Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives information from the senses and converts them into responses. Our bodies are constantly receiving sensory input, processing it, and adjusting our responses, without us even realizing it is happening!
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) causes incoming sensory signals to get disorganized, resulting in unusual responses. Imagine that your sensory system is like a set of wires, sending signals from your body to your brain and back. For someone with SPD, those wires are tangled up and plugged into the wrong spots, leading to what looks, to an outsider, like an inappropriate response.
Children with SPD may show hypersensitivity (reacting too strongly to input) or hyposensitivity (seemingly unaware of input). For those with hyposensitivity, some individuals may seek out higher levels of sensory input to try to get the input their brain needs to process it. It is very common for children with SPD to display a combination of hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, and sensory seeking behaviors.
There is no one way to experience SPD, and it looks different for everyone who has it! That being said, listed below are some common behaviors and signs that may indicate your child is having difficulty organizing and interpreting the sensory information their brain is receiving.
SPD affects 5-16% of school-aged children making it more common than autism and just as common as ADHD. It can impact any of the 5 main senses like touch, hearing, sight, taste, and smell or the 2 lesser-known proprioceptive and vestibular senses (the proprioceptive system is the sensation between muscles and joints, and the vestibular system is the sensation of movement) and can be a mixture of over-sensitive to under-sensitive.
If you found yourself reading through the lists above and nodding along, you are likely wondering, “What’s next?” If you suspect that your child has SPD, a good first step is seeking a referral to an occupational therapist. An OT can help identify areas where your child is struggling to respond appropriately to sensory input. They will work with you and your child to determine which sensory processing areas are creating the most difficulty in your child’s life, then develop goals and treatment strategies to help address them. An OT uses play and fun activities to help develop and slowly change your child’s response to sensory input, helping them learn more adaptive, functional responses. They will also work with you to develop techniques and strategies to implement at home for further carry over.
Mara has always known she wanted to work with children, and decided to become an OT when she saw how much it helped her younger brother who is autistic. She feels empowered that every day is a new opportunity to make a difference for her clients and their families. When not at NAPA, you’ll probably find Mara playing one of the board games in her giant collection (she owns more than 70) or marathoning Netflix shows.
At NAPA Center, we believe in creating individualized programs that address every child’s specific needs across a range of different therapies. Every child is unique, which means implementing unique therapy programs is the only way to help them truly reach their full potential. Contact us today to learn more about our process and our track record of results.