Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)


Fact: One study shows that at least 1 in 20 children’s daily life is affected by SPD

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing (originally called "sensory integration dysfunction" or SID) refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a sandwich, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires accurate processing of sensation.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don't get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, 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 person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.

Common signs of Sensory Processing Disorder:
Hypersensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware, or other noises that seem unoffensive to others
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn’t like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Has poor balance, may fall often


Hyposensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space even when same-age peers are old enough to understand it
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • An extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain
  • Often harms other children and/or pets when playing, i.e. doesn’t understand his or her own strength
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and can be dangerous at times

What Sensory Processing Disorder Looks Like
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to touch sensation and find clothing, physical contact, other tactile sensory input to be unbearable and/or they may respond to visual or auditory or another sensory input.  Another person might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold or just may be slow to respond to sensation. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These children have postural disorder and are the "floppy” children who prop themselves up on walls when standing, lean over on their hand when writing and love to hang out, but not to move.

The old fashioned “couch potato” now turned “
mouse potato” as society becomes 2-dimensional (auditory and visual) with I-Pads, I-watches and I-everything!  In yet another subtype (dyspraxia) children are awkward and clumsy and get called "klutz" and "spaz" on the playground, always the last to be picked for a team in PE. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive, we call these children sensory cravers. They seem almost addicted to intense stimulation but when they get they become dysregulated.  These kids often are misdiagnosed - and inappropriately medicated - for ADHD.
Sensory Processing Disorder is most commonly diagnosed in children, but people who reach adulthood without treatment also may experience significant symptoms and continue to be affected by their inability to accurately and appropriately interpret sensory messages.

These "sensational adults" may have difficulty performing routines and activities involved in work, close relationships, and recreation. Because adults with SPD have struggled for most of their lives, they may also experience depression, underachievement, social isolation, and/or other secondary effects.

Sadly, misdiagnosis is the rule rather than the exception because many health care professionals are not trained to recognize sensory issues. 

Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder
The exact cause of sensory processing problems has not been identified. But a 2006 study of twins found that hypersensitivity to light and sound may have a strong genetic component.

Other experiments have shown that children with sensory processing problems have abnormal brain activity when they are simultaneously exposed to light and sound.

Still other experiments have shown that children with sensory processing problems will continue to respond strongly to a stroke on the hand or a loud sound, while other children quickly get used to the sensations.

Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder
Many families with an affected child find that it is hard to get help. That's because sensory processing disorder isn't a recognized medical diagnosis at this time.

Despite the lack of widely accepted diagnostic criteria, occupational therapists commonly see and treat children and adults with sensory processing problems.

Treatment depends on a child's individual needs. But in general, it involves helping children do better at activities they're normally not good at and helping them get used to things they can't tolerate.

Treatment for sensory processing problems is called sensory integration. The goal of sensory integration is to challenge a child in a fun, playful way so he or she can learn to respond appropriately and function more normally.

One type of therapy is called the Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR) model. The therapy was developed by Stanley Greenspan, MD, and Serena Wieder, PhD.
A major part of this therapy is the "floor-time" method. The method involves multiple sessions of play with the child and parent. The play sessions last about 20 minutes.

During the sessions, parents are first asked to follow the child's lead, even if the playtime behavior isn't typical. For example, if a child is rubbing the same spot on the floor over and over, the parent does the same. These actions allow the parent to "enter" into the child's world.

This is followed by a second phase, where parents use the play sessions to create challenges for the child. The challenges help pull the child into what Greenspan calls a "shared" world with the parent. And the challenges create opportunities for the child to master important skills in areas such as:

  • Relating
  • Communicating
  • Thinking

The sessions are tailored to the child's needs. For instance, if the child tends to under-react to touch and sound, the parent needs to be very energetic during the second phase of the play sessions. If the child tends to overreact to touch and sound, the parent will need to be more soothing.

These interactions will help the child move forward and, DIR therapists believe, help with sensory issues as well.




​Information on this page taken directly from:
Brain Balance Achievement Centers
STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder
WebMD

Want to learn more?

The following are organizations and/or websites dedicated to providing information and education surrounding Sensory Processing Disorder. These organizations are dedicated to research, education, awareness, and/or support. They are listed in Alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.

Brain Balance Achievement Centers
Sensory Processing Disorder
STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder
Understood
WebMD