What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

3 minutes Written by Amanda Morgan

Have you ever felt overwhelmed or irritated by the stimuli around you?  Chances are that your nervous system is being overworked!  Usually our bodies are able to regulate these experiences.  For some individuals, this feeling happens more often and they may need help learning how to regulate their nervous system.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), also known as Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Sensitivity, is a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes and responds to sensory information from the environment. Sensory input includes everything we perceive through our senses, such as sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, as well as sensations related to balance and body awareness (vestibular and proprioceptive senses.)

In a person with Sensory Processing Disorder, their nervous system may overreact, underreact, or have difficulty organizing sensory input, leading to atypical responses to everyday stimuli. This can result in various challenges and difficulties in daily life.

There are three main subtypes of SPD:

  • Sensory Overresponsivity (Sensory Defensiveness): Individuals with this subtype are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli. They may react strongly or negatively to relatively mild sensory input, such as becoming overwhelmed by loud noises, being bothered by certain textures of clothing, or feeling discomfort in bright or crowded environments.

  • Sensory Underresponsivity: In contrast to overresponsivity, people with sensory underresponsivity have a reduced response to sensory input. They may seem less aware of their surroundings, have delayed reactions to sensory stimuli, or show a lack of responsiveness to certain sensations.

  • Sensory Seeking/Craving: This subtype involves seeking out intense sensory experiences. Individuals with sensory seeking tendencies may engage in repetitive or excessive behaviors to get the sensory input they desire. For example, they might spin, jump, or seek deep pressure by pressing against objects or people.

It’s essential to understand that Sensory Processing Disorder is not a stand-alone medical diagnosis, according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) used by clinicians and other healthcare providers. However, many professionals in occupational therapy, pediatrics, and related fields recognize SPD as a real and impactful condition that can significantly affect a person’s daily functioning and quality of life.

SPD is often seen and recognized in children, but it can also persist into adulthood. It may coexist with other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or developmental coordination disorder (DCD).

Occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and behavioral therapy consults may be used to help individuals with SPD manage sensory challenges, develop coping strategies, and improve their overall sensory processing abilities, leading to improved functioning and participation in daily activities. Early identification and appropriate support can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals with SPD, allowing them to thrive and engage more effectively with their environment.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, we want you to know that we are here to help and support you. We sincerely care about your well-being and would be more than happy to offer a consult to guide you through any environmental challenges you may be facing, as well as provide effective strategies for managing Sensory Processing Disorder. Your journey is important to us, and we are committed to making it as smooth as possible.

Avatar Amanda Morgan

Written by Amanda Morgan

Amanda Morgan is a therapist in District Of Columbia, Florida and Pennsylvania who specializes in group and individual therapy.