Originally called “sensory integration dysfunction” or SID, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is often likened to a “neurological traffic jam,” where the brain becomes overloaded and unable to organize all the information coming from the senses. If treatment is not received, a number of extreme side effects can persist, including anxiety, behavioral problems, depression, challenges with motor skills, and difficulties at school.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain is unable to accurately and appropriately process sensations. For children, this often means an oversensitivity or under-sensitivity to sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. This inability to interpret sensory information correctly poses a challenge when dealing with a variety of everyday tasks. For example, it is not uncommon for children with SPD to be so sensitive to touch that the light touch of shirt or fabric can chafe and irritate the skin. Similarly, for some children, the sound of a vacuum or lawn mower could cause them to vomit or hide in a safe place.

Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder

Like most disorders, the symptoms of SPD can occur within a broad spectrum of severity. SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses, and while some children with SPD may exhibit hypersensitivity, some may be totally unresponsive and fail to acknowledge extreme sensations and even pain. However, it is highly uncommon for children to experience both under- and over-sensitivity. The following are some possible symptoms of sensory processing disorder.

Hypersensitivity (over-sensitivity)

  • Refuses to wear clothes because they are too itchy or irritating
  • Unable to handle loud noises and bright lights
  • Dislikes being touched—even by parents
  • Fearful of crowds and worried about safety even in safe environments
  • Distracted by background noises that are barely audible
  • Displays a general clumsiness and often bumps into things
  • Unable to control how much force they apply—e.g. rips paper when using an eraser
  • Prone to strong tantrums and extreme behaviors

Hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity)

  • Has an extremely high threshold for pain
  • Unable to understand personal space
  • Can’t remain still and is extremely fidgety
  • Loves crashing and bumping into things
  • Craves intense movements and deep pressures
  • Has a strong desire to touch people or objects even when not acceptable
  • Prone to strong tantrums and extreme behaviors

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it is important to have a professional conduct a thorough evaluation. Far too often sensory-related symptoms are ignored or misdiagnosed, which can have a number of negative effects that impact everyday life, including:  

  • Reluctance to change
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty with motor skills
  • Trouble with self-control

Treating Sensory Processing Disorders

Since SPD is not in the DSM-5 and can, therefore, not be officially “diagnosed”, many parents find it difficult to find specialized treatment. However, there are many occupational therapists and pediatric therapists who provide this type of specialized treatment, and hope should never be lost. If you suspect your child is exhibiting signs of having sensory processing issues, it is absolutely necessary to consult with a pediatrician and pediatric therapy specialists.

At FUNctionabilities, we treat SPD through sensory integration using the following skill-oriented therapies when appropriate:

Sensory Gym

The goal of sensory integration is to challenge children in fun and powerful ways to build up confidence and their ability to move forward and handle sensory issues. A key way we are able to accomplish this is through our sensory-rich environment. This is a space outfitted with equipment like trampolines, swings, climbing walls, foam pits, and more. With the guidance of pediatric occupational therapists, children are able to participate in fun activities that are structured to challenge them while also ensuring that they are always successful and positively reinforced.  

At FUNctionabilities, we always strive to make therapy fun so that your child is “Learning to Play” and “Playing to Learn.” Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an evaluation!