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Navigating the Labyrinth of Labels: Unpacking the ADHD, Anxiety, and SPD Triad

Navigating the tangled web of labels like ADHD, Anxiety, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) for your child can be both confusing and emotionally draining. I know, I've been there too. As both a professional in child mental health and a parent, I feel your struggles deeply. Let this blog guide you, helping you gain much-needed clarity on this complex journey.

Welcome to neurodivergence

We've all met that incredible child who is easily overwhelmed, emotionally expressive, and maybe even a little "spacey." The same child might struggle to form or maintain friendships because they're just a little "too much" in one way or another. Yes, the world is quick to label these youngsters, but what's happening beneath the surface?


Welcome to the world of neurodivergence.


Neurodiversity is a paradigm-shifting concept that celebrates the vast range of human neurological differences as natural variations rather than defects. It argues for the understanding and acceptance of all kinds of neurodivergent individuals—those with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety Disorders, and more—as complete humans deserving of full societal inclusion- as they are.


Within this framework, terms like "neurodivergent" refer to people whose neurological functions diverge from the majority or "neurotypical" population. The neurodiversity perspective emphasizes strengths and abilities rather than focusing solely on challenges or impairments. It advocates for acceptance, accommodations, and support that allow neurodivergent individuals to live, learn, and work in ways that are authentic and meaningful to them. Accepting your unique, beautiful child as they are, encouraging them to develop into their full potential as nature designed- is a gift.


Overlap of symptoms of ADHD, SPD, Anxiety

When you start or started the journey to understanding and finding resources to support your child, professionals likely have a lot to say and very little encouragement. I know from my own experience the looks, the not listening, and the repeating yourself over and over again- are infuriating because I just wanted to understand and encourage my child/ren to grow and develop healthy lives. The rush to diagnose these kids often lands on ADHD, primarily because they can't seem to sit still or they're forever drifting off into their thoughts during class. They look at the obvious behaviors or distressing ones, to target first. But let's be honest, how many of us adults could endure eight-hour learning marathons without our minds wandering or feet tapping? The question then becomes, how do you discern between normal child developmental stages, unique quirks, and genuine concerns that require support?


The complexity doesn't end there. Some children live with an undercurrent of worry about school, sleep, or even unexplained somatic (physical) symptoms. Additionally, others have specific preferences, from the texture of their food to the fabric of their clothes. When something doesn't align with their comfort zone—watch out for that emotional eruption! As a parent, you're left troubleshooting and sometimes wondering why switching a pair of "itchy" socks doesn't bring the anticipated calm. The exhaustion that comes from always trying to “get it right” is overwhelming, even foreboding at times. Information overload online adds another layer of fog to an already complex landscape. The solution?

Sensory craving vs sensory avoidant

It's not one-size-fits-all. We need to dissect where a child's development, unique neurodiversity, and emotional landscape converge.


Here's the heart of the matter: ADHD, Anxiety, and SPD often overlap in ways that can baffle even seasoned professionals. Many parents, in their understandable desire for clarity, seek medical or psychological interventions, which can indeed be part of the solution. But let's not forget the missing piece of the puzzle—Occupational Therapy. Especially for children grappling with sensory challenges, Occupational Therapy is indispensable. These professionals specialize in assessing how children respond to stimuli and help develop essential body regulation skills, which pave the way for emotional regulation. Sensory system sensitivities are present in all humans and often more significant in all neurodivergent humans, and it is often the missing link of treatment focus that enables significant growth to occur. Trained Mental Health professionals work closely with OTs to combine sensory regulation strategies and emotion regulation skill development.


When understanding neurodivergence, it is imperative that parents and caregivers understand the sensory profiles of their child/ren as well as themselves. Yes, parents, you are likely to have some sensory sensitivities as well that, when unmanaged or attuned to, create significant distress in the parent-child relationship. This heightened stress level can be supported by mental health professionals who are neuroaffirming in their care.

List of sensory systems

In summary, navigating this labyrinth of overlapping symptoms and treatments requires not just one expert but a village. It calls for a compassionate, knowledgeable professional who can guide you in discerning your child's unique needs. Whether it's coaching, therapy, medication, Occupational Therapy, or a mix of these, what matters most is finding the right combination that helps your child flourish.


Here at Olympia Therapy, we're committed to supporting you with education and guidance. We offer you not just our professional expertise but our heartfelt understanding as we collectively navigate the rich yet challenging experience of raising your neurodiverse child. We are here to help be the guides and problem solvers parents seek.



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