What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Children?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Children?

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder is an illness in which the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information obtained through the senses. Some patients with sensory processing disorder are hypersensitive to stimuli in their environment. Common sounds might be painful or overwhelming. The mere touch of a garment can chafe the skin. Sensory processing disorders are frequently identified during the toddler years when parents notice a child’s unique intolerance to noise, light, too-tight shoes, and unpleasant clothing. They may also observe clumsiness and difficulty ascending stairs, as well as difficulties with fine motor skills such as pencil grip and button fastening.

Parents of children with these challenges frequently refer to it as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD. However, psychiatrists are quick to point out that SPD is not a recognized illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Sensory processing abnormalities are widely recognized as a symptom of autism, as the majority of children and people on the autism spectrum experience significant sensory issues. However, not all children with sensory difficulties are on the spectrum. They can also be found in people with ADHD, OCD, and other developmental disabilities, as well as individuals who do not have any other diagnoses.

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Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder can impact a single sense, such as hearing, touch, or taste. Alternatively, it could impact numerous senses. People might sometimes overreact or underreact to problems. Sensory processing disorder symptoms, like those of many other conditions, range from mild to severe.

For example, some youngsters may vomit or dive beneath the table when they hear a leaf blower outside the window. They may scream if handled. They may react negatively to particular food textures.

Challenges for children with sensory processing disorder

Some children seem to have difficulty processing the information their senses receive, such as sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. Two other lesser-known senses may be affected. The first is body awareness, and the second involves movement, balance, and coordination. Additionally, children with sensory issues may be hypersensitive to input, insensitive to input, or both. Sensory processing issues are not learning disorders or formal diagnoses, but they can make it difficult for children to succeed in school.

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For example, a hypersensitive child may react easily to sensory stimuli and feel overwhelmed.

  • Can’t stand it: Bright lights and loud noises like an ambulance siren.
  • Refuses to wear clothing because it stings or irritates, or shoes because they are “too tight,” even though all tags and labels have been cut off.
  • They get distracted by surrounding noises that other people can’t hear.
  • Even if you are a close adult, avoid hugging or hugging your child for fear of touching them unexpectedly.

How to support a child with sensory processing issues in school?

Although there are no medications to treat sensory processing issues, there are treatments and practical changes you can make at school and at home to help your child feel and thrive. Occupational therapists (or OTs) are professionals who work with children who have sensory issues. Most OTs work in schools, but they may also work in private clinics. These encourage children to participate in physical activities aimed at modulating sensory stimulation. You and your child’s teacher can discuss changes you can make to help your child feel more comfortable, confident, and focused in the classroom.

For example: Make sure the chair fits you well.

  • When sitting at your desk, you should be able to place your feet flat on the floor and your elbows on the desk.
  • If your child needs to move around a bit, try using an inflatable seat cushion or pillow you have at home to help them stay seated instead of fidgeting.
  • Some children feel better when they sit close to their teacher.
  • However, children who are easily distracted by noise will often turn around to see where the noise is coming from.
  • If possible, avoid the buzzing and flickering of fluorescent lights.
  • Make sure you are not standing next to sources of nuisance noise.
  • Ask your OT to help you understand where your body is about other people and things and the idea of personal space.
  • Provide a sensory break.
  • Run in circles, jump on a mini trampoline, or suck on sour candy to get kids the input they crave and avoid bumping into others.

With the support and attention of an understanding teacher and, in some cases, collaboration with an OT, children with sensory processing challenges can be prepared to succeed in the classroom, on the playground, and with their peers.

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What is sensory integration therapy?

Sensory integration therapy, also known as Ayers Sensory Integration (ASI), is a therapeutic approach used to improve symptoms of sensory integration disorder.

So what happens during sensory integration therapy?

At ASI, trained occupational therapists help people improve their sensory symptoms by using a variety of therapeutic tools in clinical settings: The aim is to support you.

  • Stimulate the senses through sensory input
  • Promote fine and gross motor planning
  • Facilitate movement
  • The body develops new adaptive behaviors and responses.

Therapy tools can be physical, such as a trampoline or climbing wall, or mental, such as participation or skill challenges.

Sensory Diet

Patricia Wilbarger, an occupational therapist, created the phrase “sensory diet” based on Dr. A. Jean Ayres’ idea of sensory integration. This concept alludes to an individual’s requirement to have a variety of sensory stimuli throughout the day, much like a nutritious diet, to maintain an optimal state of arousal or alertness to meet environmental and work demands. Therapeutic interventions to support children with sensory processing difficulties who would benefit from sensory foods are important because they:

  • Adults encourage unhelpful activities and unhelpful sensory input in children, preventing typical behavioral strategies from failing.
  • Make the benefits of attention, behavior, and learning visible in all environments.
  • Helps children learn self-regulation so that they can be successful in academic and social settings.
  • Sensory diet is a tailored program that meets children’s sensory needs and helps them observe, learn, and behave better. These are the skills that form the basis of preschool and school readiness.
  • Sensory systems continue to develop until about age 7 years. For this reason, starting treatment early is most beneficial. This does not mean that treatment after this age is pointless, but it becomes increasingly important to know in detail what the child’s sensory system needs.

A sensory checklist

To help parents determine whether their child’s behavior is indicative of a serious sensory issue, Peske and Beer are looking for all sorts of symptoms, from walking barefoot to smelling non-food items. They have created a detailed sensory checklist that includes questions about response to input, hypersensitivity, and gross motor skills. Examples: How to use scissors (skilled), and catch a ball (sloppy).

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List for infants and toddlers who are resistant to cuddles and may bend over when hugged. This may be because they feel pain when they are touched. In preschool children, excessive fear can lead to frequent or prolonged tantrums. Irritable elementary school students may exhibit “negative behaviors” that include appearing hyperactive when they are seeking input.

Overly sensitive people avoid things. As a result, they may refuse to brush their teeth or paint their faces. To further complicate matters, children may have both seeker and avoidant personalities and may have both proprioceptive and vestibular problems, as well as problems related to the traditional five senses.


Living with SPD can be difficult. Parents of children with SPD may feel alone. You can avoid taking your child out in public to avoid overstimulation. Parents may also feel the need to excuse their child’s behavior. Adults with SPD can also feel isolated. Sensory overload can leave you unable to leave your home. When that happens, it becomes difficult to go to the store or even go to work.

Adults suffering from SPD should work with an occupational therapist. A therapist may be able to help them learn new responses to stimuli. This can change the way you handle certain situations. And it can lead to lifestyle improvements. Although SPD may improve with treatment and age, it may never go away. Significant life events or stress can trigger symptoms. If you are an adult with hearing loss, talk to your doctor about hearing tests and prescription and over-the-counter hearing aid options.

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  • Ms, E. L. (2022, September 23). How does sensory integration therapy work? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/sensory-integration-therapy#bottom-line
  • Van Iderstine, S. (2024, March 4). How sensory processing issues affect kids in school. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/how-sensory-processing-issues-affect-kids-in-school/
  • familydoctor.org. (2024, January 8). Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – Familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/condition/sensory-processing-disorder-spd/#:~:text=Sensory%20processing%20disorder%20(SPD)%20is,that%20other%20people%20are%20not.
  • Arky, B. (2023, October 30). Sensory processing issues explained. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained/

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