What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, “sensory processing (sometimes called ‘sensory integration’ or SI) is when the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or ‘sensory integration.’ ”

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation also explains SPD as a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. They refer to A. Jean Ayres, PhD, who likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A child with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses.

There are many reasons why SPD might come about. At this time, there is no single defining reason. However, we do know that it is not genetic but in fact neurological and has to do with how the brain is wired.

You can find hope in the knowledge that although sensory processing sensitivities can be difficult to handle, there are ways to help a child along his or her journey to developing strong sensory integration.

Things to Keep in Mind: 

  • Children with autism are not the only ones who may have sensory issues. 
  • All children go through normal sensitivities during their development. 
  • There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to sensory issues. Many think having a sensory issues meaning wanting “too much” of something (too much noise, too bright light, a lot of spinning, etc.). However, having a sensory issue can also mean wanting “too little” of something, such as only tolerating one type of food, preferring darkness or being incredibly afraid of playing on playground equipment. 
  • SPD is a new area that the medical community is still exploring. You can find hope in knowing that SPD research is constantly evolving.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • SPD is a culmination of sensitivities. If your child is afraid of popping balloons, that does not necessarily mean he or she has Sensory Processing Disorder. There are typically many sensory processing difficulties present in order to constitute SPD. 
  • As stated above, all children go through normal sensitivities in their life, so what you’re looking for is more or less than other children (sensitive to clothing, food, if sounds are bothersome, if they want things too loud or have to have complete silence, if they have an emotional reaction going to a public place because it’s too overwhelming, if they seek heavy hugs all the time or scrape against walls when walking down the hallway). 
  • If a child is constantly moving or seeking movement or will not go on any playground equipment that requires movement 
  • If his or her behavior changes in different visual settings (too bright, too dark) 
  • If she can only fall asleep while wrapped super tightly in a blanket or has a hard time regulating hot and cold 
  • If it takes him an hour to get dressed in the morning because he has to find the exact right shirt to wear 
  • Most of all, if these sensitivities typically impede on daily function, then it could be a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

How You Can Help Your Child Through It: 

  • Talk to an Occupational Therapist near you. If you live in Minneapolis, consider speaking with one of our Occupational Therapists (OT). All A Chance To Grow OTs specialize in SPD and do sensory-related activities during intervention. Many Speech Language Pathologists also specialize in SPD. 
  • There are many websites and online groups that offer support (http://www.spdfoundation.net/index.html, http://spdsupport.org, https://www.facebook.com/sensoryprocessingdisorderparentsupport, http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SPDMinnesota/info
  • We also recommend the book The Out of Sync Child Has Fun by Carol Kranowitz. However, keep in mind that when doing sensory integration activities with your child, tread lightly and do it at her level and be sensitive of what she can tolerate. If you force activities on a child with sensory sensitivities, it’s going to be even more stressful for her. It’s about working at that “just right” challenge. If you think your child might have SPD or your child is diagnosed with SPD, we recommend consulting an OT who specializes in SPD before introducing sensory activities to your child.

Contact Us

For more information or to speak with an Occupational Therapist at A Chance To Grow, contact us at (612)789-1236 or actg@actg.org.   

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