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What Is Sensory Processing Dysfunction?

Sensory processing dysfunction (SPD) is a time period that’s comparatively new for educators. You might hear it whereas sitting in an IEP assembly listening to an occupational therapist clarify a sensory processing analysis, when a mum or dad explains that their youngster disrupted your lesson as a result of they have been dysregulated, or when a scholar insists they want a fidget to assist them focus.

As situations go, sensory processing dysfunction is new, and it’s controversial. Right here’s all the pieces you must know the subsequent time somebody mentions SPD.

What’s sensory processing dysfunction?

First, all of us course of sensory data on a regular basis. Proper now, the brightness of the display you’re studying on, any flickering lights, possibly birds singing outdoors, are all sensations that your mind has to both take note of or ignore and filter out.

The concept of sensory integration was first recognized by occupational therapist A. Jean Ayers, PhD, within the Nineteen Seventies. Ayers hypothesized that that our sensory methods develop over time, like different points of growth, and that deficits can happen alongside the way in which. Based on Ayers, sensory processing deficits happen when sensory neurons will not be functioning, which ends up in deficits in growth or emotional regulation. The concept behind SPD is that, for some folks, the sensory data round them is both an excessive amount of or not sufficient.

What does sensory processing dysfunction seem like?

Every youngster who has deficits with sensory functioning will current in another way, however there are some themes:

  • Large reactions to sensory enter: Youngsters might have a robust response to loud noises, protecting their ears or making an attempt to keep away from loud locations.
  • Getting simply overstimulated: They might be overstimulated in environments that don’t hassle different folks. For instance, a stroll via Goal is likely to be a very good expertise for you, however the lights and smells is likely to be fully overwhelming for a kid who has sensory processing considerations.
  • Sturdy sensory preferences: A baby with SPD might favor a sure sort of contact, like very deep strain.


Picture: ASD Serving to Palms

All of us handle sensory enter in another way; a very powerful consideration is whether or not or not the kid’s sensory processing impacts their day by day life. For instance, a baby might have a robust response to loud noises. If they’re in a classroom that’s usually quiet and have warning earlier than a loud noise occurs, their sensory processing deficit might not have a fantastic impression on their day. Then again, the identical youngster in a loud classroom or at a fireworks show might have a meltdown.

Which senses are concerned?

Once we speak about SPD, we’re speaking about enter we get from the 5 senses: style, imaginative and prescient, listening to, contact, scent. We’re additionally speaking about two inside senses: proprioceptive (physique consciousness) and vestibular (motion).


Picture: Rising Early Minds

Proprioceptive receptors are in joints and ligaments and provides suggestions about motor management and posture. Our proprioceptive system offers our brains details about the place our physique is and methods to transfer. Youngsters who’re under-sensitive might love leaping and crashing. Whereas youngsters who’re over-sensitive don’t know the place their physique is compared to others and should seem clumsy.

Vestibular receptors are within the inside ear and inform the mind the place the physique is in house. This influences stability and coordination. Youngsters who’re under-sensitive are in fixed movement; youngsters who’re over-sensitive could also be afraid to do issues that require stability, like climbing or standing on one foot.

What are signs of SPD?

Youngsters with typical sensory processing can filter out a number of stimuli—the buzzing of the air conditioner, the noise from the hallway outdoors, the scent of the instructor’s espresso, that one flickering fluorescent gentle. Youngsters with SPD both have a tough time filtering, or the stimuli are dulled and their world feels muted, leaving them searching for sensory enter.

Some issues that may set off huge reactions in youngsters with SPD:

  • Hair brushing
  • Tight garments
  • Loud noises
  • Shiny lights (sunshine, strobes)
  • Sticky fingers or touching sure substances (kinetic sand, and so forth.)
  • Tags on garments
  • Sturdy scents (detergent, fragrance)

How are youngsters identified?

Sensory processing dysfunction just isn’t an official prognosis in both the DSM-IV or the American Academy of Pediatrics. An occupational therapist is usually the supplier who will examine sensory processing and convey up SPD, both as half of a bigger prognosis (like autism or ADHD) or by itself.

Youngsters who’ve hassle with sensory processing are sometimes recognized throughout their toddler years, when dad and mom or caregivers discover regarding behaviors, like:

  • Screaming if one thing touches them—like screaming if their palms get sticky or if their face will get moist
  • Throwing a tantrum once they should placed on garments
  • Having a excessive or low ache threshold
  • Crashing into partitions or folks
  • Pushing up towards folks
  • Placing objects, like paint or rocks, into their mouth
  • Operating away with out regard to security
  • Mood tantrums that come out of nowhere and take some time to resolve

If a mum or dad or instructor raises considerations {that a} youngster has sensory processing points, an occupational therapist will evaluation a sensory processing measure (a guidelines) and conduct an analysis to find out whether or not and the way a baby’s sensory processing is impacting them every day.

