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Sensory Processing Disorders

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Sensory Processing Disorders

Have you ever witnessed a person overwhelmed by background noise at a crowded restaurant or a toddler who believes his comfy shirt is too itchy for them? These are some of the concerns that might arise due to a condition known as sensory processing disorder (SPD). These processing issues affect the brain's ability to take in sensory information, such as what you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste.

  • What is a sensory processing disorder?
  • What are symptoms of sensory processing disorder?
  • What are tests for sensory processing disorders?
  • What are types of sensory processing disorders?
  • How is sensory processing disorder different from autism spectrum disorder?

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition where a person's brain has problems receiving information from the senses. This information is either not detected or not adequately processed. As a result, the brain cannot turn it into appropriate behavioral responses. This condition makes it difficult for the person to accomplish everyday tasks. Sensory processing problems can affect men and women of all races and age groups, and children with autism spectrum disorders.

Sensory Processing Disorders, child overwhelmed with sensory information, StudySmarterChild overwhelmed with auditory sensory information, pexels.com

Bright, flashing lights or background music could slightly bother a person not suffering from SPD. However, these stimuli could trigger unbearable emotions in people with SPD.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorders

Adults and children with SPD respond to stimuli in different ways. Some of the most common sensory processing disorder symptoms are listed below.

Sensory Processing Disorders, child crying in response to sensory overwhelm, StudySmarterCrying child in response to sensory overwhelm, pexels.com

Sensory Processing Issues in Infants and Toddlers

Younger children with SPD might feel uncomfortable in their clothes or avoid physical contact, such as hugging and cuddling. They sometimes experience motor delays and eating or sleeping problems. Finally, children with this disorder seldom play with toys and have difficulties calming themselves.

Sensory Processing Problems in Pre-school/Grade School

Some older children might be oversensitive to touch, smell, noise or people. Because of this, they might avoid standing close to others or throwing tantrums. Their motor skills are sometimes underdeveloped, and they might be afraid of swings and other playground equipment. Dressing, eating, or sleeping are often challenging for older children with SPD.

Sensory Processing Issues in Adolescents/Adults

Adolescents and adults with SPD usually appear sluggish and clumsy. They are impulsive, easily distracted, and restless. Staying focused and concentrated is challenging for them, making completing tasks and making friends more difficult. They have low self-esteem and motivation.

How to Test for Sensory Processing Disorders

Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent sensory processing problems from developing into adulthood. An assessment is needed to rule out conditions like ADHD, Autism, anxiety disorder, and other related disabilities. A trained occupational therapist can identify SPD as they observe motor development linked to sensory disability.

Identification starts with a screening at a school or clinic where a parent's checklists and developmental history may show differences that need further evaluation. The sensory processing evaluation involves standardized testing, clinical observations, and parent-report procedures. The process may include physical health, speech, and psychological assessment, after which a child can be referred to other specialists.

According to STAR Institute (n.d.), a standardized assessment involves comparing the child's behavior to a standard sample. The sensory processing test helps determine a baseline of current behavior, identify strengths and weaknesses, form a treatment strategy, and endorse the child for services. The most commonly used assessments are:

  • Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)

  • Miller Function and Participation Scales (MFUN)

  • Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency™ - Second Edition

  • Movement Assessment Battery for Children - Second Edition (Movement ABC-2)

  • Miller Assessment for Preschoolers (MAP)

  • Goal-Oriented Assessment of Life Skills (GOAL)

Types of Sensory Processing Disorders

The type of sensory disorders present depends on the pattern expressed. Usually, people with SPD experience different sensory issues across different types. The three significant patterns of SPD are sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.

Sensory Modulation Disorder

When a person has sensory modulation disorder, they have difficulty controlling their reactions to sensory stimulation. In this sensory processing disorder, a person may find themselves over-responsive, under-responsive, or craving sensory stimuli.

The tendency to respond excessively to stimuli is known as sensory over-responsivity. People suffering from this type of disorder have a higher sensitivity to sensory input than an average person. An acute stress reaction, sometimes known as the "fight-or-flight" response, is triggered by overwhelming feelings—people with this tendency cope by staying away from or reducing these sensations. For example, an exaggerated response to the sound of an ambulance siren or appliances would be to cover one's ears. They also avoid trimming fingernails, applying lotion, or wearing socks.

