This week’s test is more of an inventory of traits than a quantitative test. The SPD checklist is intended to help identify areas of atypical sensory processing, including hyposensitivity, hypersensitivity and sensory seeking.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a stand alone diagnosis, however, there is substantial overlap between SPD and the atypical sensory processing that autistic people experience. In fact, now that sensory sensitivities are included in the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism, we may start to see fewer kids getting diagnosed with SPD plus an alphabet soup of other conditions. Because the odds are really high that a kid with concurrent diagnoses of SPD, ADHD, and ODD is really just an autistic kid in disguise. But that’s a rant for another day. . .
I’ve written quite a bit about atypical sensory processing, so I’m going to get right to taking this week’s test.
Taking the Test
There several online versions of the SPD Checklist. The one I’m linking to for this post has a couple of nice features: it’s (mostly) worded as an adult checklist, it’s printable so you can complete it on paper, and the links at the top of the page allow you to filter the questions by type, in the event that you want to focus on just one area of sensory processing.
To get started, go to the SPD Checklist webpage. This a “paper and pencil test”, so your options are: print it out and sharpen your pencil, create a tally sheet to add up your scores, or copy/paste into a word processing application.
To take the test, read each item and numerically score it as follows:
0 – Never (not at all)
1 – Rarely (a little)
2 – Sometimes (moderately)
3 – Often (quite a lot)
4 – Always (severe)
I assigned words to the scale to help me better understand how to use the numerical scores. The instructions also say that you can score an item as P for “previously experienced but no longer present” however there is no explanation of to interpret P numerically.
Interpreting the Results
The checklist has 138 total items, for a total possible score ranging from 0 to 552. There are no guidelines available for interpreting the numeric scores and I think that’s because this checklist is meant to be a qualitative guide to a person’s sensory processing rather than an indication of a diagnostic threshold. Of course, I still couldn’t resist adding up my numerical scores.
The items on the checklist are divided into 8 categories:
General Modulation (scoring range: 0 – 36): The 9 items in this category are broad and were some of the hardest to answer because they felt so vague. I scored 22.
Over-Responsiveness (0 – 100): The 25 items here cover hypersensitivity to sensory stimulus, with a heavy emphasis on tactile and auditory sensitivities. I scored a 61, with the highest scores on tactile and general environmental items and the lowest on vestibular and taste items. No surprise there–I’m tactile defensive, easily overloaded by stimulating environments and a vestibular/proprioceptive/taste sensory seeker.
Under-Responsiveness (0 – 36): These 9 items cover hyposensitivity, mostly in the interoceptive category. I scored 13, with high scores on the interoceptive items and low scores on the rest.
Sensory Seeking (0 – 80): The 20 items in this category measure tendencies to intentionally seek out strong sensory experiences. I scored 48 + 1 P (knuckle cracking, which I did habitually as a teenager and have stopped doing). Most of my high scoring items are in the proprioceptive, vestibular and taste categories.
Sensory Discrimination (0-104): These 26 items relate to our ability to filter sensory information. I scored 42. This feels like the weakest area of the checklist. I know from experience that I have significant difficulty filtering sensory information but the items in this section didn’t accurately capture the difficulties I have. Difficulty licking an ice cream cone neatly? Not something I encounter on a daily basis.
Sensory Based Motor Abilities (0 -80): The 20 items in this category are related to fine and gross motor skills and would probably be more accurately described as such. I scored 41. Most of my high scores were in the area of fine motor skills.
Social and Emotional (0 – 88): I would classify this entire category as secondary traits because I think they’re more a product of having sensory sensitivities than “symptoms” of SPD. Also, this is where the line between autism and SPD becomes really fuzzy. There isn’t a single item among the 22 here that isn’t also an autistic trait or is strongly present in many autistic people. I scored 48, mostly due to high scores on the social and resistance to change items.
Internal Regulation (0 -28): This is another weak section. Difficulties with interoception are common in people with atypical sensory processing and the 7 items here were clearly written by someone who doesn’t experience interoceptive weirdness. I scored 17, with moderate scores on everything, simply because the questions are worded so vaguely. More questions with more specific traits would create a better picture of a respondent’s interoceptive issues. For example, “do you not realize that you need to use the bathroom if you are engaged in an interesting activity” or “do you sometimes forget to eat until you are feeling weak, dizzy or nauseous from hunger” would be much easier to answer than the current “under sensitive or over sensitive” wording.
Overall score (0 – 552): For what it’s worth, I scored 292 out of a possible 552. The overall score seems useless because, like an IQ score, it’s an aggregate of a set of disparate subscores.
The best approach is probably to look at the categories we score especially high or low on, and then drill down into the subsets of high/low scores within each category. For example, within the over responsiveness, under responsiveness and sensory seeking categories, there were clear patterns in my answers that identify which areas I’m hypo- and hypersensitive in.
This test also suffers at times from imprecise wording, making some of the questions hard to answer. I had no idea how to score “hates to be barefoot or hates to wear shoes/socks” because I prefer being barefoot and generally dislike shoes and socks, expect in situations where being barefoot would be painful. So is that 4 for disliking shoes and socks or a 0 for loving to be barefoot or what? Seems like a completely useless question. Same for “love to touch and be touched, have to touch everything.” Anyone who is simultaneously tactile seeking and tactile defensive knows that those are three completely different things.
The Bottom Line
The SPD checklist would benefit from the input of people who experience sensory sensitivities. A few of the questions felt unanswerable and some of the others could use refinement. However, completing the checklist can help someone with atypical sensory processing identify which areas they have the most challenges in. For those new to the concept of atypical sensory processing, it can also be a good introduction to the potential ways that atypical sensory processing affects our daily lives.
Note: Take a Test Tuesday will be on hiatus for a while after today. I’m moving and not sure how long it will take for me to get settled in. Also, I’ve run out of test ideas again. If anyone has ideas for other tests that might be, let me know in the comments and I’ll start rebuilding a queue.