Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)


We can touch, see, smell, taste and feel because our senses meet in the brain to create precise perceptions of our world. Sensory processing is the way the messages sent from the senses to the nervous system are turned into the right motor and behavioural responses. The memory and emotion centres of the brain connect with our perception systems to trigger the right feelings. So what happens when the sensory signals are not detected or are not converted into appropriate responses? You could bite into a sandwich and not taste a thing. Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition in which the information coming in through the senses to the brain are not received or responded to. Just like most disorders, the symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder occur with a wide range of severity. As a result of injury, sickness or some other factors, most of us experience occasional periods of difficulty processing sensory information. However, children, teenagers and adults with diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder experience such difficulties in a chronic form, which can significantly hamper everyday life. The exact cause for SPD remain unknown but scientists are spending much time understanding the condition which currently shows a higher likelihood of developing in boys than in girls.

Effects of Sensory Processing Disorder

In certain cases, sensory disorder may only affect a single sense, such as hearing or feeling, or multiple senses of the individual. Many children with SPD are mistakenly diagnosed as ADHD and the disorder can remain undiagnosed for the rest of their lives. Many SPD affected children therefore reach adulthood without a correct diagnosis, and have to struggle with the symptoms of the disorder out of ignorance.

Sensory Processing Disorder impacts each child differently. One child may over-respond to the different clothing textures he comes in contact with, while another may be disturbed by loud sounds or react strongly to physical contact. There may also be impairments of the muscles and joints of children with SPD, impacting their posture and motor skills.

Failure to properly diagnose SPD can lead to significant impairment in daily activities, especially in older people when the condition is left untreated for many years. Some of the effects of Sensory Processing Disorder include: depression, poor self-confidence, social isolation, challenges with interpersonal relationships, and inability to find pleasure in recreational activities that overstimulate the senses.

Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder

SPD treatment varies depending on the individual needs of the child. In general, it involves providing the assistance the child needs to cope with sensations they can’t tolerate, or to do better at activities they are normally not good at.

Sensory Processing Disorder treatment process is called sensory integration and it is done with the aim of getting the child engaged in challenging, fun and playful activities from which he can learn to respond more appropriately to his unique triggers and function normally.

Recognising Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms

Children with SPD have a marked difficulty processing the sensory stimuli coming in from the outside world, and are unable to correctly interpret information with one or more senses. No two cases are alike, therefore the symptoms affecting one individual may vary widely from another. The symptoms are categorised into behavioural, physical and psychosocial and include:

Behavioural symptoms

  • Behavioural problems
  • Refuse to eat certain foods due to the textures of the foods
  • Be hypersensitive to certain fabrics
  • Only wear soft clothes or clothes without tags
  • Dislike dirtying his or her hands
  • Withdraw when touched
  • Difficulties calming oneself after exercise or being upset
  • Be oversensitive to odours – strong or mild
  • Notice or hear background noises that others cannot
  • Do not engage in creative play
  • Lack variety in play – may prefer to watch the same television program over and over
  • Oversensitivity to sounds, especially sirens, washing machines, or hair dryers
  • Have challenges with certain movements, including sliding, swinging, or going down stairs
  • May accidentally harm others during play
  • Dangerous behaviours

Physical Symptoms

  • Poor balance
  • High tolerance to pain
  • Have odd posture
  • Be in constant motion
  • Poor coordination
  • Clumsiness
  • May fall often
  • Poor fine motor control, such as handwriting challenges
  • Delayed gross motor development
  • Jump, swing, spin excessively
  • Impairments in sleep, eating, and elimination patterns
  • Fatigue easily
  • Alternate between constant motion and fatigue

Psychosocial Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • May stand too closely to others
  • Fearful of surprise touch
  • Social isolation
  • Fearful of crowds
  • Decreased ability to interact with peers
  • Avoidance of standing in large groups

Frequently Asked Questions about Sensory Processing Disorder

Why do kids with sensory issues have tantrums?

Certain extreme behaviours including screaming when their hands are dirty, or throwing violent tantrums when you try to get them dressed up, are sometimes exhibited by kids with sensory issues because of the overwhelming physical sensations they experience.

Are kids who have sensory processing issues autistic?

Not all autistic children are diagnosed with SPD, but many of them have the disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder is one of the things doctors check for when assessing autism. Sensory issues can also be present in ADHD or OCD sufferers.

What is the cause of sensory processing disorder?

There is no known cause of SPD. However, children born to adults with autism spectrum disorders have a higher chance of developing the disorder. Also, children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome or autism are at a higher risk for SPD.

Can SPD become worse as one ages?

Sensory Processing Disorder has shown to get progressively worse with normal aging as the human body becomes less efficient, or if injuries occur. A person with SPD involving problems with balance or clumsiness can experience more advanced problems with age.

What is the assessment process for SPD?

No sensory issues are the same, therefore, the child needs to be assessed through tests, observations and spending time talking to teachers and caregivers. A sensory treatment plan, known as a ‘sensory diet’ will be developed afterwards which is customised to the unique needs of the patient.

How much do I need to protect my sensitive child from SPD triggers?

It is understandably difficult for many parents to know when and how to intervene without being overly protective. In many cases however, children with SPD may need help with learning to cope with different sensations, and ‘desensitizing’ is one of the ways to help him slowly get used to feelings that bother him.

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