Sensory under-responsivity is defined as a slow or non-responsive reaction to sensory inputs. Persons with sensory under-responsivity aren't as sensitive to sensory stimulation as others. They have a less intense response to extreme temperatures, and pain from a scratch, cut, or scrape may often go unnoticed. Because of the difficulty of detecting stimuli around them, they may seem indifferent, unconcerned, or withdrawn. The impaired tactile sensitivity also leads to incoordination of body movements.

Sensory under-responsivity includes:

  • Not noticing if the food is bland or spicy.
  • Not responding when their name is called.
  • Clumsiness.

Sensory craving is described as having continuous sensory stimulation urges that never seem to get satisfied. People with high sensory appetites actively seek thrill and action and continuously move around. They like to jump, roll, spin, and touch things. The craving and overarousal from sensory input cause them to become disorganized. Sensory seekers experience difficulty regulating themselves when exposed to overstimulating places or situations like malls or carnivals.

They may also lack a sense of personal space when interacting with other people, which is attributed to a lack of typical sensory processing capabilities. A typical illustration of this would be a child in a restaurant having difficulty sitting still and becoming restless. They spin and jump around and may even shout.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder

People with sensory-based motor disorders have difficulties keeping steady, coordinating body movements, and doing motor tasks. In this type of sensory processing problem, a person may have postural disorder or dyspraxia.

Sensory Processing Disorders, a child having difficulties coordinating motor movements, known as dyspraxia, StudySmarterA child having difficulties coordinating motor movements, known as dyspraxia, pexels.com

The postural disorder makes it difficult for a person to maintain body stability with any physical movement required by the situation or performing motor tasks. They may quickly lose their balance, fall over, or trip. It is challenging for them to coordinate both sides of the body to perform activities because of impaired control.

For example, holding a piece of paper in one hand and cutting with another can be difficult. Compared to most people, they have atypical posture and weak muscles.

Dyspraxia is a neurologic condition wherein sensory inputs are processed differently, making it challenging to integrate with bodily movements to execute motor actions. Poor motor coordination may affect daily life, and symptoms might continue into adulthood. This sensory processing motor condition doesn't affect intelligence, but persons with dyspraxia process things differently.

People with this sensory issue may struggle with planning, creating ideas, and putting them into action. Difficulties become apparent in situations where fine and gross motor coordination is required, such as catching a ball, drawing, and riding a bike. For example, difficulties become noticeable in the uncoordinated and inaccurate movements while trying to catch a ball.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder

Sensory discrimination disorder predisposes a person to identify and attribute meaning to a sensory stimulation received inaccurately. To discriminate is to correctly interpret and make sense of the different sensory inputs in one's environment. Persons with sensory discrimination disorder have trouble recognizing and distinguishing details between other sensory stimuli. They may come off as stiff and not paying attention to what is around them and their surroundings. Understanding the many characteristics of sensory processing stimuli may take some time for individuals with this disorder.

Eight sensory processing systems may be affected by this disorder. It could range from one, two, or more depending on the individual: auditory, visual, tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, gustatory, olfactory, and interoception. Sensory Processing Disorders, a child displaying challenges in sensory discrimination, StudySmarterA child displaying challenges in sensory discrimination, pexels.comThe following are examples of difficulties evident in each sensory system:

Auditory Sensory Processing – Difficulty in Processing Sounds and Frequencies

A person has problems following instructions and appears to be inattentive when someone is talking. They may speak too loudly or too softly.

Visual Sensory Processing – Difficulty in Processing Sensory Input That Is Seen

A person has difficulties distinguishing shapes, colors, letters and symbols. Math, lining up numbers, and reading are usually challenging for children with this type of disorder.

Tactile Sensory Processing – Difficulty in Processing Sense of Touch

People with this type of disorder have difficulty distinguishing between textures, identifying objects by touch, and cannot tell apart between hot and cold.

