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Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Published on Apr 06, 2020 and last reviewed on Jan 12, 2023   -  4 min read


Sensory processing disorder is known to contribute to behavioral and emotional problems, particularly in children and adolescents. Read the article to know about its signs, symptoms, and treatment.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

What Are Sensory Processing Difficulties?

Young people with sensory processing difficulties have trouble in dealing with their sensory input and can find everyday life difficult. Most humans seamlessly deal with information related to touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste, body movements, etc. But those suffering from this sensory processing difficulties can be either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to one or different senses. Some can suffer a combination of both hyper and hypo sensitivity to different senses.

Children and adolescents with sensory processing difficulties can be fussy, fidgety, overactive, struggle to concentrate in classes, get anxious,and react aggressively when faced with uncomfortable stimuli and refuse to engage in normal daily activities. Even innocuous activities like taking bath, brushing teeth, and getting dressed can become a battle when the child is having sensory processing difficulties. They can be easily misunderstood and their behaviour can be wrongly interpreted as intentionally difficult.

Sensory processing difficulties can run in families and is said to have a genetic component. It may happen due to differences in the way senses are processed by the brain, but the exact cause and biological underpinnings are still being studied.


Young people suffering from hypersensitivity can be highly disturbed by seemingly normal sensory input. Usual sensory stimuli can be perceived as uncomfortable or painful and can negatively affect the person’s emotions and behaviour.

  • Some find it difficult to tolerate loud sounds. Even sounds which are part of daily life like vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, chatting in groups, etc., can be too much and sufferers tend to cover their ears with their hands. They need to move away from noisy environments.
  • Hypersensitivity to taste will make people avoid strong spicy food.
  • Hypersensitivity to light will make people avoid bright rooms, avoid going out during sunny weather and dislike highly coloured places.
  • Those with hypersensitivity to smell will avoid food items with strong aroma and avoid perfumes. They gag when they dislike the sensory stimuli.
  • Some people can dislike touch, particularly certain textures and feel that can make them uncomfortable. Common examples include avoiding certain types of clothes, dislike of cloth labels and cutting them off new clothes, wearing only loosely fitting garments, etc.
  • Even a routine chore like visiting a barber for hair cutting can be extremely challenging if a child has hypersensitivity to touch and noise. They can be very particular to the temperature of the water they drink or take a bath.
  • Some young people are not able to tolerate excessive vestibular input. They may dislike playing in swings, jumping on the trampoline, travelling up a hilly terrain, etc.


  • Young people with hyposensitivity tend to seek a higher level of sensory input compared to others.
  • Those with hyposensitivity to sound tend to keep the volume loud. They can seem oblivious to the loud noise. Sometimes they may not notice some noise and may fail to respond to being called.
  • Hyposensitivity to taste will make them prefer spicy food with strong tastes.
  • Likewise, hyposensitivity to smell will make them prefer strong perfumes. They may seem less bothered by some strong odours.
  • Those with hyposensitivity to light may seek out bright contrasting colours, prefer bright lights.
  • When the person is hyposensitive to touch, they can be fidgety and seek more stimulation. They may have a higher threshold to pain.

How to Manage Sensory Processing Difficulties?

Many young people learn to compensate and some have spontaneous improvement in their sensory symptoms as they grow older. Improving awareness about this condition, especially among parents and teachers will help to manage young people with sensory processing difficulties. Recognize that sensory overload can upset young people with this condition and can adversely affect their behaviour. Health professionals can advise about making simple modifications and help people to manage uncomfortable sensory input, which will have a calming effect. For example,

  1. Wearing ear plugs can help to manage noisy areas and going out during non-peak quieter hours can help.
  2. Wearing sunglasses can help to manage a bright environment.
  3. Choosing comfortable fabrics and cutting off labels can help to tolerate new clothes easily.
  4. Chewy and crunchy food can help with improving eating.
  5. In some people, using weighted blankets can help to calm them when getting anxious and agitated. In some children, using a small fidget toy can help them to distract from other disliked stimuli.

Consult a doctor experienced in this field or occupational therapist who can help to formulate an individual plan to manage people based on their sensory profile.

Case Example:

Some months ago, I had a parent consulting me for advice about his son who was in primary school. He is reported to have behavioural difficulties and parents found it hard dealing with his fussy behaviour on a daily basis. For example, parents were frustrated to get him dressed. The child always wanted to wear the same pants daily. He threw a major tantrum when his parents made him wear other clothes. He was very comfortable wearing blue coloured jeans from a lesser known brand. He preferred the same colour, he was comfortable with the feel and stitch of that particular jeans brand. He was reluctant to wear other clothes, he did not even try jeans from other costlier brands. Whenever he was made to wear other pants, he became restless, distractible, anxious, and eventually had behavioural meltdowns. He also was eating a limited repertoire of food items. He disliked food items with strong taste, smell, and gagged when made to eat oily food. He also disliked the noise when parents were using a mixer grinder and vacuum cleaner at home.

