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A Walk Through Sensory Processing Disorder

Dec 7, 2023

Child with Autism

Let’s say that your teenagers make you breakfast on a cold, brisk morning. Blankets help warm your body enough to get out of bed and follow the smell of bacon. When you go to the kitchen, you hear the clamor of pots and soft giggling from your kiddos. You catch sight of your children who hand off your morning coffee. Oh, the creamy bitterness. Now imagine that the morning is not only cold but freezing. Maybe the sound of the pots is more than a clamor. It’s an earthquake. Sensory processing disorder can look different to everyone. It’s essential to address so that you and your kids can enjoy every precious morning. 

Sensory Processing in the Day-to-Day

Our experiences in the world are vast. When we have an experience, we take it all in through our senses. Sensory processing means that our nervous system absorbs this information through our senses, processes it, and then produces a response. If your kids cook up bacon in the kitchen, your sense of smell will detect it. Once alerted, your response will be a smile unless somebody burned the bacon (or maybe you don’t like bacon!). Kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD) register the sensation, but they have heightened awareness with the senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) to the point of overstimulation or under stimulation. Remember that no body is built the same, so responses can range from mild to severe depending on the individual.

Sensory Processing Disorder Defined

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) occurs when your child registers the sense, but the brain disorganizes it. This means that your kiddo will not exhibit an appropriate response to a stimulus. For example, if the stimulus is emergency vehicle sirens, your child may cover their ears or try to flee the area from the intensity. A sensory processing disorder is not necessarily related to the occasional out-of-place reaction. With SPD, the way your child responds to a specific sense interferes with day-to-day life and happy functioning.

What SPD Looks Like

Any of our senses can be affected by sensory processing disorder (SPD), which adds complexity to the disorder. Autism is often accompanied with SPD, but a child does not need to be on the spectrum in order to experience SPD. While every child will differ, inappropriate responses can manifest and be identified in key ways:

  1. Overstimulation: results in sensory responses related to avoidance, fear, refusal, or distraction
  2. Understimulation: may seek constant touch, be fidgety, have a high tolerance to pain, or may not know their own strength when interacting with others and pets
  3. Motor Control: balancing, coordinating, stabilization difficulties
  4. Multiple Senses: may have trouble discerning differences and similarities between senses

Occupational therapists are a great choice for SPD assistance because they will challenge the senses of your child in a way that will help them utilize appropriate responses. In this way, your kiddo will regulate their senses better which will elevate enjoyment with daily activities. Although no one knows the cause of SPD, it is theorized that genetics and/or prenatal or birth complications play a role. No matter the reason, your kiddo is fully capable of improvement and feeling comfortable in both their amazing bodies and awe-inspiring environments.