Sensory Processing Disorders in Children: What it Means and Why

 In Notes, Reviews

This week we talk to Occupational Therapist Tracey Myers about Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) in children. Learn about what SPD is and isn’t, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.

Information Overload

Children are bombarded with stimuli constantly everyday. From loud noises, to books and pictures, to the touch and feel of objects, all children from an early age use the environment around them to understand how the world works. While most children are able to successfully integrate all of the external stimuli they are inundated with, some children may find it a struggle to process all of the information being thrown at them. In some cases, children can become so overwhelmed by their surroundings that they struggle with everyday tasks. In most circumstances, intervention and proper treatment is needed to help these kids successfully integrate external stimuli.

What Exactly is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder occurs because the brain has trouble organizing information from the senses. This can lead to children becoming over or under sensitive to external input. Sensory Processing Disorder has no easy definition and can be complex and even misunderstood. It can also look different among each individual child. For instance, some children may be more sensitive to visual stimuli, while others face difficulty processing auditory input. Some children may struggle with tactile sensory issues, motor planning problems, or  even how their body moves or relates to the space around them. In many cases, children can grapple with more than one sensory integration issue. The  severity of the disorder can also fluctuate from child to child.

How is Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosed?

If a child has Sensory Processing Disorder, everyday tasks can be a struggle. Parents may find that their children can’t handle having their nails or hair cut, that they are overly particular about the clothes they wear, or the food they eat. Some children may not like to be touched,or cannot handle normal household noises like the vacuum cleaner running or the doorbell ringing. Even fluorescent or bright lights can overwhelm a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

If a child has sensory problems with movement, parents may find their kid gets motion sick easily. Some children will constantly run into objects or have poor balance. Children can even be extremely active or feel the need to move their limbs continuously. Some kids may not be able to sit still.

If it is suspected that a child has SPD, then it is important that he/she get checked out by an Occupational Therapist who will be able to correctly diagnose and treat the child. The therapist will look at the behaviors of the child to determine if there is a sensory integration issue and how to treat it properly.

How is Sensory Processing Disorder Treated In Children?

Because SPD looks different in each child, treatments are usually highly individualized to meet the needs of that specific child.  The Occupational Therapist can determine what treatments the child will need in order to be treated successfully and effectively.

Are Sensory Processing Disorders Related to Autism or Other Behavioral Disorders?

It is important to note that while the majority of children with autism have SPD, not all children with sensory integration issues have autism. In fact, many kids with Sensory Processing Disorder can be misdiagnosed with autism or even other behavioral issues like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). That’s why it is critical that parents who see SPD patterns in their children get them checked out by an Occupational Therapist who can help make that ultimate determination.


Ensuring Success For Your Child

Children do not outgrow sensory integration issues or SPD, but with the help of a good Occupational Therapist and the right treatments, a child can learn how to manage external stimuli and how to regulate their own bodies.  Proper treatment and diagnosis can ensure success for your child and will be a positive change in their lives.


Pediatric Therapy Center offers exceptional, patient-centered occupational, physical, and speech/language therapy for children with autism. If you feel your child is exhibiting any signs of Sensory Processing Disorder, or is struggling developmentally in any way, call PTC at 713.772.1400 for a consultation with one of our experienced therapists today.


If you would like more information on Sensory Processing Disorders:

STAR Institute

Sensory Processing Disorder Resource Center

Sensory Integration and the child by Jean Ayres Ph.D.


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