What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organised into appropriate responses. People with SPD find it difficult to process sensory information (e.g. sound, touch and movement) from the world around them. This means that they may feel sensory input more or less intensely than other people. SPD can therefore impact on a person’s ability to interact in different environments and perform daily activities.

There are 3 possible components of dysfunction of sensory integration:

  • Sensory Modulation Disorder is a problem with turning sensory messages into controlled behaviours that match the nature and intensity of the sensory information.
  • Sensory-Based Motor Disorder is a problem with stabilising, moving or planning a series of movements in response to sensory demands.
  • Sensory Discrimination Disorder is a problem with sensing similarities and differences between sensations.


What are the common features of sensory processing disorder (SPD)?

  • Shows heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement.
  • Is under-reactive to certain sensations (e.g. not noticing name being called, being touched, high pain threshold).
  • Appears lethargic/disinterested; appearing to mostly be in their ‘own world’.
  • Has difficulty regulating their own behavioural and emotional responses; increased tantrums, emotional reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviours, easily frustrated or overly compliant.
  • Is easily distracted, shows poor attention and concentration.
  • Has poor motor skills; appears clumsy, has immature coordination, balance and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills.
  • Has poor sleep patterns.
  • Has restricted eating habits or is a picky eater.
  • Becomes distressed during self-care tasks (e.g. hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoe laces, self-feeding).
  • Loves movement. Seeks out intense pressure (e.g. constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing in objects/people).
  • Avoids movement based equipment (e.g. swings, slides).
  • Appears floppy or has ‘low muscle tone’, tires easily and is often slumped in postures.
  • Performs tasks with too much force, has big movements, moves too fast, writes too light or too hard.
  • Has delayed communication and social skills, is hard to engage in two-way interactions.
  • Prefers to play on their own or has difficulty in knowing how to play with other children.
  • Has difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks.
  • Has difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.

Common difficulties often (but not always) experienced by the child with sensory processing disorder (SPD)?

  • Being able to follow instructions at home and school.
  • Adequately expressing ideas, thoughts and feelings using language.
  • Engaging in meaningful interactions with peers.
  • Poor planning and sequencing.
  • Poor executive functioning.
  • Poor working memory.
  • Poor attention and concentration.
  • Poor organisational skills.
  • Difficulties with gross and fine motor skills.
  • Behavioural difficulties
  • Poor play skills

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