Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)

Sensory Processing Disorder

In this advanced world, every parent wants his child to perform exceptionally well in their tasks and wants them to excel academically as well as in other fields of life. However, not every child is good at performing and some of them could not give the same results even under the best of circumstances. At times, parents don’t understand that their children can have special needs and maybe the love and care might not be enough to help them perform academically. Sometimes children face developmental issues which lead to poor performance in almost every area of their life. However, another reason can be of sensory processing disorder. It is a rather newer term for most parents and they are not aware of how sensory processing disorder works. This article will help you understand sensory processing disorder and its symptoms. You will get to know how you can look for red flags in your child for sensory processing disorder. This article will also help you know the treatment options for sensory processing disorder. Therefore, you could know who you should contact if you find any symptom of a sensory processing disorder in your child. Before we learn about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of sensory processing disorder (SPD) we should first learn what a sensory processing disorder is. 

Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)
  • What is sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is a condition that is troublesome for the brain because the brain faces problems in receiving and responding to sensory information it receives through different senses. Sensory processing disorder is sometimes also known as sensory integration disorder and it can have a major impact on the everyday life of a person.  In simpler terms, sensory processing disorder is difficult with organizing and responding to information that comes in through the sense. A child may become overly sensitive to under sensitivity to sensory input or they can face both. 

Sensory processing disorder was previously known as sensory integration dysfunction and it is not given a distinct medical diagnosis nowadays. People with sensory processing disorder can be overly sensitive to certain sensory information as they may sound overwhelming or painful or a light touch of a shirt may scrape their skin. Some other notable features of sensory processing disorder include that a child maybe

  • Not able to tell if their limbs are in space
  • Uncoordinated
  • Find it hard to involve in a play or conversation
  • Bump into different things

Sensory processing disorder is usually found in children but it can also be seen in adults. These sensory issues are generally found in developmental problems like autism spectrum disorder as a separate diagnosis of sensory processing disorder is not given. There are known to be 3 possible components of dysfunction in sensory integration. 

  • Sensory Discrimination Disorder

In this problem, the children mostly find it difficult to find similarities and differences among sensations.

  • Sensory Modulation Disorder

It is a problem when converting sensory messages to controlled behaviors matching the nature and intensity of the sensory information given. 

  • Sensory Based Motor Disorder

When a child/person is having trouble planning, moving, or stabilizing a number of movements while responding to sensory demands, he is suffering from the sensory-based motor disorder. 

  • Common Characteristics of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

A child or a person who is suffering sensory processing disorder shows the following characteristics.

  • He has problems regulating his emotional or behavioral responses with heightened tantrums, need for control, easily frustrated, overly compliant, and emotionally reactive.
  • He is sometimes under-reactive to certain sensations for example he does not notice being called or being touch or high pain threshold.  
  • He is highly reactive to sound, movement, or even touch. 
  • He seems to be disinterested and lethargic and looks likes living in his ‘own world’.
  • He mostly appears clumsy with immature coordination, poor motor skills, coordination in planning and motor skills along with poor handwriting skills. 
  • He has poor sleep patterns. 
  • He loves movements and seeks out intense pressure like running around, crashing in objects or people, jumping, and constant spinning.
  • He has low muscle tone and seems floppy.
  • He is easily tired and often has slumped postures. 
  • Poor attention span and concentration and can be distracted easily. 
  • He avoids equipment and toys which are movement-based like slides or swings.
  • He is known to be a very picky eater with restricted eating habits.
  • He has difficulty in sustaining friendships because of difficulty engaging with peers. 
  • He often feels distressed while doing self-care tasks like nail cutting, tying shoelaces, dressing, hair-washing, self-feeding or even hair brushing. 
  • He has problems in accepting change in the routine or transition between different tasks. 
  • It is difficult to have him engaged in a two-way interaction because of delayed communication and social skills. 
  • He has difficulty knowing how to play with other children and prefers to play alone.
  • He moves too fast with big movements.
  • He performs tasks with too much force like writing too light or too hard. 
  • Less Commonly found Characteristics by a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

These are some characteristics associated with sensory processing disorder but these are not always found in a person suffering from sensory processing disorder.

