What is Sensory Processing?

sensory processing disorder, SPD,

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  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Sensory Integration Dysfunction
  • Sensory diet
  • Sensory Deficits

What does it all mean?

Everyone knows what the five senses are; taste, touch, smell, hear, and see. Did you know that there are actually two more senses? It’s true! Vestibular function is a person’s sense of balance and proprioception is a person’s sense of where their body is. Without any awareness on our part, our brain effortlessly processes the information from all of these senses to help us do what we need to do and get where we are going.

That said, everyone has something sensory that bothers them, or that comforts them. For example; I can’t stand the sound of talk radio or static. My sister can’t bear to have anything close to her neck (no turtlenecks or scarves for her). You may hate the smell of something or can’t tolerate the texture of certain food (tuna fish, ew!). Your child may crave a certain blanket or mouth a certain toy when they are upset for comfort. These are simple sensory issues that don’t interfere with our lives.

When a child has a significant amount of difficulty processing all the sensory information appropriately in order to function appropriately, then it is a sensory issue. Some children are diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which was formerly known as Sensory Integrative Dysfunction (SID). One of the reasons they changed it to SPD was because the acronym was confusing with Sudden Infant Death syndrome.

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder that is still in the process of being accepted and treated by the medical world. With more research, it is becoming more well-known and the children who need help are finally getting it!

Sensory processing disorder is often (but not always!) accompanied by other diagnosis; Autism Spectrum disorders, Intellectual disabilities, Developmental delays, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, ,Fragile X, ADHD, and more. This is one of the reasons it is hard to get solid research on just Sensory Processing Disorder.

Anyway! Children who have difficulty integrating the information from all of their senses properly can respond in a variety of ways. Some of them are too sensitive; covering their ears, spitting out food, etc. While others seem to be unaware of the noises, bumps and bruises, etc. There are different types of sensory processing disorder, which I will go into at a later date.

Here is a list of some symptoms you may see in a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

  • Crying with loud sounds, sirens, vacuum cleaner
  • Will only eat certain foods or certain food textures
  • Wants to wear the same clothes all the time
  • Wants you to tie their shoes extra tight
  • Refuse to flush the toilet
  • Can’t stand being barefoot in grass or sand
  • Always craving hugs, laying on you or does not like to be touched
  • May run in circles for hours and not get tired
  • Difficulty going to sleep
  • Distressed by tags in clothing, seams in socks, etc.
  • Excessively mouthing objects
  • Loves to spin or swing for long periods of time
  • May look disheveled, doesn’t notice if pants are falling down, etc.
  • Difficulty with fine motor activities
  • May appear clumsy or uncoordinated
  • May avoid certain equipment at the park
  • Avoids the swing or rotating rides
  • Excessively bangs things and makes noise
  • Hits, bumps into, knocks over other children
  • Startled by loud noises
  • Talks out loud to get themselves through a task
  • Fearful of the dentist, toothbrushing, the barber, haircutting
  • Refuses certain foods because of its smell
  • Is easily distracted
  • Difficulty getting along with peers

This is an abbreviated list of what you may see in a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. For a more comprehensive list and much more information, please check out the Sensory Processing Disorder Resource Center.

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8 thoughts on “What is Sensory Processing?

  1. Andrea DeBroka-Lob says:

    Can’t we just call it Sensory Sensitivities instead of a disorder? The word disorder immediately sends parents into a panic or a slew of excuses/denials.
    This word, disorder, often makes the whole process of getting a child the help they need take longer.

    • Jaime S says:

      Hi Andrea! I know what you mean. Many people do have sensory sensitivities, but when it impacts your life and interferes with your ability to participate in daily activities, that’s when it usually meets the criteria for SPD. But don’t get hung up on the terminology- there are tons of ways to help your kiddo. The important thing is that you are learning how! Good luck, Mamma!

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