Blogs     School Age     Teens     Special Needs     Early Childhood     Elementary School     Local Parents     Health Guide    

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder is more than difficulty coping with bright lights and loud noises.

sensory processing, autism, early education, mom life, mom blog

The clinical definition, according to WebMD is “a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Formerly referred to as sensory integration dysfunction, it is not currently recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis. Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to things in their environment. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming. The light touch of a shirt may chafe the skin.”

SPD is so much more than just an “over sensitivity”. For some children on the spectrum, it can also mean that their bodies aren’t sensitive enough and may even get hurt because they don’t feel pain. Sensory Processing Disorder, in the very basic of terms, really means that there’s a breakdown of how the child is receiving and filtering stimulation. I’ll share a few examples below.


Imagine you’re meeting your besties after work. You’ve been looking forward to this all week, but you’ve been fighting a bit of a cold all day. You wished you felt better, but you really want to see your friend and have a girls’ night out. At the restaurant, the voices echo so loud that you’re having a hard time paying attention. The waiter is taking forever and the table next to you is eating something that just stinks. Suddenly you realized you’ve missed half of the conversation because you’ve been focusing on everything around you.

As adults, we’ve learned skills to help us cope with busy environments as well as filter out stimuli that we don’t need. In the scenario above, even though you weren’t feeling well and losing concentration, you were still able to acknowledge the situation and possibly even tell your friends you weren’t feel well and rescheduled.

For children on the spectrum, being able to deal with situations like this can be completely overwhelming and require some serious recovery time. Short trips to busy environments, using sunglasses, and headphones can help some children soften their experience.


Now imagine you're finally at the spa about to cash in that gift certificate you’ve had for months. The masseuse comes in and it’s the weakest massage you’ve ever had in your life. Leaving completely disappointed, you decide to shrug it off and stop at the bakery (because it’s your cheat day anyway) and grab a delicious looking muffin and coffee. Sadly again, the muffin is tasteless and the coffee is bland. Getting back in the car, you turn up the radio but can barely hear the notes, even though the dial says it’s on the loudest setting.

Children with sensory processing disorder can seem as if they are overdoing things, but it’s because their bodies aren’t receiving the stimuli. They might constantly jump or run into things, put their face directly on the tv or iPad, or even try to hurt themselves. It’s all because they aren’t feeling sensations the same as others. Using weighted blankets, sand or rice bins, and brushing techniques can all help regulate their bodies.

When children are young, we can help teach them new ways to make their bodies and mind feel more relaxed and centered. Check back next week as I break down Sensory Seeking and Sensory Defensive and great organizing activities for sensory regulation.

Here’s a great insight about SPD from a child’s point of view:

*If you have any concerns about your child, please discuss with their pediatrician or contact your local school district or Early Intervention center for an evaluation.*

Rielly is a part-time writer and full-time mama to an adorable autistic toddler. Her favorite hobbies include naptime, drinking coffee, and trips to Target. Follow her online @ CarpeCafea.

Other posts by this this blogger

That Time Mommy Brain Made Me Shoplift

Oct 19, 2017

Everyone told me I would be more tired that I’ve ever been and have crazy “mommy brain,” but I didn’t truly understand the gravity of that term until my first week home with my newborn.

Flexibility 101: Reading

Oct 12, 2017

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do in Early Intervention is teach my son flexibility, but it’s so very important for us both, to learn how to cope when things aren’t the same. If your child, like mine, is rigid with reading time, here’s a few ways to broaden their reading experience.

My Sensory Son's Top 10 Favorite Things At The Zoo

Oct 5, 2017

What’s the point in going to the zoo if not to check out the cool animals? Well, to Simon, there were other attractions that he really enjoyed, we just weren’t listening.

When You Hold My Hand

Sep 28, 2017

My little boy, you are growing up so fast. I want you to know, that no matter what, you are safe and I will always be here for you, so I hold you hand. I wish I could hold onto these moment forever.

Sensory Seeking vs. Sensory Defensive

Sep 21, 2017

Children with SPD struggle with regulating their senses. In an effort to normalize what they are feeling, children will modify their play and actions depending on how much or how little sensory input they need.

Who Am I Without EI?

Sep 15, 2017

My son is moving on and transitioning well into his first week of Preschool, but there’s no transition for parents. What am I supposed to do now?

Teaching Feelings To Children On The Spectrum

Sep 8, 2017

Children on the spectrum often have challenges expressing and understanding emotions. The subtle social cues, that we take for granted, can be met with confusion or missed entirely. Using multiple reinforcements through play and social stories is the approach that helped my son.

Learning Play & Socialization Through Musical Munchkins

Aug 28, 2017

Music class has such a positive impact on a child's mental, social and emotional growth in so many ways.

Reducing Barrier Stims

Aug 17, 2017

Through Early Intervention, we learned lots of techniques that have helped reduce barrier Stims while giving Simon more appropriate activities to address his sensory needs.

Keeping Perspective And Humor

Aug 10, 2017

Despite all of our daily struggles and tears, my son always makes me laugh and reminds me to take it easy. Simon never lets me forget to just chill and laugh, especially at the most inopportune times.

Not All Stims Are Created Equal (Part 2)

Jul 21, 2017

Stims can also develop as a means of escape and further prevent development.

Not All Stims Are Created Equal (Part 1)

Jul 20, 2017

Based on portrayals of Autistic children on TV and in movies, I thought stims were always either hand flapping or spinning in circles.

Autism Used To Mean "We Can't," Now It Means "We Adjust."

Jul 12, 2017

Even before my son received the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis, life was very challenging. Way more challenging than it should be for first time parents and a new baby.