Vestibular Sensory Processing – Difficulty in Processing Sensory Input Based on Body Movements

A person frequently falls, easily becomes unbalanced, and has poor posture.

Proprioceptive Sensory Processing – Difficulty Processing Sensory Input Based on Muscle Movements

Some of the manifestations of this disorder are difficulty estimating the amount of force in throwing a ball, problems being gentle in petting animals, and difficulty roughhousing without getting hurt.

Gustatory Sensory Processing – Difficulty Processing Sensory Input from the Sense of Taste

This type of disorder causes the inability to tell apart salty and less salty food, textures of different food, and the inability to differentiate food temperatures.

Olfactory Sensory Processing – Difficulty Processing Sensory Input Based on Smell

A person cannot identify different odors or tell where a foul odor is coming from and may unknowingly eat rotten food.

Interoception Sensory Processing – Difficulty Processing Sensory Input Related to Physiological Signals

Individuals with this disorder cannot identify hunger and thirst signals or determine when to use the bathroom. Also, they have difficulties distinguishing between being hungry and nauseous.

Differences between Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Individuals with under-responsivity often require a lot of stimulation to become attentive and active, which is common in children with autism spectrum disorders. Other children with ASD, on the other hand, show symptoms that are more akin to over-responsivity. Because both Autism and sensory processing conditions display over-reacting and under-reacting categories, these two are frequently confused. Here are a few differences:

Sensory Processing Disorders

  • A neurological condition related to sensory processing.

  • Perceive sensory information differently and may react to it in ways that most people would not predict.

  • Persons with sensory processing conditions will outgrow some of their challenges as they become older if they receive the correct treatment.

  • Because the brain cannot interpret sensory information appropriately, SPD impacts the central nervous system that handles messages from their senses. This effect can lead to overreaction in some instances and underreaction in others.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • A developmental condition.

  • Have sensitivities to sight, sound, touch, smell, or hearing that create powerful reactions and then present themselves in an unusual way.

  • Acts in ways that are both socially improper and self-stimulating.

  • Problems with social connection include being unable to hold a conversation or engage with others and being unable to cope with changes in activities.

  • Individuals with autism may have to live with the condition for their entire lives.

Is ADHD a Sensory Processing Disorder?

Experts and families alike are eager to learn more about the link between sensory processing conditions and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a more well-known disorder routinely treated with medication. Although the two illnesses have different neurological bases, children with the sensory seeking category of SPD are more likely to be identified and treated for ADHD because their behaviors are comparable to those of children with ADHD.

According to STAR Institute (n.d.), SPD and ADHD are different disorders with distinct symptoms. This distinction indicates SPD isn't a category of ADHD, and ADHD isn't a category of SPD. However, 40% in the general community and 60% of children in clinical samples with one condition exhibit signs of the other condition.

Accurate diagnosis is essential for the effective treatment of any condition. A sensory evaluation by a skilled occupational therapist with extensive expertise in sensory integration training can help differentiate between attention deficit issues and sensory difficulties-improving individuals' chances of receiving the best treatment for their neurological problems.

Sensory Processing Disorders - Key takeaways

  • Sensory processing disorder (SPD)is a neurological condition where a person's capacity to accept information from the senses is either not detected or not adequately processed to turn into appropriate behavioral responses.
    • SPD symptoms may display as an overreaction or underreaction to sensory stimulation. Adults and children respond to stimuli in different ways.
  • There are three SPD patterns: sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.
    • When a person has a sensory modulation disorder, they have difficulty controlling his reactions to sensory stimulation.
    • People with sensory-based motor disorders have difficulties keeping steady, coordinating body movements, and doing motor tasks.
    • Sensory discrimination disorder predisposes a person to identify and attribute meaning to a sensory stimulation received inaccurately.
  • Sensory discrimination disorder can impact eight sensory systems: auditory, visual, tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, gustatory, olfactory, and interoceptive. It could be one, two, or even three disorders depending on the person.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition where a person's brain has problems receiving information from the senses. This information is either not detected or not adequately processed.

The three significant patterns of SPD are sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.

