Are adoptees more prone to developing sensory processing disorder (SPD)? Jordan Harris, a 16-year-old Russian adoptee is doing research to find out. He wants to raise awareness about adoption and SPD while providing hope for adoptees and families who may be affected.
Jordan, a junior at The Masters School in New York, has carefully prepared a survey to investigate the impact of international orphanages on sensory processing. After three years of planning, he’s looking for willing participants for his survey, “International Adoptions and the Development of Sensory Processing Disorders.”
His objective is to gain insights and to use this information to support families to better help their children at an early age.
“I just really want to help,” Jordan says.
This project holds deep personal significance for Jordan, who was diagnosed with SPD as a tween.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
SPD is a neurological condition affecting how individuals respond to sensory inputs such as food textures or loud environments. Children may experience sensory overload, leading to challenges in daily life. Living with SPD can impact everything from relationships to education and employment.
“Some kids shut down,” Jordan says.
SPD is sometimes grouped in with autism because they share similar symptoms, according to Jordan— who is quick to point out they are not the same and they are different conditions.
“Autism is very researched, but sensory processing disorder isn’t.”
Addressing SPD through support, therapy, and accommodations, however, has been shown to improve a person’s quality of life.
From Diagnosis to Raising Awareness
Jordan’s inspiration to research SPD stemmed from personal experience.
“I was diagnosed a couple of years ago through talking with people who helped me overcome some of the struggles correlated to that disease,” Jordan says.
The lack of research, especially related to adoption, prompted Jordan to explore a possible connection between adoption experiences and the development of SPD. At the very least, Jordan says the journey to diagnosis and improvement begins when kids feel comfortable enough to start that first conversation with their parents.
“This process is a good way to get a conversation going to help kids talk to their parents and get intervention earlier than later,” Jordan says.
Challenges of Living with SPD
Along the way, Jordan has encountered some common challenges and experiences faced by international adoptees, including difficulty in accessing support services and the need for culturally sensitive resources to address adoption-related concerns.
He emphasizes the importance of children seeking help early, as timely intervention can significantly improve their symptoms.
Throughout elementary school and middle school, it’s common for kids to accept things as being normal.
“Kids assume that’s the way that it is. That’s the way that they are. And that’s how it was with me,” Jordan says. “I knew something was going on. I couldn’t do things other kids could do.” He shares that attending loud concerts and sporting events left him feeling uncomfortable and overstimulated.
At age 10 or 11, he finally approached his parents about the way he was feeling, explaining they were incredibly supportive, seeking help immediately in the form of an occupational therapist. Jordan’s grandmother, a speech therapist, also stepped in to help the family find a good fit and helped Jordan with his at-home exercises.
“Once I realized this was something that doesn’t go away, the second I told them, they were on top of it.”
Treatment for SPD is typically done through cognitive therapy rather than meds.
“It really changed my life,” says Jordan who explains it had been hard to manage things prior to therapy.
He’s come a long way, even attending boarding school where he says he’s able to live on his own five days a week and navigate his own life. Something he says he previously would not have been able to do.
Knowing what he knows now, Jordan says, “I wish I could’ve started earlier.”
Jordan is hoping the survey will empower adoptees like him. He recognizes that it can be scary taking surveys, sharing with parents, and reaching out for professional support.
“If you’re on the fence, I understand and was on the fence when I was filling out my first survey,” Jordan says. “I had my doubts, but I would not have gotten to the place I am now without that.”
With this in mind, he was careful in developing his survey. He sought guidance from his science research teacher and a psychiatrist he met through a teen adoption support group he’s attended for three years. These interactions have enriched his understanding of diverse adoption stories. And he intentionally designed his survey to be participant-friendly to ensure everyone feels comfortable no matter their background, story, or opinions on adoption-related issues.
The survey assesses participants’ comfort levels using a scale of 1 to 5 with various sensory inputs and includes questions related to adoption experiences. The goals:
Helping children access the support they need at an earlier stage in their lives will allow them to lead fuller lives with minimal symptoms.
By initiating conversations between parents, children, and healthcare professionals, Jordan hopes to destigmatize SPDs and encourage timely intervention.
Collaborating with medical professionals specializing in SPDs is essential to promote early diagnosis and treatment.
Jordan hopes his personal experiences will help others, particularly younger children, understand what it’s like to live with a SPD, fostering empathy and awareness.
Jordan emphasizes the importance of kids getting the help they need earlier rather than later, adding, “I’m very lucky my symptoms are minimal at this point. I know kids where that isn’t the case.”
Ready to take Jordan’s Survey?
Jordan encourages interested adoptees to participate in his study as it will contribute to a better understanding of SPD among adoptees and lead to improved support and resources for them.
“You will be helping so many other people and kids to get help and start living fuller lives and be able to live as carefree around sensory as they can,” he says.
He looks at the survey as a way to give adoptees a voice while contributing to a better understanding of SPDs and help pave the way for improved support and resources.
“I take great pride in the fact that I came from somewhere else and where I am now,” Jordan says. He recalls being very open with his therapist who was then able to help him realize what he needed to do.
The survey, which should take about 5-10 minutes to complete, maintains anonymity. It collects only basic information for a comprehensive understanding of participants’ unique stories while emphasizing privacy and confidentiality.
Jordan is currently working on a paper based on the survey results, which he plans to share once the project is complete.
To participate in Jordan’s survey, individuals must be at least eight years old. There are separate links for kids aged 8 to 17 (requiring a parent’s permission) and adults aged 18 and older. The survey deadline is November 3, 2023.