Sensory Processing Disorder

Why Does My Child Do That?

Do you wonder why your child is an excessive risk taker – jumping and crashing into anything they can ?

Why can’t my child do puzzles, write well, or find the coordination for riding a bike or hitting a ball?

Why does my child cry or cover their ears with every loud sound – including vacuums, toilets and/or hairdryers ?

They don’t like to be touched or can’t be touched enough. Why is that?

My child will only eat pizza and macaroni and cheese. I wonder why?

They only wear certain clothes or need you to cut the tags out of their shirts. Why is that?

Why won’t my child put their hands in anything messy or use glue, Play Doh, or play with mud?

My child fears playground equipment or being tipped upside down. I wonder why?

Why do crowded stores bother them so much it leads to public meltdowns?

Do you wonder why you can’t seem to calm them down or get them to sleep?

Sensory Processing

Did you answer yes to any of those questions (or all of them)? If so, your child may be having difficulty processing the sensory information in his or her environment.  But what does this mean? Sensory processing (previously referred to as  sensory integration) is the way the nervous system receives messages from our sensory systems and turns those messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.

  • Sensory processing is unconscious. That means it occurs without thinking.
  • Sensory processing organizes the information brought by our senses.
  • It gives meaning to our experiences by sifting through all of the information surrounding us and selecting what to focus on.
  • Sensory processing allows us to act or respond to the situation we are experiencing in a purposeful manner.
  • It forms the underlying foundation for academic learning and social success.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is an inability to process information  received from our senses and generate an appropriate response. Therefore resulting in the decreased ability to respond to sensory information and behave in a meaningful and consistent way. This can make it difficult to use sensory information to plan and organize our body and make sense of the environment we function in. SPD can negatively impact your child in one or more of the following areas:

  • Daily functioning
  •  Social and family relationships
  • Emotional regulation
  • Self-esteem, learning, and behavior

Children with difficulties in sensory processing may experience an inability to make friends or be part of a group, have poor academic performance, appear clumsy or uncoordinated, be labeled as uncooperative, and appear disruptive and/or out of control.

Senses Affected by SPD

There are 7 senses that send messages to our nervous system that can be affected by SPD.


Hearing—sensitivity to noises without a diagnosed hearing problem.  Examples of sensitivity to hearing include:

  • Distraction by sounds not normally noticed by others
  • Running away, crying, or ear covering with loud or unexpected sounds
  • Enjoys excessively loud music or TV
  • Difficulty remembering/understanding what has been said
  • Requires directions to be repeated  often, or will say “what” frequently.


Oral — taste and texture. Examples of sensitivity to oral input include:

  • Extreme food preferences
  • Difficulty with sucking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Refuses to lick envelopes, stamps, or stickers
  • Excessive drooling past the teething stage
  • Frequently chews on hair, shirt, or fingers
  • Constantly puts objects in the mouth after the toddler years


Smell—Examples of sensitivity to smells include:

  • Reacts negatively to or dislikes smells which do not usually bother or get   noticed by others
  • Has difficulty discriminating unpleasant odors
  • Makes excessive use of smelling when introduced to objects, people, or places.


Vision — no diagnosed visual deficit. Examples of sensitivity to visual input include:

  • Difficulty keeping eyes focused on task/activity he or she is working on for an appropriate amount of time
  • Avoids eye contact
  •  Has a hard time seeing “the big picture”, focusing instead on details or patterns within the picture
  • Difficulty locating items among other items:  papers on a desk, clothes in a drawer, toys in a box.


Touch—tactile sense is input about touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.  Examples of sensitivity to  tactile sense include:

  • Light or unexpected touch can cause  fear, anxiousness or aggressiveness
  • Touching everything 
  • Inability to identify what part of the body is touched when not looking at it

Vestibular Sense

Vestibular sense—input from the inner ear about equilibrium, position changes, movement, and body position in space.  Examples of sensitivity to vestibular sense include: 

  • Dislike or avoidance of playground equipment
  • Craving fast, spinning, or intense movement experiences
  • Frequent slumping, “W” sitting, or fatigues easily

Proprioceptive Sense

Proprioceptive sense— input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement, and changes in position in space.  Examples of sensitivity to proprioception include:

  • Preference for clothes to be as tight as possible
  • Intentionally falls to the floor
  • Difficulty understanding “heavy” and “light”


  • You could see obstacles in your way, however, you could not make your body move to avoid them.
  • The different smells in this room made you utterly nauseous.
  • You felt like someone had given you a shot of Novocain in your backside, therefore you couldn’t tell if you were sitting in the middle of your chair and you fell off 3 times during this training.
  • You tried to drink a cup of water from a paper cup, however, you couldn’t tell how hard to squeeze it to hold onto it. Therefore, you squeezed it too hard and the water spilled all over you. After that, the next time you did not squeeze it hard enough and it fell through your hands and onto the floor.
  • Every time you tried to write with your pencil, you pushed too hard, consequently it broke repeatedly.

But Wait, There’s More

  • You couldn’t focus your eyes on me because everything and everyone in the room catches your attention, therefore, your eyes just go there instead.
  • Every time someone touches you, it feels like they are rubbing sandpaper on your skin.
  • You could only sit here for 15 minutes and then you had to take a run around the building or do 20 jumping jacks so you could sit for another 10 minutes before your muscles felt like they were going to jump out of your skin.
  • The tag in the back of your shirt makes you feel as uncomfortable as you would if a spider was crawling on you and you couldn’t get him off.
  • You wanted to write something down but it took you at least 5 seconds to form each letter. You can see the letter in your head, but your hand will not go in the right direction to write it.
  • The motion of the car makes you sick, subsequently you had to pull the car over three times on the way here.

How Can an Occupational Therapist Help?

These are just some of the ways that SPD can affect kids. As you go through these examples, you  may think, “my child has a lot of these behaviors, he or she must have SPD” or “my child has some of these behaviors, but so do a lot of children.”  What we are concerned with is how these behaviors and characteristics interfere with a child’s ability to function throughout the day and transition between activities.  If you suspect your child might have SPD or if you have further questions, an occupational therapist can evaluate your child and assess how these behaviors are impacting his or her ability to function.  An occupational therapist can provide activities to work on in the home to decrease behaviors and ideas on how to address the behaviors when they occur. Call 388-4988 to set up an individualized evaluation.