Is SPD simply ADHD or autism?

Not fairly. A baby with ADHD or an autistic youngster, might have sensory processing points, however a baby with sensory processing points doesn’t mechanically have ADHD or autism.

Learn extra at

Is SPD actual?

There may be debate about whether or not or not SPD is actual. Occupational therapists argue that it’s, whereas pediatricians and psychologists might disagree. Some docs argue that what’s being labeled as SPD is definitely ADHD, anxiousness, or autism.

SPD just isn’t included within the situations within the Diagnostic and Statistical Handbook (DSM) that docs use for prognosis. And the American Academy of Pediatrics said that it’s “unclear” whether or not youngsters who current with sensory issues have a dysfunction or if their sensory concerns are related to one other developmental delay, like autism or ADHD.

Nonetheless, analysis is simply beginning to be performed on SPD. One examine discovered a distinction within the brains of youngsters with sensory processing issues. Within the examine, researchers regarded on the white matter within the brains of 16 8–11-year-old boys and 24 controls. The imaging discovered vital variations within the brains of the youngsters with sensory processing issues, primarily within the white matter.

Learn extra about The Debate Over Sensory Processing.

What number of youngsters have SPD?

Research estimate that 5% to 16.5% of the overall inhabitants have signs related to SPD, although these estimates are greater amongst autistic people and people with ADHD.

What causes SPD?

As with different developmental delays, the causes of SPD are unclear and should relate to genetics. There are some elements that may put a baby in danger for SPD, together with untimely start, malnutrition, and excessive deprivation in the course of the early years (rare dealing with, frequent bundling).

How is SPD handled?

Adult hand rubbing a sensory brush on a child's arm.

Supply: (sensory brush)

Usually, occupational therapists work with youngsters with SPD utilizing sensory-based therapies, actions which are believed to offer sensory inputs to assist manage the mind’s sensory system. A baby who wants help with sensory processing could also be given a sensory weight loss program, or actions all through the day to present them the sensory enter their system is searching for. Some issues that may be included in a sensory weight loss program:

  • A brushing protocol
  • Swinging
  • Animal walks (bear walks, Froggie jumps)
  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Trampoline jumps
  • Deep-pressure squishing with pillows or balls
  • Carrying a heavy backpack or weighted vest
  • Enjoying with play dough or kinetic sand
  • Chew toys or chewy meals
  • White noise or a favourite music
Shot of a smiling girl enjoying a sensory therapy on a swing while her physiotherapist assisting her

Shot of a smiling lady having fun with a sensory remedy on a swing together with her physiotherapist aiding her

Picture: Friendship Circle

Remedy may also embody way of life modifications, like clothes with out tags, headphones, or sun shades.

Along with a sensory weight loss program, occupational therapists present a sensory integration (SI) strategy that begins in a managed surroundings to problem the sense with out overwhelming them. Over time, the objective is to assist the particular person study to handle sensory enter in order that it doesn’t impression their on a regular basis functioning. This may take a very long time; the thought is that by offering the sensory integration, it modifications how the mind processes sensory enter, which may take years.

Learn extra about sensory diets at Child Sense.

What about fidgets?

Two boys with sensory processing disorder playing with fidgets on bench in classroom.


Fidgets, or sensory toys, can be utilized as a part of a sensory weight loss program. The concept is that sensory toys have interaction a baby’s most popular sense. If a fidget is working, a baby will be capable of focus or keep calm in a annoying scenario. Not all youngsters want fidgets, and fidgets work greatest when they’re half of a bigger plan (like an IEP or an occupational remedy plan) to assist a baby focus and handle all through their day.

Learn extra: The Greatest Sensory Toys for All Ages

Do sensory diets, fidgets, and different therapies work?

Analysis on SPD, sensory diets, and different methods is new. It’s not clear if the therapies truly work or if they’re “evidence-based,” which means that there’s sufficient analysis performed on the methods to point out that they’re efficient.

Advisable Studying

The Out-of-Sync Baby by Carol Inventory Kranowitz

Elevating a Sensory Sensible Baby by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske

Do you could have questions on sensory processing within the classroom? Join with different academics within the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Fb.

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Sometimes it feels like every child has a sensory issue. But what is sensory processing disorder? And what do fidgets have to do with it?



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