This young boy was clearly hypersensitive to touch, texture, smell, taste and noise. Before his difficulties were recognised as related to sensory processing difficulties, his parents, family and teachers wrongly assumed that he was deliberately difficult. All disciplinary measures did not work and life was difficult for the young boy and everyone involved. Thankfully, a practical approach involving calming strategies, sensory strategies with occupational therapy input helped in managing the child’s various hypersensitivities. There was a remarkable improvement in his behaviour both at home and school in a matter of a few weeks.

If any parents or teachers are concerned about possible sensory processing difficulties in their children, consult your doctor for further advice. Health professionals like paediatrician, child psychiatrist, psychologist or occupational therapist can help with further assessment and management.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Causes of Sensory Issues?

The exact cause for sensory issues is not identified. The possible causes for the occurrence of sensory processing disorder are:
- Preterm birth.
- Adoption of kids.
- Low birth weight.
- Poor prenatal care.
- Environmental factors.
- Anxiety and stress-related disorders.


What Are the Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?

Children who are suffering from sensory processing difficulties can be fidgety, fussy, overactive. They struggle to gain concentration in classes. These kids tend to get anxious, and they might react aggressively when they face uncomfortable stimuli. It is better to consult a doctor immediately for this disorder.


What Are Examples of Sensory Issues?

The examples of sensory issues can be identified with the following changes in children.
- The clothing feels too itchy.
- They feel the lights seem too bright.
- The sounds might also seem too loud.
- The soft touches from objects or others feel too hard.
- The smell and taste of food make them gag.
- Have poor balance in the body.
- They are afraid of swings.


What Are the Patterns of Sensory Processing Disorders?

There are three patterns of sensory processing disorder. They are:
- Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).
- Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD).
- Sensory Discrimination Disorder.


Is SPD a Disability?

Yes, sensory processing disorder is categorized as a disability. The child has difficulty in motor, visual, and auditory skills. This disability makes a child eligible for any special type of education and any other type of services.


What Is the Difference Between Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism?

Children with are affected by autism have a problem in the emotional and social pathways. This is not seen in children with sensory processing disorder. The sensation of touch is more problematic for sensory processing disorder patients, whereas the auditory issues are more prominent in autism patients.


How Does Sensory Processing Disorder Affect Learning?

Children affected by sensory processing disorder find it hard to understand the sensory messages taught in the learning process. This makes it difficult for the child to respond to the lessons in a proper meaningful manner. This will impact the process of learning.


Can Sensory Processing Disorder Cause Speech Delay?

Yes, sensory processing disorder can cause a delay in speech. In some patients, severe articulation problems are also seen. You have to get help from a speech pathologist and speech therapy to rectify the condition's symptoms.


Can a Child Have Sensory Issues and Not Be Autistic?

Autism and sensory processing disorder are two different conditions. Children who are having sensory issues do not necessarily have autistic problems. In some instances, there are possibilities for the sensory problem disorder child to have symptoms of autism.


How Can I Help My Child With Sensory Processing Disorder?

You can involve your child in the following activities to overcome sensory processing disorder.
- Allow your child to play with a fidget.
- Providing a quiet environment. You can also provide earplugs for noise sensitivity.
- Provide prior information to your child about a change in routine.
- Keep your child away from lights, doors, and windows.


Can Sensory Processing Disorder Be Cured?

When a person achieves neurological maturation, a decline in the symptoms is noted. Many medical reports suggest that complete cure and the associated methods of treatment are not identified. However, with professional help, there are chances for a definite improvement in the symptoms' negative effects.


How Do You Control Sensory Processing Disorder?

Occupational therapists play an essential role in controlling the symptoms of sensory processing disorder. These therapists focus on providing sensory regulation and integration methods to manage the routine activities of the individual. You can also consult your doctor for better diagnosis and treatment options.


Can a Child Outgrow a Sensory Processing Disorder?

Yes, it is possible for the child to outgrow the sensory processing disorder. As the child grows, the symptoms tend to get less severe, and it might resolve the condition. With ideal treatment methods, it is possible for the child to get a faster recovery.


How Do You Discipline a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder?

The parents must understand what kind of sensory input the child is actually seeking. Giving punishment for the child is not recommended as it might enhance the fear in their minds. It is good to redirect them to any other activity.


How Do You Diagnose Sensory Processing Disorder?

The identification of sensory processing disorder starts with their parents. They might detect some unusual behavior in the child but would not know what exactly is the difference. Such conditions would require a diagnosis from a medical health care professional. They make assessments and tests with standard tools to identify the condition.


Does SPD Worsen With Age?

No, it does not worsen with age. In fact, it will get better after a certain age. But, if there is a problem in the balance, then it might get worse with age. Some of the symptoms might actually relieve with maturity. It depends on the genetic status and severity of the condition.

Last reviewed at:
12 Jan 2023  -  4 min read




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