A Quick Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder: Understanding and Managing Sensory Challenges

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition in which the brain experiences difficulties organising and interpreting sensory information. Individuals with SPD may react to sensory input considered atypical, such as hypersensitivity to textures, sounds, or light, or, on the flip side, be hyposensitive and seek out more intense sensory experiences. 

SPD can affect children and adults differently, and management strategies must be tailored to each individual's needs. Support and interventions for individuals with SPD are multifaceted, and this guide will discuss a few key ones.

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex neurological condition linked to how sensory information is processed. Adults and children with SPD experience their world as either Hypersensitive (overreactive, sensory avoidance) or Hyposensitive (underreactive, sensory seeker).

Medical Definition   

SPD occurs when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Individuals with sensory processing difficulties may experience sensory experiences too intensely, too weakly, or in a manner that is inconsistent with how others perceive the same stimuli.

Neurological Basis

SPD stems from the way the nervous system handles incoming sensory signals. Two key components of its neurological basis are:  

●        Sensational Processing: This is the procedure by which the nervous system interprets sensory signals, such as touch, sound, and movement.  

●        Behavioural Response: The nervous system orchestrates an appropriate motor or behavioural response to the sensory input received.

Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) presents a range of signs and symptoms that may affect a person's ability to interact with their environment in everyday life. These symptoms range from over-responsivity to under-responsivity and seeking behaviours that indicate the brain's difficulty processing sensory input.

Sensory Hypersensitive

Individuals displaying over-responsivity might overreact to sensory stimuli that others typically find non-threatening. Key symptoms include:

●        Extreme sensitivity to common sounds, lights, or textures that could result in distress or avoidance behaviours

●        A startled reaction to sudden noises, reflecting a heightened sensory awareness

Sensory Hyposensitive

Conversely, under-responsivity involves a lessened or delayed reaction to sensory inputs, with symptoms such as:   

●        Failing to notice when their name is called or when they are being touched

●        A lack of reaction to hot or cold temperatures

Sensory Seeking Behaviour

Sensory seeking is characterised by an unusual craving for sensory stimulation. Signs include:

●        Excessive touching of objects or people to stimulate the sense of touch

●        Preference for activities involving intense movement, such as spinning, swinging, or crashing into objects, which provide proprioceptive feedback 

Sensory Processing Disorder in Children     

Sensory processing disorder can affect children quite differently to adults and can be harder to diagnose. However, there are key indicators parents can look for if they feel their child has sensory processing difficulties impacting their behaviour.

●          Children experiencing hypersensitivity: a low threshold for pain, clumsy movements and body balance, strong aversion to certain foods due to texture, resistance to physical contact, and difficulty focusing on a single thing.

●          Children experiencing hyposensitivity have a high threshold for pain, enjoy chewing or touching things excessively, enjoy rough play like crashing into people or walls, rocking and swaying motions, and often perform tasks with too much force, e.g., writing or painting.  

Effects on Learning

In an educational setting, a child with SPD might struggle to focus due to the classroom's sensory stimuli, such as fluorescent lights or the sound of peers moving.

They may become easily distracted or distressed, hindering information processing and making acquiring new knowledge difficult. Effective strategies to reduce sensory overload become crucial for children with a sensory processing disorder.


Diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder

Standardised tests and checklists are commonly employed to pinpoint sensory processing issues.

There are two basic test approaches:

Sensory Profile: a widely used set of tools, including parent-reported questionnaires that assess a child's sensory processing patterns. Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) assesses the sensory integration processes that underlie learning and behaviour, and measures various aspects of sensory processing and motor skills.

Professional Involvement

A multidisciplinary team is typically involved in evaluating and diagnosing sensory processing disorders. This team will likely include psychologists, doctors, paediatricians, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists and can ensure a comprehensive assessment of the individual's abilities.

Intervention and Therapy  

Effective intervention for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can significantly enhance an individual's ability to engage with their environment. Thankfully, there are a range of interventions and therapies available for adults and children who have been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.


Occupational Therapy (OT)   

An Occupational therapist utilises activities to address sensory challenges. They might introduce a Sensory Integration (SI) approach, which can involve controlled sensory experiences such as tactile play with substances like play dough or sand to help children process sensory systems and respond to sensory information more effectively. 

For adults, occupational therapy may involve practising coping mechanisms to deal with environmental factors or social interactions that cause them distress. For example, practising using a stress ball or fidget toy to provide sensory feedback or sensory regulation when a stressful situation arises.  

Physical Therapy (PT)

Physical therapists may focus on developing gross motor skills through activities that challenge balance, coordination, and body awareness. These activities often aid in regulating sensory input.

Daily Routines

Establishing structured daily routines can provide predictability and a sense of security, reducing sensory-related anxiety. A schedule board or calendar can show children visually what happens throughout the day so they know what to expect.

Individuals with SPD may find social situations overwhelming due to difficulty filtering sensory inputs. For example, in a crowded environment, they might become anxious due to the loud noise, which can be perceived much more intensely.  

A schedule or routine becomes essential. A familiar set of activities before the event, such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, or packing a bag, can help them self-regulate and prepare.

Adaptive Solutions for Sensory Processing Disorder

With proper support and interventions, individuals with SPD can improve their sensory integration and lead more adaptive lives. 

For those who experience sensory processing difficulties, like hypersensitivity, tags on clothes, certain fabrics, and even pillowcase labels can be irritating. JettProof can help! 

We specialise in sensory undergarments, clothing, bedding, and towels that allow the wearer to self-regulate and filter sensory inputs. JettProof sensory clothing and undergarments can be worn under regular clothing throughout the day in all seasons.