What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

What is SPD?


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a brain based problem that affects approximately five percent of school age children. One subtype of SPD is Sensory Over Responsivity (SOR). SOR kids respond to sensory information (i.e. sound and touch) as though it were extremely aversive. They feel continually bombarded by stimuli. The resulting physiologic over-arousal and emotional dysregulation negatively impact the child’s daily functioning. Patterns of instable moods are typical and SPD children find even pleasurable activities difficult, or unbearable.

SPD awareness is not very common. Children are frequently misdiagnosed and prescribed inappropriate treatment plans. The results can be devastating. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) exacerbates a person's reaction to sensory stimuli. A person suffering from sensory processing disorder might feel pain, for instance, when something touches his skin, or react violently at certain visual symbols. This disorder is treatable.


Sensory processing disorder is when a person has troubles processing sensory input, and this can lead to individuals having issues with moods and behaviours. If one has SPD they will feel overwhelmed by what appears to be normal amounts of sensory input for example like normal noise, light, taste or touch to others. If you know someone who has sensory processing problems it is important to be supportive. There are ways to recognize sensory triggers but you need to find the right treatments, equitment and tools to help provide them with a happier life. This is called a "sensory diet"

When a child is overwhelmed by sensory input their reactions may be:

Fight - anger, irritability, tantrums and rage

Flight - panic, running away isolation or withdrawn

Freeze - where a child is frustrated and overwhelmed that the child can not speak or move

Today I am so sensitive to be touched. It's like this everyday. I don't like to be hugged. Sometimes my Mom has to remove the tags off of my shirts. I can't wear socks or underwear. Today I don't want to brush my teeth or have a shower. I'm sensitive when I hear things and the louder it gets, the more it hurts me. It makes me want to cry and sometimes I will have tantrums not because I want too but I lose control, it's just too much. I always have a melt down because my food hurts my mouth, I cant eat very much. I yell a lot because I dont like how these things make me feel. I cant sit still. When i'm at school I can't do the same work as my friends. I dont have many friends, just two. Sometimes they play with me at recess, sometimes they dont. I am agressive. When the lights get too bright. I yell at my Mom to turn off the lights. It hurts my eyes. I sometime hit my Mom or i'll break her things even though I don't want too. Sound familliar yet?

When a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, SPD and or any learning disability begins, what may be concidered an absolute
rollar coaster ride like experience. It is a long road filled with sadness, frustration, joy and love. Through
which each and every member in the family will experience a huge ammount of personal growth and understanding.

As a parent/caregiver of a child with physical, mental and emotional special needs, you will come to the point where
special services are the most important to your family support. You need to have consultations to set up a specialised
plan for your child, the family and your own individual needs.

•In-home behavioral training
•A diet plan
•Natural products and medicines
•Finding specialized family doctors, Pediatrician, EA's, OT's and therapists
•Overall view of gut function for ASD children and all other allergies, intolerances and sensitivities
•Trained Babysitters and in/out of home services
•Learn where to shop for special foods and products
•Connect yourself to SPD support groups
•Become familiar with sensory Play ideas
•Educate yourself and others about SPD (family, playfriends, teachers, ect.)
•Up to date technological support
•And other services and supports unique to each families needs

This is to support parents/caregivers/Professionals and is offered to families of children with a wide range of special
needs that include

•Aspberger's Syndrome/PTSD
•Learning Disorders/ADD
•Children dealing with emotional trauma
•Behavioral challenges

Access all the community resources that you can! It will help guide you further along your path!

Dr. A. Jean Ayres is generally credited with developing both a theory of sensory integration dysfunction and therapeutic interventions for children suffering from it. Although sensory integration involves all of our senses, because teachers are more familiar with vision, hearing, smell, and taste, we will focus on the aspects of sensory integration that may not be as familiar: vestibular and proprioceptive. We will also focus on tactile because so many children seem to have tactile defensiveness:


Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder  in children may include:

  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights
  • Inability to habituate to sounds and fear with unexpected noises
  • Easily distracted
  • Holding hands over ears in complex environment
  • Avoids tastes, smells, or textures normally tolerated by children that age
  • Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
  • Impulsive, lacking in self-control
  • Inability to unwind or calm self
  • Poor self-concept
  • Social and/or emotional problems
  • Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
  • Hesitation going up or down stairs
  • Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
  • Holding on to walls, furniture, people, or objects, even in familiar settings
  • Delays in speech, language, or motor skills
  • Delays in academic achievement
  • Seeks out movement activities, but poor endurance and tires quickly

 Tantrum VS Meltdown
Ages 1-5 years

"want" directed
Goal Control driven
Audience to perform
Checks engagement
Protective mechanisms
Resolves if goal is accomplished

Reactive Mechanisms
Continues without attention
Safety may be comprimised
Not goal dependant
May require assistance to gain control

 Causes of Stress (to meltdown)


>Social Skills Deficits

>Excessive Demands

>Interrupted Steretype

>Situations that are
-New Or Unfamilliar

>Changes to
-The Expected
(even minor changes can cause extreme stress


Possible causes for SPD.

Genetics: SPD appears to have a genetic component as other family members often show sensory processing problems.
Trauma: SPD often appears in response to Prenatal insult from drugs, illness, and maternal stress, Birth complications, such as
asphyxia, post-birth trauma, or prematurity , Head trauma , Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse , Chemical abuse , Post-traumatic
stress disorder

Allergies: Virtually all people with sensory processing problems appear to suffer allergies and food sensitivities, linking the two.

Toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins, such as air contaminants, destructive viruses, and other chemicals often cause oversensitivity

There are many areas where a child may have sensory defensiveness. One area our son has this with is running water. My son is a fish in water he loves it!! But, if he even hears a shower his screams rip you down to the core. We have been told by our OT that this running water feels like pins and needles on his delicate skin. Because of the feeling they can become aggressive and have an explosion of emotions because of this bombardment of sensory stimuli.
One way our family is learning to cope and deal with this is brushing. We use the Wilbarger Method. We end each brushing session with joint compressions. My son is still terrified of a shower but is recovering sooner and faster.
Thank goodness we have a tub. Sara Spoors Lundquist :)

It matters to me what your child's individual needs may be, my mission is to post links, helpful information, photos,
raise SPD Awareness, ask questions build a SPD community and help each other come to a better understanding of what's going on in our children's lives and or own.

I will be posting links and information about behavioral and social modification techniques, sensory tools/equitment and
visual/auditory/tactile approaches to lessen your childs frustration, build there self confidence and make them feel
good about themselves.

When raising a child with SPD, always look for there natural gifts and talents to encourage them to grow
in the right direction, setting goals giving them a better future. Your child may need some of the following

•One-on-one teaching, or small groups depending on the need of the child
•Learning with other professionals, such as SLT, OT, and educators
•Liaising closely with parents and guardians
•Assessment of Basic Learning and Language Skills
•Applied Behavioral Analysis
•Constant verbal rewards and reinforcers
•Picture Exchange Communication System
•Sign Language
•Sensory Play/A pet (puppy)
•Teaching through senses
•Prepared lessons and resources
•Use of conventional teaching methods to meet the individual needs of the child.





 The main kind of treatment is occupational therapy that is focused on sensory integration and development. This is what is
called a sensory diet. Maybe your child is prescribed a prescription, or methods to calm down and collect there senses. Activities and items are chosen by the therapist and designed to be fun, enjoyable and encouraging to the child and meet there special needs. They may include listening to music or going to yoga, beach or nature walks. The activities can not be random or sudden the way life is for most. Trips, outings and events should all be planned so your child understands the plan and rules ahead of schedule and is prepared.

Types of sensory input include:

Visual or vision input: What you see

Auditory or sound input: What you hear

Tactile or touch input: What you feel through touching, or through your skin, etc.

Olfactory input : What you smell

Gustatory input: What you taste, such as when you eat or drink

Vestibular or movement input: What you feel when you are moving, such as your arms, legs or your body


Myth: “The child is just pretending to get out of eating a food he doesn’t like or doing something he doesn’t want to do.”

Reality: This is not a dysfunction the child can control. As a child learns how to integrate his senses properly, he will be relieved

and probably delighted to try different foods.


If your child begins to see an occupational therapist and has sensory Processing Disorder therapy, you will see an improvement in all the areas of functioning: their attention/focus, concentration, socialization and even their self-esteem. They start to get involved more fully at home and at school. This usually takes between six months to a year.

What can you do if you think your child has SPD?

You should begin by taking your child to see your family doctor or get a referral to see a paediatrician to make sure that there are no other medical problems to cause concern. The doctor can rule out any other medical problems. Keeping in mind that many doctors may not know about sensory processing problems and what Sensory processing Disorder is.

Have your child evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (OT), the OT will meet with you and your child. This appointment usually is to get to know your child and have a better understanding of the child's situation. The OT may request a sensory history from birth, developmental history from birth, there symptoms/functioning levels, and the OT may also ask you to fill out a variety of parent reports and surveys related to the functional impact of sensory processing difficulties and the level of SPD severity. The child may also be evaluated using a very standardized assessment, and reactions to sensory input and coordination and motor abilities will be monitored closely.



As more research is conducted, more techniques and therapies to assist children are created. Through these techniques, occupational therapists enable children to take part in the normal actions of childhood – playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping.