Although the two illnesses have different neurological bases, children with the sensory seeking category of SPD are more likely to be identified and treated for ADHD because their behaviors are comparable to those of children with ADHD.

Individuals with under-responsivity often require a lot of stimulation to become attentive and active, which is common in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). On the other hand, some children with ASD show symptoms that are more akin to over-responsivity.

Final Sensory Processing Disorders Quiz

Question

In which setting is a person with sensory processing disorder more likely to be found?

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Answer

A person who is fearful of loud noises.

Show question

Question

Which intervention recognizes the behavior and is beneficial to people with SPD?

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Answer

Occupational Therapy

Show question

Question

The state wherein a person's capacity to receive signals from their senses is either undetected or improperly processed, resulting in inappropriate behavioral responses.

Show answer

Answer

Sensory processing disorder

Show question

Question

Which is NOT an indication of a sensory processing disorder in a child?

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Answer

The toddler can calm himself by playing with toys.

Show question

Question

How can parents help a child with a sensory processing disorder?

Show answer

Answer

Let the child be assessed for early intervention.

Show question

Question

This is a pattern of SPD in which people have trouble regulating their responses to sensory stimulation.

Show answer

Answer

Sensory Modulation Disorder

Show question

Question

Which of the following behaviors represent sensory under-responsiveness?

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Answer

The child doesn't seem to respond even after being called.

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Question

All statements apply to sensory-based motor disorders except:

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Answer

Persons with this condition can smoothly coordinate body movements.

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Question

Which of the following difficulties DO NOT represent interoception discrimination disorder?

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Answer

Difficulty following verbal instructions.

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All statements are TRUE about SPD and ASD except:

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Answer

SPD and autism are always the same brain conditions.

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Which statement best describes proprioceptive discrimination disorder?

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Answer

Difficulty processing sensory input that deals with muscle movements.

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All statements are TRUE about the identification of SPD except:

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Answer

An artist can identify SPD as they observe motor development linked to sensory disability.

Show question

Question

Postural disorder and dyspraxia belong to which pattern of SPD?


Show answer

Answer

Sensory-based motor disorder

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a distinguishing feature of sensory over-responsiveness?

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Answer

Highly sensitive

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Question

All statements are TRUE about SPD and ADHD except:

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Answer

SPD and ADHD have the same neurological bases.

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Question

Having sensory processing disorder impact what senses?

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Answer

All 5 senses (seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching)

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Question

Which word best fits this statement: Sensory processing disorder is a ________ condition.

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Answer

Neurological

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True/False: Sensory issues only occur in one type of race.

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Answer

False

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Children with SPD may:

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Answer

avoid physical contact

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True/False: Adolescents with SPD may have underdeveloped motor skills.

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True

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________ can prevent sensory processing problems from developing into adulthood.

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Answer

Early diagnosis

Show question

Question

The three significant patterns of SPD are

Show answer

Answer

sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.

Show question

Question

When a person has _____________, they have difficulty controlling their reactions to sensory stimulation.

Show answer

Answer

sensory modulation disorder

Show question

Question

 An acute stress reaction is called

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Answer

Fight or flight

Show question

Question

__________ is described as having continuous sensory stimulation urges that never seem to get satisfied.

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Answer

Sensory craving

Show question

Question

An example of sensory under-responsivity could be:

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Answer

Not being able to taste something spicy

Show question

Question

________ is a neurologic condition wherein sensory inputs are processed differently, making it challenging to integrate with bodily movements to execute motor actions.

Show answer

Answer

Dyspraxia

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Question

A person has problems following instructions and appears to be inattentive when someone is talking. They may speak too loudly or too softly most likely has _______________.

Show answer

Answer

Auditory sensory processing

Show question

Question

People with this type of disorder have difficulty distinguishing between textures, identifying objects by touch, and cannot tell apart between hot and cold.



Show answer

Answer

Tactile sensory processing

Show question

Question

Individuals with this disorder cannot identify hunger and thirst signals or determine when to use the bathroom. Also, they have difficulties distinguishing between being hungry and nauseous.

Show answer

Answer

Interoception Sensory Processing

Show question

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