What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

This is a neurological disorder that causes difficulty with how the brain processes information that comes from the various sensory systems. This disorder can stand on its own or we see it with those also struggling with Autism, ADHD, PTSD and Brain injury.

Reports say anywhere from 1 in 6 or 1 in 20 have SPD. Another report said 16% of the population. Thats more than the whole population of Canada (my former home).

Thats alot of people struggling to either feel comfortable in their bodies, around other people or just the world around them.

Our senses are so important, especially for a child. Its crucial for proper development, communication, safety.

The sensory system includes the following:

  • Visual - Sight

  • Auditory - Hearing

  • Olfactory - Smell

  • Oral - Taste

  • Vestibular - sensing our bodies in space

  • Proprioceptive - Way our bodies move

  • Tactile - Touch

  • Interoceptive - sensing our bodies internal environment, hunger, thirst, physical health

No two kids are alike in what overwhelms them. To simplify there are three main types.

1) Sensory Modulation Disorder

The brain is having trouble interpreting the input. Challenged in tuning out background noise. Have innapropriate responses to the sensory input.

a) Sensory Over Responsive:

Extremely sensitive to stimuli, nervous systems on high alert. I call them my Sensory avoiders. I have one daughter that cannot handle the feel of paper and wood products. She needs to wear gloves if she has to read a book at school. I have another son, that when he was little would scream bloody murder when he had to get either his nails or hair cut. I remember one especially tragic trip to the salon. It took two of us to hold him down while the haridresser cut his hair. His face was beet red, tears, screams. By the end the young girl doing his hair was distraught and in tears too. I learned to wait till he fell asleep to cut his hair and nails. Now at the age of 23, the pain, he reports, is not as bad and he has learned to grin and bear it.

Other Characteristics of a "Sensory Avoider or hypersensitive child".

  • Meltdowns, feeling overwhelmed

  • Fearful and cautious, especially of new foods, environments etc.

  • Can be a Picky eater (sensitive to smells)

  • Overwhelmed by too many people or loud noise

  • Light touch is annoying or distressful

  • Overly agitated by certain fabrics, tags etc

  • Hates the feeling of being sticky, dirty

  • Haircuts, nail clipping stressful

  • Avoids brushing teeth

  • Overactive gag reflex

  • sensitive to smells, lights

  • Fear of heights, motion sickness

2) Sensory Under-Responsivity

These children are quiet, passive or seem withdrawn. They seem to lack awareness of pain, hot, cold, even other people. I have another Autistic child who is also like this, he is not aware if he is hungry, cold, hot. As a 4 year old he thought nothing of stripping naked and streaking through the neighborhood on a cold rainy Canadian day. He really was a perfect baby so quiet, calm, never cried. Reminded me of the "baby Yoda" puppet in the Star Wars Mandalorian series.

Other Characteristics:

  • Slow to respond

  • Passive

  • Doesn't cry when hurt

  • Clumsiness

  • Low Muscle Tone

  • In their own world, day dreamers

  • Messy

  • Doesnt notice when hands, feet or other body parts get wet or dirty

  • Seem to be able to eat anything, or unable to notice tastes, textures

  • Overly tolerant of loud noises

  • Oftem seeem to miss what is right infront of them

  • Not afraid of heights

  • Low levels of energy

3) Sensory Seeking (needing stimulation not over sensitive)

They seek out stimuli, crashing, banging, squeeze too hard. They are overly impulsive, seem to have a lack of filters. This group can also have or be confused with ADHD. My youngest is what we affectionaly called the human pinball machine. As soon as the sun poked it rays through the curtains he was awake and up like a "bat out of hell". High energy, needed constant stimulation from family, electronics, friends till he passed out by 8:30pm every night. He would get anxious and chew through his fingernails, tore skin off his toes and chewed through 5 earphone cords.

Characterisitcs of a Sensory Seeker

  • Constantly moving

  • Impulsive

  • Takes risks

  • Unable to sit still

  • Loud or demanding personality

  • Loves to jump, run anything physical

  • Loves to be touches, massage is helpful if they can lay still

  • Crave sensory stimulating foods like pop, ramen noodles, crackers, dry cereal anything they can crunch!

  • May chew their clothes, nails, or anything around the house

  • like loud noises, turns up the TV

  • May overeat

There are also two other types in the Sensory-Motor Disorder. Dyspraxia and Postural Disorder

Dyspraxia is where they have difficulty with movement. Can be gross motor, fine motor or oral motor. Simply put their bodies don't seem to be able to do what their brains tell them to do.

Postural Disorder affects the muscle tone, balance and ability to control their muscles.

  • Difficulty using utencils, scissors etc

  • Trouble zipping up or using buttons

  • handwriting

  • Unable to see and follow through several steps

  • Poor hand eye coordination

  • May drool, poor eating habits

  • Hard to maintain balance while standing

  • Clumsy, sits in unusual positions

  • Low endurance, gets tired easily

As I mentioned, no two kids are alike and can have also have a blend or also have ADHD or Autism. It is really hard sometimes to accurately label when there is so much overlap.

For myself I have ADHD and my sensory challenges are in the hearing, taste, tactile and smell categories.

When I was little I used to ball up paper to put in my ears to reduce the noise, especially at night or at school.

I thought I was careful in being able to take it out of my ears. In my early 20's I had some issues with my ears and had to go to a specialist. They discovered old paper had been wedged down deep in the canal, that was embarrasing. I can't touch certain man-made fabrics, I used to have nightmares as a kid of green foam chasing me. The old kind that you would take camping to lie on the ground with.

Over the last few years my family and I have gotten better and reduced the symptoms or severity of our Sensory issues.

I start with the cornerstone for brain health, by giving the the brain the nutrients it actually needs, at the researched levels that are most effective with Daily Essential Nutrients. Then we added exercises, massage and other therapies that are designed to help the brain cconnect the dots. That my friends is another blog article.

Tara Wood L.M.T.