What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

What is sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition where the nervous system does not process sensory input correctly. A person with SPD may have difficulty regulating their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in response to external stimuli that would normally be considered harmless or non-threatening. 

Occupational therapists work with children who have SPD to help them develop strategies for coping with these challenges. These strategies can include making changes in the environment, modifying tasks, providing aids for completing tasks, and teaching relaxation skills. 

They can also work on the underlying skills that contribute to the sensory processing disorder such as motor planning and unintegrated reflexes.

What are the types of sensory processing disorders?

There are several different types of sensory processing disorders. These include:

Auditory Processing

This is the difficulty of processing sounds. This may include being highly sensitive to noises. 

Oral Defensiveness or Oral Seeking

Sensory issues related to food textures and tastes are common in children with SPD. Some examples include refusing specific foods that require chewing or certain consistencies of liquids or sucking on non-food items, such as shirt sleeves or fingers.

Tactile Defensiveness and Tactile Seeking

Children can be highly sensitive to certain textures. This may be seen by not wanting to have their hands dirty, or only wearing certain types of clothing in tactile sensitivity. Other children seek out a lot of sensory input, including tactile/touch input. These children usually love sensory bins.

Vestibular processing

Vestibular processing is the difficulty with movement. Either in seeking excess movement, or displaying difficulty tolerating movements such as gravitational insecurity.  Children with vestibular processing disorders may crave swinging or bouncing.

What are some functional examples of difficulties a child who has sensory processing disorder displays?

Very often I will see children who display oral defensiveness in my practice, especially in toddlers. Occupational therapy intervention will consist of techniques to decrease sensitivity to items in the mouth. The occupational therapist will do a thorough evaluation to determine which types of foods the child is sensitive to. This is a complex process and should be performed by OT who is experienced in sensory processing difficulties and also feeding disorders. 

What is the difference between sensory processing disorder and Autism?

What is the definition of autism? 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction. It is caused by abnormalities in the brain that affect the way a person perceives the world and relates to others. People with ASD may have difficulty understanding language, expressing themselves, and interacting with others. They may also exhibit repetitive behaviors or be overly sensitive to sensory input (e.g., sounds, sights). ASD falls on a spectrum of disorders; the symptoms and severity can vary greatly from person to person.

Many people with sensory issues also experience other difficulties such as anxiety or attentional problems that may be misdiagnosed as ASD. There is no single test that can diagnose sensory processing disorder or autism; instead, a team of specialists, including occupational therapists, will typically use a variety of tools and assessments to make a diagnosis.

What's the difference between SPD and autism? 

The main difference between these two disorders lies in the areas where the brain is affected. ASD affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for social interaction, communication, and sensory processing. Sensory modulation disorder (SPD) appears to be related more to deficits in information processing between different areas of the nervous system. People with SPD may have difficulty interpreting or responding to sensations such as touch or sound that other people typically take for granted.

Does sensory processing disorder mean a child has autism?

No, while children with autism typically have difficulty with sensory processing. The reverse logic is not true. Children with sensory processing disorder often do NOT have autism.

Children with autism or adhd may have sensory processing disorder. Or they may have SPD with no other diagnosis.

See my other article Should Families Always Pursue an Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis?

How do I know if my child has sensory processing disorder?

If you are concerned that your child may have SPD or if you would like more information about how occupational therapists can help, please search for “occupational therapist near me”, or look at your insurance company providers. They will be able to provide you with additional resources and answer any questions you may have. 

Does your child have a hard time staying calm?

Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

Learn the differences so you can respond with confidence!

Meltdown or tantrum download

How do occupational therapists work with children with sensory processing disorder?

The goals of occupational therapists working with children who have SPD range from helping them learn to tolerate and regulate sensory input (e.g., provide a weighted blanket), to teaching them how to use visual supports, such as pictures or text, in order to better understand their surroundings and the process required for completing tasks (such as math problems). 

Ultimately, through a combination of therapies and strategies, occupational therapists help these children to better understand and cope with their environment, which leads to increased independence and improved quality of life.


Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects how the brain interprets information from one or more of our senses. Many factors are involved in an OT evaluation with children who have difficulty processing sensory input. Occupational therapists, who are experts in sensory integration therapy, work with children to help them develop coping skills and strategies for dealing with their SPD symptoms. 

Looking for sensory items to help your child stay calm and regulated?

Check out the products at SensaCalm! Weighted blankets and other sensory accessories.

**Looking for a better way to travel with your special needs child? Check out Autism on the Seas! Use the code OR-239 to receive $25 onboard credit!**

Halloween can be a very difficult time for children with sensory processing disorder. Check out my Halloween tips.

Similar Posts