  • The child has poor planning and sequencing.
  • The child has poor play skills.
  • The child is being able to follow the instruction at school and at home as well. 
  • He has behavioral difficulties.
  • He adequately expresses ideas, feelings, and thoughts using language.
  • He has a problem with both fine and gross motor skills.
  • He can sometimes engage in meaningful interactions with his peers.
  • He has poor organizational skills.
  • He has a poor working memory.
  • He has poor executive functioning. 
Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)
  • Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

Even after mentioning the characteristics of sensory processing disorder, some parents might still be confused about how they can know that their child is suffering from sensory processing disorder. The sensory disorder can affect only one sense like the taste, touch, or hearing or it can affect more than one sense and you will find people reacting both over sensitively or under sensitively to this sensory information. The symptoms are dependent on two things which are sensory trigger and type of sensory processing challenge. You need to look for the following types of symptoms if you want to know if a child has sensory processing information.

  1. Sensory Avoiding
  2. Interoception
  3. Sensory Seeking
  4. Sensory Avoiding 

Children can behave to certain extreme when they face sensory avoidance. Sensory overload can be a cause of sensory meltdowns and they are not similar to tantrums because a child can’t control them. A child can be easily overwhelmed by people or places or seeks a quiet spot in a crowded gathering. He is easily startled by sudden and loud noises and often bothered by the light. He does not want to touch or hug people and has a strong reaction to the smell of certain food. 

  1. Interoception

It is one of the lesser-known senses in the body and it makes the person feel what is going on in his body. Children with problems in interoception can face problems in toilet training and have an unexpected threshold for pain. Proprioception and the vestibular sense (spatial orientation sense) can also play a role in the child’s sensory processing disorder. 

  1. Sensory Seeking

Children under sensitivity to the sensory input can face-sensitive situations and often feel the need for movement, physical contact, and pressure. These children are more likely to take risks, often squirms and fidgets, invade others’ personal space and they are often clumsy and uncoordinated. 

Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)
  • What are the causes of sensory processing disorder?

Almost every developmental disorder has a strong genetic component and so does the sensory processing disorder. However, the exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown and has not been identified. According to a twin study conducted in 2006 has figured out that hypersensitivity to light and sound can be due to the genetic predisposition. Abnormal brain activity has also been found in children with sensory processing problems while facing light and sound simultaneously. Many other experiments have also shown that children suffering from sensory processing disorders will always respond to a loud sound the same way as the first while other people get used to the noise. 

  • How to diagnose sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing disorder does not get a formal diagnosis now and they are often named as problems in the processing of sensory information by the professionals. There are a few tests that are used to know about these problems including Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) and the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) checklist. However, mostly the diagnosis is based on observation because the behavior is usually observable and evident. If your child is showing a weird behavior you can consult pediatricians, psychologists, neuropsychologists, developmental-behavioral pediatricians, school evaluators, and occupational therapists. 

  • Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder

There are no medications for treatment SPD. Some parents can face problems in finding an effective treatment for their child as a treatment is based on every child’s individual needs. Treatment for sensory processing disorder is called sensory integration. Its goal is to challenge a child in a playful and fun way so the child learns to respond appropriately. A model used in sensory integration is known as the Developmental Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR) model. Sensory Diet and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have also found to be helpful in the treatment of SPD.

Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)

FAQ about Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. Why should I seek therapy for my child with sensory processing disorder?

The reason is that a diagnosis alone is not sufficient because it only opens the door for getting help and the help still needs to be provided in the form of therapy. 

  1. What if a child is left untreated for sensory processing disorder?

If a child is left untreated, he can face severe issues like problems in academic and personal life. They have a lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence and unable to regulate emotions. 

  1. What are some of Occupational Therapy (OT) approaches?

Sensory diet, expanding abilities, MORE programs, recognizing triggers, education, Alert program, the Wilbarger protocol, school transition, social stories, physical skills, and behavioral management are some of the OT approaches to treat sensory processing disorder. 

  • References

Understanding Sensory Processing Issues by The Understood Team

Kid sense: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Star institute: Co-morbidity SPD And Other Disorders

Sensory Processing Disorder (A Comprehensive Guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.