What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) causes people to respond in inappropriate ways to their environment. In normal situations, our senses work together to help us understand ourselves, keep us safe, and enjoy the things around us. The way we understand the world we live in is through our senses. So if someone's body misinterprets sensory information then normal experiences can seem scary, painful or disorientating.

The five senses most of us are familiar with are:

  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Vision

Two senses we may not be familiar with are:

  • Vestibular: Our sense of balance this is information we receive from our inner ear.
  • Proprioceptive: Our sense of our body, this is information we receive from our muscles and joints that tells us how our body is moving and where our arms and legs are in relationship to our body and the environment around us.

When our senses work together they help us understand our environment so that we can easily do what we need or want to do throughout the day.

For example to open a door:

  • We look at it- using our vision.
  • We place our hand on the doorknob- again using our vision and our proprioceptive sense (the information we receive from the muscles in our fingers, hand arm and shoulders).
  • We turn the doorknob using touch and proprioception.
  • We pull open the door using our vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and touch senses. We may even hear the door open if it has a squeaky hinge.
  • We walk through the doorway, stepping over the door jam- visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive perception.

For someone with SPD this simple task can be difficult they may:

  • Bump into the door or bump into the doorway as they walk through.
  • Slam the door.
  • Be unable to open the door.

Some Common Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder

  • An unusual sensitivity to sounds and smells.
  • Unusual reactions to sounds such as sirens or vacuum cleaners.
  • Does not seem aware of pain, they may fall down and scrape a knee without responding.
  • Lots of coordination problems, frequently bump into things, have problems riding a bike.
  • Unusually high or low activity level
  • Fearful of swings, seesaws or playground equipment.

  • Avoid touching anything messy like sand, paste and finger paints or actively seek out to touch anything messy.
  • Over react to simple daily activities like brushing their hair or teeth or washing their face.
  • Refuse to wear certain clothes because they are scratchy or painful.
  • Have difficulty holding a pencil or crayon, writing, or buttoning a button.
  • Have problems making their body do what they want it to do, for example unable to play imitation games like "Simon Says"

If you believe your child has SPD it's important to have them evaluated by an Occupational Therapist trained Sensory Integration therapy. They can evaluate the individual and come up with a treatment plan. To find a knowledgeable Occupational Therapist contact the American Occupational Therapist Association: http://www.aota.org