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What No One Tells You About The Sensory Processing Kid

Is Autism Spectrum Disorder the Same As Sensory Processing Disorder?

The words autism and sensory processing disorder are used almost interchangeably these days.  

Parents, teachers, and therapists use the terms to describe kids behaviors as they react to their sensory input.  This can look like an over reaction or an under reaction to information from the outside world.

So let’s see if we can clarify what each of these terms mean and how they are alike and how they are different.

Did You Know?

Sensory processing disorder may affect 1 or several of the senses.  

This could mean over responding to a sense (ie-a scratchy shirt) or avoiding the sensation as much as possible.

Neurological Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder both share difficulty processing information brought in by the senses (much like a traffic jam).   It is here that the message, from say our fingertips, gives the wrong sensory messages to our brain.

Kids on the autism spectrum all struggle in some way with sensory issues.  Some may only have minor difficulties with one or two sensory integrations.  Other kids may experience distress so great they can barely function throughout the day.

Many children are somewhere in between the two book ends.  

Sensory processing disorder, however, stands on its own and is not considered to be part of the autism spectrum. 

At the time of this writing, October, 2021, Sensory Processing Disorder is being considered as a new diagnosis for the Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM).  

Sensory Challenges and Symptoms of SPD

You may notice the following symptoms that could point to  symptoms of autism or a sensory processing disorder diagnosis.

  • Poor motor control skills (using our muscles for body movement) such as clumsiness, poor muscle tone and balance. 
  • Behavioral issues and problems
  • Anxiety and depression,
  • Sensory seeking such as constant movement, risk taking, pencil tapping, not sitting still, scratching, changing position
  • Sensory overload around sensory stimuli such as bright lights, and loud noises
  • School failure because of lack of focus
  • Fine motor skill delays
  • Masking

Is There A Specific Cause of Sensory Processing Disorder?

Parents of children with sensory problems often ask if the cause of SPD is known.  

Causes are still being researched, but SPD is believed to have a biological basis.  Birth complications and premature birth also are linked to to sensory issues.

Action Step

Create a sensory box for your child at home.  This can include calming toys if your child is easily over stimulated or interactive toys to involve them in play.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Occupational therapy will provide a treatment plan that focuses on sensory integration.  Kids with SPD upload sensory input which gets “tangled or traffic jammed” at times.  They need help making sense of the sensory messages they receive.  

An Occupational therapist can create a sensory diet that addresses each of the senses including proprioception (balance and spatial orientation) and interception (internal regulation such as hot/cold, hungry). 

This is not a diet of food, but of sensory experiences and fun activities that feed each sense.  Examples include:  Seeing beautiful colors, lights, pictures.

Hearing that provides a calming, soothing experience.

Touching a variety of textures (rough, smooth, soft, fuzzy, hard, patterned)

Tasting, whistling, blowing bubbles, chewing

Smelling the calming scents of aromatherapy 

Body movement practice in a safe environment to test out new balance and movement skills

With therapy, kids will learn appropriate responses to everyday life sensory challenges which they can apply to all areas of life.


SPD affects the brain's ability to upload and process information properly.  This can apply to 1 or more of the senses.

Social Interaction and Sensory Experiences

Kids with SPD have a difficult time processing sensory stimulation in the world around them.

They need help, support and assistance to learn new ways to understand sensory input.

With help and lifestyle changes, kids with sensory processing disorder can learn, process, grow, enjoy their friends and family and become whoever they want to become.  

What's Next?

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