Letter to Oprah

As I am sure many of you have heard, Oprah Winfrey did a show last Friday about mental illness in children, and unfortunately led audiences to believe that Sensory Processing Disorder was a mental illness.

Here is the link to the article:

Many people are very upset, me included, as spreading acurate information about SPD in an effort raise awarness and offer support to parents and families is something I am VERY passionate about. Because of that, I felt compelled to write to Oprah and I wanted you all to know what I said.

Below is the letter:

Dear Oprah,

Your recent show about the 7 year old boy with mental illness struck a chord with me.

I have a 9 year old with Bipolar Disorder, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, who just like the boy on your show, has demonstrated physically and verbally violent behaviors since he was a toddler. For that reason, I was happy to see the stigma and challenge of pediatric mental illness being discussed in such a high profile forum.

However, what is described in this episode was not given a diagnostic label other than Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD or Sensory Integration), and inferred that sensory issues were the only challenge this child has.

I have multiple problems with this. I am sure the intention of the episode was to bring awareness to mental illness, but instead you spread misinformation about Sensory Processing Disorder and undoubtedly confused a significant amount of people who now think SPD is a violent mental illness.

For clarification, SPD is a neurological disorder, NOT a mental illness. It affects all 8 senses and causes children to respond inappropriately to their environment. It is treated most successfully by occupational therapy with an at home sensory diet. SPD does not cause rages.

On the other hand, Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness characterized by a chemical and physical difference in the brain, and is treated with medication and often Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Bipolar Disorder does cause rages.

I write about Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism and Bipolar Disorder and am passionate about spreading awareness and offering support to parents.

I am asking you to revisit this subject before you are off the air. Please give a forum to parents and professionals that can help clarify what Sensory Processing Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are. If I can help you locate parents or professionals, I am positive I can arrange it any time.

Thank you for all you have done for parents over the years, your show will be missed!

A true Oprah fan,
Hartley Steiner


Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I hope she responds!! Keep us updated.

Kari said...

Great letter! I watched that episode and I'm glad you corrected the misinformation.

I've contacted her previously about exploring the issue of prenatal exposure to alcohol on her show but never got a response. I wondered if she might be concerned that the alcohol industry would respond like the beef industry did to one of her shows years ago.

Thanks for all you do to educate the world on behalf of our kids.

Michelle said...

I didn't see the show, but as a pediatric OT practitioner, I am so glad you wrote this letter to clarify this! How disappointing that this happened on her show. I really hope they clear this up!

Heather said...

Great letter, Hartley! I didn't see the episode but I read the 8 page episode summary on Oprah's site and that too had the misinformation. Ugh! I hope this gets to Oprah's attention and at the least, a clarification is given. I really hope that she'll do a whole show on SPD and have you, Dr. Miller and a whole panel of experts on to talk about it. It affects so many children, Oprah could do a lot of good to spread the word giving the *right* information......

Shelley Davis said...

Well written letter. Way to advocate for our children. Thank you. If you need a parent sign me up! I have 3 five year old children with SPD. All very different behaving. It is so misunderstood and people need to be educated it is not something due to poor parenting. :}


Tired Mom said...

Very good letter. I also think, if you feel like it, maybe Dr. Oz could use a letter like this too! You should take a look at his recent show, "What Causes Autism?" which aired last Thursday and Friday. It has caused quite an uproar!

Caitlin Wray said...

This is such a great letter Hartley, because it focuses on the issue of sharing accurate information, rather than inadvertently assigning a hierarchy to different labels. I think as a mother of a son with SPD, Autism AND Bipolar labels, and the author of a children's book on SPD, you are uniuely positioned to chamption that cause! I blogged about an aspect - a side effect almost - of the Oprah issue. Something many of us need to be cautious of.

becs_2 said...

Great letter. I work with many children with SPD....and I agree.