What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

To describe what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is, we need to first look at what the terms Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing mean.

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory Integration (SI) is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and continues throughout ones’ life. It is the process by which the brain receives information from the direct five senses (vision, hearing, movement, touch, taste), and interprets it so we can respond in an appropriate, effective, and meaningful way.

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory Processing (SP) is the process by which our brain takes in sensory input, organizes it and interprets this information for use.

What is Sensory Integration Dysfunction?

Sensory Integration Dysfunction is difficulty with sensory integration. SID was first studied in-depth by Anna Jean Ayers who described SI as the ability to organize sensory information for use by the brain.

The more current diagnostic study uses the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) term. SPD is a condition where sensory integration is not adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.

Sensory processing is something most of us don’t think about as it happens naturally, unconsciously, and spontaneously throughout our day.

However, some children’s central nervous system has difficulty accurately perceiving or integrating the information it receives. If this neurological process becomes disrupted somewhere in the loop of intake, organization or output, then normal development and adaptive responses will not be achieved. As a result, learning, physical and emotional development, as well as the behavior may be impacted.

It is this disruption which yields a neurological dysfunction called Sensory Integration Dysfunction/Sensory Processing Disorder.

What Does SPD Look Like?

A child with sensory processing disorder would have an inability to organize sensory information that comes through the senses.

It can affect a child in only one-sense or in multiple senses. A child with SPD might overreact to sensation and find light, sound, contact, or food to be unbearable. It could also cause an individual to not react to stimulation (e.g. not reacting to extreme cold).

Posture and motor skills can be affected in children with impaired sensory processing messages from the muscles and joints. These are the “floppy babies” who worry new parents and the kids who get called “klutz” on the playground. Still, other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive. These kids often are misdiagnosed – and inappropriately medicated – for ADHD.

Do all children on the Autism spectrum have Sensory Processing Disorder?

It is believed that 95% of children on the Autism spectrum have sensory integration difficulties.

Children on the spectrum typically have a different way of perceiving the environment. This different sensory perception can interfere with the child’s ability to attend, learn, interact with the environment, handle unpredictable situations and develop appropriate peer relationships.

Occupational Therapy utilizes Sensory Integration therapy to help these children manage and master their environment as best as possible.

Can SPD be cured?

SPD can’t be fully cured. However, with OT and related interventions, the symptoms can be lessened.

Research has shown that the nervous system and neural pathways are constantly changing and can be reprogrammed. This coupled with learned behavior and effective strategies help children lead normal and productive lives.

I Think My Child Has SPD. What Should I Do?

If you suspect your child might have SPD, do the following:

  • Try to identify triggers that set off these behaviors with your child
  • Start writing in log behaviors that seem unusual
  • Try to identify what helps soothe your child
  • Try using Red Flags of Sensory Processing Disorder checklist to help organize your thoughts.
  • Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician and discuss your child’s behaviors
  • Ask for a referral to an Occupational Therapist. If you’re in Orange County California, consider contacting our pediatric occupational therapy clinic.
  • Provide sensory input at home using our Sensory Processing activities.