Sensory Processing: A Parent’s Guide


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complicated disorder for several different reasons. Because its symptoms range in severity and can be vastly different from child to child, SPD is often overlooked or misdiagnosed. The symptoms for toddlers, preschool-aged, and school-aged children are also rather common for the age group. For example, school-aged children with SPD may be fidgety, worrisome, aggressive, withdrawn, easily distracted, sensitive, etc. These “symptoms” sound like the typical 7-12 year old. In fact, these same characteristics could apply to the average adult on any given day.

As discreet as this condition can be, SPD can have significant effects on a child’s ability to learn and adapt to different environments. This, of course, could result in setbacks at home, school, and in social situations. Here are some fast facts about Sensory Processing Disorder and its potential effects on your child.

  • SPD is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to receive, interpret, and respond to information that comes through the senses.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder can cause oversensitivity of the senses. For instance, a child may be particularly bothered by the tactile feel of a certain type of material or fabric. Others with SPD could be easily disturbed by common sounds or certain levels of light.
  • These aversions to certain sensory messages may seem arbitrary or overly dramatic to people that are unfamiliar with this condition. However, a child with SPD is truly affected by these triggers. A certain ordinary sound or texture of a specific food could cause a child to become physically sick. Obviously, these aversions and reactions can greatly affect the child’s social and cognitive development.
  • Some children with SPD struggle more with spatial awareness. This means that they may exhibit a lack of coordination, difficulty with physical play or movement, and may frequently bump into things while walking. Children that fall on this end of the spectrum of SPD will also exhibit clumsiness and an inability to control or manage their limbs in relation to their surroundings.
  • Because SPD is not currently categorized as a medical condition, treatment options can be difficult to come by. For most occupational therapists treating children with sensory processing problems, a common approach is called “sensory integration.” Similarly to exposure therapy, sensory integration involves presenting the child with opportunities to confront the sounds, sights, tastes, textures, etc., that cause discomfort or distress. The idea behind this method is to strategically teach the child how to interpret and respond appropriately to the sensory input.
  • Some forms of physical therapy could also be beneficial when movement and physical functions are compromised by SPD. Again, the idea is to exercise the brain like a muscle, acclimating it to receive and respond properly.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder does not necessarily have to accompany another condition; however, it is commonly seen in children on the autism spectrum.