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Help Sensory Processing Disorder Become an Accepted Medical Condition

[Urgent Update! The deadline to submit comments about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) for the DSM-V is Tuesday, April 20, 2010. If you haven't yet done so, please send your comments very soon! This is not only critically important for autistic children and adults but for all people who struggle with sensory challenges. Make this part of how you observe Autism Awareness Month. See below for the background information I posted last month on this issue and how you can submit your comments to the right place.]

I’ve said in the past that Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – sometimes also referred to as Sensory Integration Disorder – had little or no chance of making it into the upcoming DSM-V. (DSM = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; V = 5th Edition) Turns out, I’m wrong, and I’m not sure when I was last this pleased about being wrong. We have an opportunity we won’t get for almost another generation, so get ready to act.

In short, the DSM is where standard, accepted diagnoses for a huge range of conditions come from. It is the bible for most everything we deal with medically as parents of autistic children. The DSM is one place – and for autism the place – where those five-digit codes (aka ICD-9 codes, e.g., 123.45) you might see on medical forms and reports come from, and it’s the manual that governs our lives with autism more than any other in the health care system. More importantly, this is how things get billed to your insurance, recorded in all sorts of forms as your children are evaluated and treated, or otherwise processed in the realm of health care. Essentially, without one of these codes, it doesn’t exist.

Because SPD isn’t in the current DSM (4th Edition), for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. Of course, all of us with sensory kids know better, but your insurance provider doesn’t care. If you’ve been getting sensory-oriented occupational therapy paid for by insurance in the U.S., your therapy provider has most likely been creatively coding it to get it paid for.

If you’re like us, it’s been billed as more general occupational therapy, of which we get 30 visits a year. Once that runs out, tough. Pull out your wallets. OT limits set by insurers often assume a temporary condition, which obviously does not apply to autism, sensory processing issues, or most anything else we deal with. This makes a 30-visit annual limit profane. And that’s why this is so important.

The SPD Foundation has done an amazing job getting everything organized so you can know exactly how to make your voice heard and how we can all work together to get SPD in the new DSM. The American Psychiatric Association (authors of the DSM) is now accepting public comments on SPD, so this is the time to act. The more data and stories they collect about children and families living with and trying to overcome the challenges of Sensory Processing Disorder, the more likely they will be to include SPD and do so in a way that will benefit our children and millions more.

Here are the links:

Please read these pages carefully before you go and submit your comment to the DSM publishers, particularly the tutorial on how to prepare your comments. For example, don’t talk about insurance benefits; even though that’s critical to us, the DSM authors are there to create standards for medical diagnosis and not wrestle with the nightmares of health insurance.

And remember, the public comment period allows everyone, not just parents, to submit something. Parents, adults and adolescents with SPD, physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, teachers, researchers, and anyone else who works with or diagnoses persons with SPD can comment. So share this call to action with all those people you know.

The DSM is only revised about every 15 years. That’s not a typo. So we won’t get another chance at this until probably the late 2020s. This is a defining moment for autism and all children with Sensory Processing Disorder, whether they are autistic or not. Go tell your story, and let’s make this happen. 

Photo by rosefirerising via Flickr


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