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Sensory Processing Disorder

two teenage boys standing in front of building

What would life be like if we couldn’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch? Without a doubt, our sensory experiences, such as hearing beautiful music or tasting delicious food enrich our lives. But what if hearing common noises caused you so much pain, you were overwhelmed? Or suppose that even a light touch causes your skin to hurt and chafe?

These are just two examples of Sensory Processing Disorder. SPD is a condition where the brain is unable to accurately receive and process information that comes through the senses. As a result, people with Sensory Processing Disorder might be oversensitive to sensory stimuli. Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder exist on a spectrum and can vary from person to person.

3 Important Facts

  • Sensory Processing Disorder is a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and some adults.
  • At least 1 in 20 children in affected by SPD.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder is commonly found in developmental disorders like autism. Gifted children and those with ADHD and fragile X syndrome are also at higher risk for developing SPD than the general population.

Signs to look for

  • Inability to tolerate sensory stimuli (such as bright lights, noise, or touch)
  • Unresponsiveness to sensory stimuli (for example, does not react to extreme heat or cold)
  • Clumsiness and lack of coordination (may bump into things regularly or have difficulty with motor skills)
  • Difficult to engage in conversation or play
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Slow to learn new activities and skills
  • Difficulty reading or speaking

Next steps

Untreated Sensory Processing Disorder can cause significant emotional distress such as anxiety or depression, as well as motor clumsiness, school failure, and behavioral issues. Obtaining treatment can be difficult, as many medical and mental health professionals do not recognize the symptoms of sensory processing issues. Still, treatment should be sought as it can help children and teens overcome obstacles the disorder causes and live relatively normal lives.

Typically treatment involves sensory integration, which helps the person with Sensory Processing Disorder learn to tolerate the sensory stimuli and function more normally. Other treatments include occupational therapy, which can help people with Sensory Processing Disorder manage daily activities. Other types of therapy may also beneficial. For example, family therapy can help parents whose child struggles with SPD so that they can work with teachers and others to ensure that their child’s needs are met.

Common Q and A

What causes Sensory Processing Disorder?

The cause of SPD is unknown. It is a developmental disorder that occurs in the brain. There is some research suggesting it may be hereditary. However, more research is needed to discover the factors involved in causing the disorder.

What are the emotional impacts of Sensory Processing Disorder?

SPD can cause depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, aggression, and behavioral problems. Because Sensory Processing Disorder is not widely recognized or understood, kids and teens with the disorder may be labeled as disruptive, clumsy, uncooperative, etc. This can cause people with SPD to socially isolate and experience a range of emotional and social difficulties.

How do I find treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder?

Look for a psychologist or therapist who has experience treating SPD. In addition, occupational therapy may be helpful as it can help people with SPD successfully navigate the activities of daily living. Sometimes physical therapists and speech/language therapists are also involved in treating Sensory Processing Disorder.

What research is being conducted on Sensory Processing Disorder?

Because SPD is still relatively unknown and is not widely accepted or understood, a lot of research is being conducted to better understand the disorder. Among other Sensory Processing Disorder topics, right now researchers are looking into what causes the disorder, who is at risk, how the brain with SPD looks and functions, and how effective treatment is for SPD.