serotonin negatively impacts sensory integration.  The methylation cycle makes serotonin as well as other important supports for the brain like choline.  Serotonin is manufactured primarily in the gut so children with digestive issues and sensory system need to be worked up for underlying medical issues.

Methylation impairments like MTHFR and COMT, have been linked to autism, ADHD, tic disorders and birth defects.  While no medical research has linked methylation to sensory processing disorder, my personal and profession experience has shown that improving serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine balance improves the way the brain deals with visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, proprioceptive and taste input.

When the sensory information is tethered out, children with auditory sensory issues experience more overtly autistic symptoms including irritability, aggression and behavioural issues.  It is well known that self-stimulatory behaviour in autism is an attempt to achieve better sensory processing.  Children diagnosed with ADHD often have altered sensory perception and processing.  In some cases, children with both autism and ADHD experience complete resolution and recovery from their diagnosis because the sensory system has been medically treated.

Sonya Doherty, ND, FMAPS (Cand.)