Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information (stimuli). Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD can affect all of your senses, or just one. SPD usually means you're overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not
‘Sensory Processing’ is the way in which the nervous system receives sensory messages and generates them into responses. Majority of us are born with the capacity to receive sensory information and organise it effortlessly into appropriate behavioural and physiological responses.
For example if we are cooking toast and smell it burning we don’t have to stop and think what to do. We unconsciously interpret the information into a behavioural response of rushing to the kitchen and turning off the toaster.
Simultaneously our body produces a physiological response; increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure, fine sweat. (Adapted from Miller, 2006)
What are the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?
Below are some of the typical behaviours that someone with Sensory Processing Disorder may display. This list is not exhaustive.
Types of Sensory Processing Disorder
1. Sensory Modulation Disorder:
The child experiences difficulty processing sensory information into appropriate behaviours/responses which match the intensity of the sensory information (Miller, 2006)
There are 3 types of SMD:
I. Sensory Over-Responsivity (sensory defensiveness) This is where children respond more intensely & faster for longer durations e.g. becoming really upset when touched by another child standing in line (Miller, 2006)
II. Sensory Under-Responsivity – These children show less of a response to sensory input than would be expected for the situation, they take longer to respond and require more intense input before they even respond e.g. having a high pain threshold (Miller, 2006)
III. Sensory Seeking – These children have a intense craving for sensory experiences and will actively seek this out, often in ways that aren’t matched or appropriate to the environment e.g. running around during group time (Miller, 2006)
2. Sensory-Based Motor Disorder:
This is where the child has trouble controlling, planning and supporting their movements into a smooth, coordinated and sequence way.
There are 2 types of SBMD:
I. Dyspraxia – These children have difficult processing sensory information to create physical, unfamiliar or sequenced movements e.g. difficulty riding a bike (Miller, 2006)
II. Postural Disorder – These children have difficulty maintaining enough control of their bodies to meet the demands of a given motor task e.g. difficulty remaining in an upright sitting position for writing tasks (Miller, 2006)
3. Sensory Discrimination Disorder:
This is where the child experiences difficulty distinguishing between similar sensations. They need additional time to process sensory information and their capacity to perceive the information as quickly and naturally as other children do is reduced. For example they may unable to up their buttons or find their pencil in their pencil case without looking (Miller, 2006)
Children can present with a combination of sensory processing patterns or may only have one of the above discussed difficulties.
Q : Is my child trying to feed a sensory system by increasing the input to it?
Answer: Maybe, but do not stop them from feeding this system, try and find acceptable ways they can do this.
Q: Is my child defensive of certain sensory inputs?
Answer: They may have difficulty filtering input to their sensory systems. Be gentle in gradually increasing their tolerance. Seek advice if you are concerned.
Q: Is the environment contributing to my child’s sensory difficulties?
Answer: Look at ordering the environment so it is not overloading them. Break down the elements that might be affecting them, and reduce the stimulus (e.g. putting away toys into boxes reduces visual overload).
Q: How can I reduce the impact of sensory over load?
Answer: The use of weight bearing or heavy muscle activity can calm a child before a challenging event/activity.
ASD Helping Hands offer a low cost sensory profile that can give you an idea of your childs sensory difficulties.