August 21, 2018

Sensory Processing Disorder - Types and Definition

We perceive and learn information by sensing the world around us. When we think of our senses, the five most commons—vision, audition, taste, olfactory (smell), and tactile (touch) come to mind. However, there are also two others less common types, proprioception and vestibular. All of these senses can be affected by what has become known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Sensory processing disorder occurs when there is a dysfunction in the processing of information coming through our senses by the nervous system. Simply, a person with sensory processing disorder will be either hyper- or hypo-sensitive to his or her environment.

sensory processing disorder

Types of sensory processing disorder

Hypersensitivity (over-responsive) results in sensory-overloads, where it is easy to become overwhelmed by multiple environmental stimuli. Those who are hypo-sensitive (under-responsive) often seek out excess sensory stimuli. Below are some common traits for each type.

Hypersensitive type

  • Feel uncomfortable in certain clothing due to the fabric feeling “scratchy” or “itchy.”
  • Irritated by textures, including those from clothing labels, furniture, or even food (children may be labeled as “picky eaters” because of this)
  • Have a low tolerance for crowds and noisy areas
  • Dislike human touch, including hugging, cuddling, and kissing, even if it is from their parents or other familiar persons
  • General discomfort or malaise, including motion sickness, odd tastes, and panic
  • Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep

Hypo-sensitive type

  • Have a high tolerance for pain
  • Be overly “touchy” with people and objects; others may complain that the child is “too rough” when playing
  • Be unable to sit still and may be labeled as “fidgety.”
  • May appear unresponsive when spoken to or touched
  • Enjoy intense movements, such as climbing or jumping
  • Jump on furniture and/or spin around excessively
  • Lack awareness of personal space
  • Make loud noises, either vocally or physically
  • Have difficulty waking up

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The Drawbacks of sensory processing disorder

Children with SPD run into numerous and sometimes enormous difficulties. Children who are hypersensitive are mislabeled as being fussy, while those who are hyporsensitive appear emotionless or apathetic. Because ADHD and some autism spectrum disorders have overlapping symptoms, children with SPD run the risk of being misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated. Sensory processing disorder, if left alone, can lead to depression and anxiety, as children may actively avoid social situations, develop phobias, and suffer from on-going sleep dysfunction.

Treatment for sensory processing disorder

Each child with SPD will have his or her unique abilities and challenges. After a thorough evaluation by a health professional, children will likely begin work with a therapist. The goal of therapy will be to develop coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques, and to learn how to recognize (and hopefully prevent) stressors/triggers. At some point, your child may work with an occupational therapist, who will use varying approaches to “retrain” your child’s senses. If your child has a co-existing condition related to SPD, like depression or anxiety, your doctor may recommend additional treatment. As life goes on, new challenges arise, which may require follow-up visits. In the end, the goal of therapy is to provide children and adults with the tools to manage SPD on their own.



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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.

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