 Subtypes of SPD

Sensory Processing Disorder is now being used as a global umbrella term that includes all forms of this disorder, including three primary diagnostic groups:
Type I - Sensory Modulation Disorder
 Type II - Sensory Based Motor Disorder
 Type III - Sensory Discrimination Disorder

Type I - Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD). Over, or under responding to sensory stimuli or seeking sensory stimulation. This group may include a fearful and/or anxious pattern, negative and/or stubborn behaviors, self-absorbed behaviors that are difficult to engage or creative or actively seeking sensation.
Type II - Sensory Based Motor Disorder (SBMD). Shows motor output that is disorganized as a result of incorrect processing of sensory information affecting postural control challenges and/or dyspraxia.
Type III - Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD). Sensory discrimination or incorrect processing of sensory information. Incorrect processing of visual or auditory input, for example, may be seen in inattentiveness, disorganization, and poor school performance.

 How can you help a child with SPD?
**Educate** Empower**Support**Advocate**

Sensory Processing Disorder

Every classroom has one: the kid who bangs against things incessantly, won't make eye contact and acts up whenever the school bell sounds. He or she may be autistic or in need of Ritalin. But there's a chance such children are simply overwhelmed by their own senses.

According to Roya Ostovar, a neuropsychologist at Harvard Medical School, some children have problems receiving and organizing sensory input from the environment. Known as sensory processing disorder, the condition involves the visual, tactile, oral, auditory and olfactory senses, as well as the senses used to balance and locate oneself in space.

For children with SPD, normal clothing may feel like sandpaper and school lighting can seem like a laser beam burning their eyes. It's an intensely stressful disorder that interferes with everyday functioning, says Dr. Ostovar, author ofThe Ultimate Guide to Sensory Processing in Children: Easy, Everyday Solutions to Sensory Challenges.


Symptoms of SPD include picky eating, frequent meltdowns, clumsiness and difficulty getting to sleep without a parent. Isn't this normal kid behaviour?

Yes. However, what distinguishes this disorder is that children with SPD really can't live a normal life and [can't]go about their day-to-day functioning without interference from these symptoms.

What causes sensory processing disorder?

It seems there are hereditary and genetic factors involved, and prenatal issues if the mother used drugs, alcohol or some prescription medications while pregnant. During birth, sometimes there are traumas that cause, for example, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Or once the child is born, there may be neurological or medical conditions and trauma such as falls, injuries, surgery or even chronic abuse and neglect.

Autistic children are known to have sensory issues. What makes SPD a standalone disorder?

Many children with SPD do not have other symptoms of autism - they have good adaptive skills, they can communicate well with their peers and they have good social skills. But they really have difficulty processing sensory information accurately and effectively.

How do these kids do in school?

We know for sure that 5 to 13 per cent of children entering school experience the symptoms of this disorder - and 73 to 75 per cent are boys. They walk into school already feeling there's too much to deal with. Faced with the crowd at school, all the noises, all the tactile information and the various lights, their sense system feels quite overwhelmed. So it's very difficult for students with SPD to function successfully in school without appropriate treatments.

Parents without special-needs kids may wonder if SPD is justanelaborate excuse for bad behaviour.

SPD is a real disorder. And there are ways that you can distinguish between SPD and a behavioural disorder. You can consider the child's reaction and responses to sensory input, especially those to touch and movement. Children with SPD seem truly pained and uneasy when they're experiencing sensory information that their bodies cannot process well.

If there is no standard diagnostic test for SPD, how do health professionals make sense of the cluster of symptoms?

Occupational therapists have the tools to test for this disorder and many psychologists and neurophysiologists can work with families to get the necessary diagnosis. Pediatricians are becoming informed about this disorder and referring children and their families to occupational therapists.

What kind of therapies help children with SPD?

The main form of treatment is occupational therapy that is focused on sensory integration and developing what is called a sensory diet. The child is given a prescription, a method to calm down and organize the senses. Activities and items are chosen by the therapist to be fun, enjoyable and encouraging to the child and meet the specific needs of the child. They may include listening to certain music or doing yoga, but the activities are not random or sudden the way day-to-day life is.

Why is there such a push to have SPD included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in 2012?

If it's not included as a disorder, it's more difficult for families to get services and coverage for treatments through their insurance.

Skeptics argue this is a vague disorder that represents a growth industry for occupational therapists, and that parents are paying upwardof $10,000 a year for unproven therapies.

I can understand their position. This is a new disorder. However, this is a real disorder. If we go back and look at autism, Asperger's syndrome and well-known disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia, you can see that in most of these cases from the time the first cases were described in the literature to the time when they were officially recognized as a diagnosis it took 40 or 50 years.

What's the best-case scenario for a child with SPD?

If a child begins to see an occupational therapist and has sensory integration therapy, you begin to see an improvement in all the areas of functioning: their attention, concentration, socialization and even their self-esteem. They start to participate more fully at home and at school - typically, between six months to a year.