Ask parents of kids with learning and behavioral disorders if their children experience problems with sensory processing and many of them will answer with a resounding "yes". While it is widely accepted that most children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have trouble integrating sensory input, the fact that children who aren’t on the spectrum also experience these issues to varying degrees is now being examined more closely by the medical community.

What is sensory processing disorders (SPD)?

Also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a disorder in which the brain cannot properly synthesize multisensory information. This causes hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness to stimuli) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness to stimuli). If a child is affected by hypersensitivity, they may have extreme or fearful responses to specific textures, sounds, and tastes. Conversely, children with hyposensitivity may seem fearless, inappropriately touching people and/or objects and putting themselves in dangerous situations due to their under-reaction to pain.

Who experiences SPD?

Did you know 1 in 6 children experience sensory symptoms that interfere with everyday functioning? While all children can seem quirky or particular about their likes and dislikes, children with Sensory Processing Disorder (also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) will be so severely affected by their sensory preferences that it interferes with their normal, everyday functioning.

How are sensory issues defined?

There are two main types of sensory processing disorders that children and adults experience. Sensory issues are usually defined as either:

  1. hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli or
  2. hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli.

Signs of sensory processing hypersensitivities (over-responsiveness):

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises (flushing toilets, clanking silverware, etc.)
  • May notice or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touches
  • Avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Seems fearful of crowds
  • Avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag
  • Overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger
  • Has poor balance and may fall often

Signs of sensory processing hyposensitivities (under-responsiveness):

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space when peers understand it
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • Extremely high pain tolerance
  • 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

How can you help a child with sensory processing disorder?

 You can learn more through our recorded webinar "Sensory Processing Struggles: What's Happening in the Brain".