Sensory Processing Disorder

Dr. Jean Ayres, PhD wrote her first article on SPD back in 1955, and in 1972 her first book was published which opened up the door to better understanding this diagnosis and finding the treatments needed for it.

So what is Sensory Processing Disorder or sometimes referred to as SI (Sensory Integration)? As quoted from the author of the “Out of Sync Child” – Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.  She refers to Sensory Processing Disorder as the “inability to use information received through the senses in order to function smoothly in daily life.” 

SPD is the umbrella term that is used to cover a three main categories of neurological disabilities: Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Discrimination Disorder and Sensory Based Motor Disorder.  These terms sound really scientific and somewhat scary, but what does this mean for your child?  Basically the messages your child receives from sensory input, is not getting organized into appropriate outputs or responses that will enable them to complete certain daily tasks.

I would recommend reading “The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz for more detailed information on these different categories.  She also provides you checklists or charts for each of these categories with examples that can help you better understand what your child may be dealing with or more importantly why your child responds the way they do.

Here is a breakdown of the sensory integration dysfunction symptoms based on each of the senses. These categories are:

Tactile: the sense of touch; input from the skin receptors about touch, pressure, temperature, pain and movement of the hairs on the skin.

Vestibular: the sense of movement; input from the inner ear about equilibrium, gravitational changes, movement experiences and position in space.

Proprioception: the sense of “position”; input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position.

Auditory: input relating to sounds; one’s ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to sounds

Oral: input relating to the mouth; one’s ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to input within the mouth

Olfactory: input relating to smell; one’s ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to different odors.

Visual: input relating to sight; one’s ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to what one sees.

Red flags of Sensory Processing Disorder

If you have some concerns, check the list below.  If your child has more than a few of the symptoms listed, consult your pediatirican.

Infants and toddlers
____ Problems eating or sleeping
____ Refuses to go to anyone but me
____ Irritable when being dressed; uncomfortable in clothes
____ Rarely plays with toys
____ Resists cuddling, arches away when held
____ Cannot calm self
____ Floppy or stiff body, motor delays

____ Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, other people
____ Difficulty making friends
____ Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and/or toilet training
____ Clumsy; poor motor skills; weak
____ In constant motion; in everyone else’s face and space
____ Frequent or long temper tantrums

Grade schoolers
___ Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, other people
___ Easily distracted, fidgety, craves movement; aggressive
___ Easily overwhelmed
___ Difficulty with handwriting or motor activities
___ Difficulty making friends
___ Unaware of pain and/or other people


Early diagnosis is important to provide the proper treatment for your child.  A lot of children are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all when it comes to SPD.  You should consult your child’s pediatrician, and school.  Let them know of your concerns, so an extensive evaluation can take place.

Currently, the primary standardized assessment tool used for diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder is the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) developed by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR. The SIPT is suitable for children ages 4 to 8 who have learning or developmental delays, particularly in praxis (motor planning) or tactile or visual discrimination.

Early diagnosis leads to early intervention.  Getting a diagnosis while your children are still young and maturing, will result in a better experience in school, socially and developmentally.


After a diagnosis of SPD has been determined you will be recommended to an OT (Occupational Therapist).  Depending on your child’s age, this could be through your state early intervention program for children up to 3 years old.  Or through the school system through their special education system.

What to expect from therapy?  During sensory-based OT sessions, the therapist and your child interact in a sensory-rich environment with lots of swinging, spinning, tactile, visual, auditory, and taste opportunities that seem to a child more like a giant playground than a therapy center.

The goal of OT for children is always on developing automatic and appropriate responses to sensation so that daily occupations can be competently performed and social participation fostered. As these competencies increase with effective treatment, social participation, self-esteem, self-regulation, and sensorimotor abilities also increase, and other family goals and priorities are achieved.

You can also do a lot of at home activities that can be done in addition to the specialized activities that the therapist will be doing.  You can sign up for our Sensory Club, and have access to some great DIY inexpensive activities that you can create at home.  Check out: Sensory Club.

Personal Experience: my son was a child that never liked to be dirty and still is that way from time to time.  Because of his sensory issues, we run into difficulty with feeding.  Also because of the texture and tactile issues with getting his fingers dirty he doesn’t really like to feed himself and is a very picky eater.  He is getting better, but we really struggled with this.  He is 4 1/2 years old and just really started eating table food at around 4 years old consistently.

He also didn’t like the feel of grass on his bare feet or the feeling of sand.  He didn’t even like to sit in either of them.  We have overcome these fears but it can make for family vacations to the beach very difficult unless you can understand the fears and issues your child is dealing with you and how to compensate for them.


Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation