Brian Mengini, a Schwenksville, Pa. parent, held an informative and groundbreaking discussion about sensory processing disorder in the Grace Hall boardroom on Thursday, March 22.
He was brought to speak on behalf of the education department in order to inform future educators on the importance of being sympathetic to special needs issues in the classroom – even when they’re as ‘invisible’ as sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Known formally as sensory integration dysfunction (SID), SPD makes an individual incapable of processing information normally. Unlike the truly impaired, for example the deaf or blind, those affected by SPD do receive and register information with their senses. The trouble is, however, that the information is interpreted and processed differently.
Mengini himself has a son that has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.
“My oldest son Dominic was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder in February of 2005,” Mengini explained. “This was after years of my wife and I running around, trying to figure out why our son was presenting some of the behaviors and some of the changes he was. We started to approach it from a disciplinary standpoint. We developed a list of ground rules – no hitting, kicking, stuff like that.”
Mengini described that he and his wife happened to stumble upon an article about SPD and, with their son in mind, he says the symptoms “just sounded like him.” From there the Menginis consulted with their son’s pediatrician and asked to get him tested for SPD.
“He sent us to a neurodevelopmental pediatrician who gave us the diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. [Dominic] also had some speech delays, which were being enhanced by the sensory disorder.”
As expected, their reception of the diagnosis for their son proved disappointing for the couple. Nevertheless, aside from their parental apprehensions about there being “something wrong” with their child, Mengini said that the diagnosis gave them a sense of relief about their original concerns.
“It gave us something tangible to grasp on and work towards,” Mengini said. “It took us a long time to wrap our heads around what it meant for us and what it meant for our family.”
Mengini doesn’t stop with his son’s own case of SPD. A member of multiple non-profit organizations and the founder of both a dance outreach program for special needs children and an advocacy foundation for SPD children and their families (named in his son’s honor), Mengini has incorporated much of his son’s condition into his own life and embraced the disorder as one of many of his passions. His informed status also helps bridge the gap between the traditional role of parent as separate from that of an expert on a given disorder; Mengini has conducted a lot of research on his own and exemplifies a wealth of knowledge beneficial to both himself and others.
“Through normal course, we develop cues that tell us, ‘if we go near fire, we’re going to get burned,’” Mengini explained about the nature of SPD. “Those various things brought in by the senses develop these cues – those cues don’t exist for these kids.”
In addition to this inherent lack of self-preserving cues, those affected with SPD also experience a “sensory overload” – a traffic jam to the brain of too much information. This overload, Mengini says, can manifest itself into behavioral issues, leading kids to act out. As this behavior can be misconstrued with many other disorders, the challenge becomes one more about being open and understanding.
Because of this, one caution for anyone entering into the field of education, according to Mengini, is to be sympathetic and to do research on any disorders that their students may be diagnosed with.
“At the very least, educate yourself,” Mengini said. “If a child’s coming in with a diagnosis, educate yourself on it – it’s going to help you in the long run.”