Sensory Processing Disorder

How are sensory processing disorders defined?

 Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to their surroundings. Common sounds that are no bother to us can be intolerable or excruciatingly painful to those with SPD.

Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to their surroundings. Common sounds that are no bother to us can be intolerable or excruciatingly painful to those with SPD.

What kind of sounds would you expect to hear in the city? Maybe it's the sound of car horns honking in traffic, blaring sirens from emergency vehicles, loud car radios, subway stations, construction sites or an airplane flying overhead.

What kind of smells would you encounter?  There's the neighborhood pizzeria or the fresh smell of coffee from your favorite café. Or maybe its  your favorite fast food joint down the block. 

I grew up in Brooklyn. I'm used to it. It's such a part of me that when I visit my friends out of state, I can barely sleep because the silence starts driving me nuts. But what if those sounds and smells drove me to the point where it disturbed my everyday life?

This is what's called Sensory Processing Disorder.

Sensory processing disorder (sometimes referred to as sensory integration dysfunction) is a condition that exists when multisensory integration is not properly processed in order to provide an appropriate response to the environment. In other words, the  brain has difficulty responding to information that someone receives through their senses (e.g. sight, smell, touch, sounds and taste).

 Sensory processing issues are commonly seen in individuals who are on the autism spectrum. It can affect one sense or it can affect all of them.

Sensory processing issues are commonly seen in individuals who are on the autism spectrum. It can affect one sense or it can affect all of them.

Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to their surroundings. Common sounds that are no bother to us can be intolerable or excruciatingly painful to those with SPD. On the same note, an individual can be under-responsive and not react appropriately. They may not respond immediately to certain dangers like extreme pain, heat or cold temperatures.

Sensory processing issues are commonly seen in individuals who are on the autism spectrum. It can affect one sense or it can affect all of them.

 

Different Types of Processing Disorders

Sensory Modulation Disorder:

Children of this type have issues regulating the intensity and nature of responses to sensory input. This can cause someone to become oversensitive or under-responsive to sensory information. Children with SMD may seem overly anxious, fearful, distressed or stubborn. They may also display self-absorbed behaviors that make them difficult to engage.

There are three sensory modulation disorder subtypes:

  • Sensory over-responsivity
  • Sensory under-responsivity
  • Sensory craving or seeking

 

Sensory Discrimination Disorder:

A child may seem unfocused, inattentive or disorganized. But what is really occurring is an incorrect processing of visual or auditory input. Children with this type of sensory processing disorder have difficulty understanding or identifying the information received by their sensory receptors. Certain surfaces and fabrics can feel abrasive. There may also be issues determining hot from cold. 

 

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder

A condition where the child has difficulty coordinating, stabilizing and balancing the body during movement and at rest. The child might display deficits in gross and fine motor skills. 

There are two types of sensory-based motor disorders: 

  • Postural-Ocular Disorder
  • Dyspraxia

 

Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms

sensory processing disorder symptoms may include hypersensitivity (over stimulated) to stimuli, hyposensitivity (under-responsive), or a combination of the two. A list of symptoms to watch for are listed below:

  • Your child displays negative reactions to change. Hypersensitive children are easily agitated.
  • They often refuse to wear clothes. They complain that certain textures of clothing may feel itchy and abrasive. 
  • Become easily distracted by background noise or conversations.
  • They may touch people or objects at inappropriate times.
  • Seem to have no regard of others' personal space.
  • They may find it hard to sit still.
  • Hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) can make a child seem immune to pain.
  • They might not understand their strength and accidentally hurt other children during play.
  • Constantly spinning, jumping, running as well as other intense movements.

If you feel that your child has sensory processing disorder, consult your child's pediatrician or a licensed therapist. A skilled occupational therapist can help your child learn to understand the stimuli that your child is having trouble with. 

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