Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses.

Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.

A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioural problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.


One study (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, McIntosh, 2004) shows that at least 1 in 20 children’s daily life is affected by SPD. Another research study by the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group (Ben-Sasson, Carter, Briggs-Gowen, 2009) suggests that 1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions. Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, like those of most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic, and they disrupt everyday life.


Sensory Processing Disorder is most commonly diagnosed in children, but people who reach adulthood without treatment also experience symptoms and continue to be affected by their inability to accurately and appropriately interpret sensory messages.


Causes of SPD


Preliminary research suggests that SPD is often inherited. If so, it can be said that the genes are coded and show forth in generations after us. Prenatal and birth complications have also been implicated, and environmental factors may be involved. the causes of SPD are likely to be the result of factors that are both genetic and environmental. Only with more research will it be possible to identify the role of each.


Categories of SPD


  1. Sensory modulation disorder (SMD)
  2. Sensory-based motor disorder (SBMD)
  3. Sensory discrimination disorder (SDD)


Sensory modulation Disorder (SMD) refers to a complex central nervous system process by which neural messages that convey information about the intensity, frequency, duration, complexity, and novelty of sensory stimuli are adjusted. Those with SMD present difficulties processing the degree of intensity, duration, frequency, etc., of information and may exhibit behaviours with a fearful and/or anxious pattern, negative and/or stubborn behaviours, self-absorbed behaviours that are difficult to engage, or creative or actively seeking sensation.


Sensory-based motor disorder (SBMD) : Sensory-based motor disorder shows motor output that is disorganized as a result of incorrect processing of sensory information affecting postural control challenges, resulting in postural disorder, and/or developmental coordination disorder.


Sensory discrimination disorder (SDD) : Sensory discrimination disorder involves the incorrect processing of sensory information. Incorrect processing of visual or auditory input, for example, may be seen in inattentiveness, disorganization, and poor school performance.


There are subtypes for each category of SPD but I would concentrate on two namely taste and smell and the reason isn’t far-fetched.

Treatment of SPD

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Most children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are just as intelligent as their peers. Many are intellectually gifted. Their brains are simply wired differently. They need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information, and they need leisure activities that suit their own sensory processing needs.

Therapy Treatment Sessions

There are two therapy methods adopted once a child is diagnosed to have SPD. They are:

  1. Sensory Integration therapy
  2. Sensory processing therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy:

The main form of sensory integration therapy is a type of occupational therapy that places a child in a room specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses.

During the session, the therapist works closely with the child to provide a level of sensory stimulation that the child can cope with, and encourage movement within the room. Sensory integration therapy is driven by four main principles:

Just right challenge (the child must be able to successfully meet the challenges that are presented through playful activities)

Adaptive response (the child adapts his behaviour with new and useful strategies in response to the challenges presented)

Active engagement (the child will want to participate because the activities are fun)

Child directed (the child’s preferences are used to initiate therapeutic experiences within the session)


Sensory Processing therapy:

  • intensity (person attends therapy daily for a prolonged period of time)
  • Developmental approach (therapist adapts to the developmental age of the person, against actual age)
  • Test-retest systematic evaluation (all clients are evaluated before and after)
  • Process driven vs. activity driven (therapist focuses on the “Just right” emotional connection and the process the reinforces the relationship)
  • Parent education (parent education sessions are scheduled into the therapy process)
  • The practice of “joie de vivre” (happiness of life is therapy’s main goal, attained through social participation, self-regulation, and self-esteem)
  • These are done in addition to those listed for Sensory integration disorder

There are other therapies that may be applied. For example, a child with hyper- reactive won’t sleep gently or easily but a slow music, yoga, gentle breathing may help put such a child to sleep with the effect of soft light.


While occupational therapists using a sensory integration frame of reference work on increasing a child’s ability to adequately process sensory input, other therapists may focus on environmental accommodations that parents and school staff can use to enhance the child’s function at home, school, and in the community.

Furthermore, adults may also suffer from SPD especially in the case of Asperger’s disease. This is to let you know it may not be restricted to children alone.

If there is a case of insensitive to taste and smell, does this account for Picky eating?

This will form Part 2 of this discussion.

There is a foundation known as the Sensory Processing Disorder  Foundation

Toluse Francis

Toluse Francis believes a healthy lifestyle is paramount for everyone. He is a long -time volunteer with Solid Foundation Teens and Youth Ministry. He loves to care for people. Toluse Francis is a Health Coach and author He is interested in seeing people eat healthy and get productive. He believes a healthy lifestyle is paramount for everyone.

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