The Oprah Winfrey and Sensory Processing Disorder Controversy

There has been a loud voice from many people who advocate for sensory processing disorder (SPD) after a segment on the Oprah Show which aired on Friday February 18th, about a seven year old boy with multiple mental health diagnoses, one including sensory processing disorder.

What The Oprah Show and SPD Commotion Was All About: Oprah Show

Many advocates have voiced concern that sensory processing disorder has been misrepresented on the show, leading viewers to believe that a child with SPD is violent, aggressive and gets pleasure from events that may cause pain for others. I do not believe this was the intention of the family or the show, but it still may have been perceived as such.

The explanation from Oprah’s summary on her website states SPD is “a condition which alters the way one processes stimuli- sound, touch, smell- from the world”. The mother does explain that Zach has a combination of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity and that he would do things like throw his body on the ground and would get pleasure and laugh when other children would be hurt. His mother also explains that sounds, light and clothing bother him.

Why Sensory Processing Disorder Advocates Were Upset With The Oprah Episode:

I understand the focus of the episode is about this young boy’s tragic story and his family’s struggles through their journey, not to focus on defining sensory processing disorder because let’s face it, SPD can not be simply summed up in one sentence, but this is such a simple explanation for such a complex diagnosis. There was no explanation of which diagnosis affected the boy in which ways, what diagnosis medication was given for, the different patterns of SPD or how it may present differently in each child that has SPD. The show also does not mention that SPD can affect movement, social skills, posture, participation in daily activities, fine motor skills, attention or even school performance. SPD may affect one or two areas of one child’s life or just about every aspect of someone’s life including their entire family’s dynamic. There was no discussion of how SPD is treated or what treatment consists of.

I think it’s great that the not-so-well known disorder is getting national recognition on a well-trusted show such as Oprah, even though it may have been brief and unclear. However, like I mentioned above, this was not, nor should have been, the focus of the show. The many responses to the episode just demonstrate a need for continual advocacy and education for sensory processing disorder. My hope is that SPD will be more accurately represented and understood in the future, as more media coverage completes stories on those affected by the disorder.

For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder Click Here

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I would love to hear your opinion on the show!

3 replies
  1. Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW
    Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW says:

    Thank you for helping to raise awareness of SPD. I did not see this Oprah show that featured a child who has SPD along with other complicated mental health diagnoses and behavioral concerns, but I do believe that viewers need to research and question what is portrayed on television. All too often, tidbits of information are presented instead of a full picture or full story, seemingly to keep the audience’s attention and cater to the public’s need to obtain information quickly and succinctly. In this process, sometimes inaccurate conclusions are drawn without explanation. Sometimes the conclusions are assumed by viewers who don’t ask themselves questions and challenge what they see and, unfortunately, just as often, the media presents information on small pieces of information, seemingly with the intent to have viewers sum up what they have seen and put it into a neat little package. In our world of yahoo news summaries, facebook updates, and tweets, we tend to miss the “whole story.” Thank you, Meghan, for challenging us to do just that.

  2. Deborah Michael
    Deborah Michael says:

    Thank you for your excellent blog! We need more information and research out there on pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders. Excellent blog to help understand issues and summarize the Oprah episode.

  3. Rachel Trost
    Rachel Trost says:

    What a very information blog on a confusing topic and disorder! You are right, I’m glad Oprah was able to bring some attention to SPD. Thank you also for explaining some of the functional deficits that individuals with SPD present with – difficulties with movement, social skills, posture, participation in daily activities, fine motor skills, attention or even school performance. Thanks again Meghan for your informative and insightful blog!


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