What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Everything your body knows about the world is taken in through your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

Every reaction you have, whether physical or emotional, is a response to that sensory information.

You sense you are standing on the wobbly surface of a trampoline and adjust your stance and stability accordingly.

You hear instructions and start to perform the task.

You munch on a cracker and savor the taste as you enjoy the crunch.

You can only respond appropriately if the information is appropriate. Sometimes, however, the information your brain receives does not reflect the information it should have received.

Sensory information on its way to the brain gets stuck, overamplified, or underamplified.

The wobbly surface of the trampoline isn’t properly apprehended by your nervous system. You can’t adjust your stability - and you fall.

You listen to the instructions, but don’t fully comprehend them, as if there was static on the line in a phone conversation. Either you can’t start the task, or you do but perform it incorrectly.

You bite into the cracker - and the spices are overwhelmingly intense. The crunchiness is so crunchy that it feels like you’re biting through rock candy. You spit your bite out - or if you somehow manage to get it down, you’re certainly not taking another one.

Sensory processing disorder can affect everything in life from eating to schoolwork to interpersonal relationships.

How SPD might manifest

  • Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to touch, pain, sounds, tastes
  • Clumsiness
  • Has problems eating
  • Difficulty performing fine motor tasks
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Hard to calm down
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Speech is difficult to understand/stumbles over words

See our sensory questionnaire for a more comprehensive list of symptoms.

What causes SPD

There’s no conclusive evidence on causes. Potential causes would be anything that interferes with the healthy development of the neurological system. Top candidates are:

  • Genetic factors
  • Premature birth, nutritional deficiencies in utero or as an infant/toddler
  • Environmental factors

Treating SPD

Our neurological systems are very malleable, especially in babies and young children. New, appropriate pathways for sensory signals can be learned.

Techniques for teaching the brain and the nervous system to react accurately to sensory stimuli include:

  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Reflex integration therapy
  • Neurodevelopmental therapy (NDT)
  • Compensatory techniques to help parents cope with behaviors and reactions for the "short-term"
  • Behavioral techniques to help parents guide their children through difficult experiences