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    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
    What is Sensory Processing Disorder                              easily or too intensely, and they feel as if they are
                                                                     being constantly bombarded with information.
                                                                     Consequently, these children often have a “fight
    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a com-
                                                                     or flight” response to sensation. This condition is
    plex disorder of the brain that affects developing
                                                                     called “sensory defensiveness”. They may try to
    children and adults. People with SPD misinterpret
                                                                     avoid or minimize sensations, such as by avoid-
    everyday sensory information, such as touch,
                                                                     ing being touched, or being very particular about
    sound, and movement. They may feel bombarded
    by information, seek out intense sensory experi-
    ences, or have other symptoms.
                                                                     These children may
                                                                     • respond to being touched with aggression or
    “Sensory processing” refers to our ability to take in
    information through our senses (touch, movement,
                                                                     • fear movement and heights, or get sick from
    smell, taste, vision, and hearing), organize and
                                                                       exposure to movement or heights
    interpret that information, and make a meaningful
                                                                     • be very cautious and unwilling to take risks or to
    response. For most people, this process is automat-
                                                                       try new things
    ic. When we hear someone talking to us, or a bird
                                                                     • feel uncomfortable in loud or busy environments,
    chirping, our brains interpret that as speech, or an
                                                                       such as sports events or malls
    animal sound, and we respond to that information
                                                                     • be very picky eaters and/or overly sensitive to
                                                                       food smells
    Children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder
                                                                     These children may be diagnosed with Sensory
    (SPD), however, do not experience this process
    in the same way. SPD affects the way their brains
    interpret the information that they take in and also
                                                                     Sensory-Seeking Children
    how they act on that information in terms of emo-
                                                                     Some children are under-responsive to sensation.
    tional, behavioural, motor, and other responses.
                                                                     Their nervous systems do not always recognize the
                                                                     sensory information that is coming into the brain.
    How is SPD manifested?
                                                                     As a result, they seem to have an almost insatiable
    There are several types of Sensory Processing Dis-               desire for sensory stimulation. They may seek out
    order. Each one may result in a number of different              constant stimulation or more intense and/or pro-
    behavioural and sensory patterns. Some of the most               longed sensory experiences, such as taking part in
    common behaviour patterns are described below:                   extreme activities or moving constantly.

    Sensory-Avoiding Children                                        Some behaviours seen in these children include
    Some children with SPD are over-responsive to                    • hyperactivity as they seek more sensation
    sensation. Their nervous systems feel sensation too              • unawareness of touch or pain, or touching others

    The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.
Learning Together - Fact Sheet                                                                                                page 1 of 3
    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), continued
      too often, or too hard (which may seem like ag-                still very limited. This lack of resources, combined
      gressive behaviour)                                            with the fact that SPD often looks like other disor-
    • taking part in unsafe activities, such as climbing             ders, often results in misdiagnosis and inappropri-
      too high                                                       ate treatment for many children.
    • enjoying sounds that are too loud, such as a very
      loud television or radio                                       How is SPD diagnosed or detected?
    These children may be diagnosed with Sensory                     While many children display the above behaviours,
    Under-Responsivity.                                              consider whether a child shows them more often
                                                                     and more dramatically than other children of the
    Motor Skills Problems                                            same age. Behavioural signs include
    Other children with SPD have trouble processing
    sensory information properly, resulting in problems              • over- or under-sensitivity to touch, sounds,
    with planning and carrying out new actions. They                   sights, movement, tastes, or smells
    have particular difficulty with forming a goal or                • intense, out-of-proportion reactions to everyday
    idea, or developing new motor skills.                              experiences
                                                                     • resistance to changes in routines and moving
    These children may have                                            from activity to activity
    • poor fine motor skills, such as handwriting                    • unusually high or low activity level
    • poor gross motor skills, such as kicking, catch-               • difficulty handling frustration
      ing, or throwing a ball                                        • impulsivity, with little (or no) self-control
    • difficulty imitating movements, such as when                   • difficulty paying attention and staying focused
      playing “Simon Says”                                           • dislike of getting “messy” (food, sand, glue,
    • trouble with balance, sequences of movements,                    paint, lotion), especially on hands or face
      and bilateral coordination                                     • discomfort with certain clothing fabrics, seams,
    • a preference for familiar activities or play, such               tags, waistbands, etc.
      as lining up toys                                              • resistance to grooming activities such as brush-
    • a preference for sedentary activities, such as                   ing teeth, hair washing, or nail cutting
      watching TV, reading a book, or playing video                  • avoidance of touch or needing it more than other
      games                                                            children
                                                                     • unusually high or low pain tolerance
    These children may get frustrated easily and may                 • fear of movement activities (e.g., swings, see-
    seem manipulative and controlling. Some may try                    saw, etc.)
    to compensate with an over-reliance on language                  • avoidance or excessive cravings for slides,
    and may prefer fantasy games to real life. They                    swings, bouncing, rocking, jumping
    may also try to mask their motor planning prob-                  • poor balance, frequent falls, or awkward running
    lems by acting like a “class clown” or avoiding                  • weakness or less coordination than other children
    new group activities.                                              his age
                                                                     • walking on tiptoes
    These children may be diagnosed with Dyspraxia                   • touching of walls or furniture when walking
    (sensory-based) Motor Planning Disorder.                         • pushing, hitting, biting, or banging into other
                                                                       children although he is not aggressive
    Who is affected?                                                 • overly sensitivity to noise (e.g., sirens, vacuum
                                                                       cleaner, etc.)
    Studies show that as many as five percent of all                 • hearing things you do not hear
    children suffer from SPD. Yet despite this high rate,            • not responding to you, although you know he can
    information and help for those with this disorder is               hear
    The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.
Learning Together - Fact Sheet                                                                                                page  of 3
    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), continued
    •   getting dizzy easily, or never at all                        Books and Literature:
    •   squinting, blinking, or rubbing eyes frequently
    •   having trouble reading                                       ParenTbookS -
    •   withdrawing, “tuning out,” or crying in group                Parentbooks offers the most comprehensive selec-
        situations                                                   tion of resources available anywhere - from planning
    •   avoidance of foods most children of same age                 a family, to everyday parenting issues for special needs
        enjoy                                                        of all kinds. The selection of resources for caregivers,
    •   craving or avoiding particular food textures (e.g.,          counselors, therapists, educators, and clinicians serving
                                                                     the everyday and special needs of families is unequaled.
        chewy, crunchy, slippery, etc.)
                                                                     It can help you find exactly what you need for a specific
    •   frequently chewing on clothing or hair                       client or situation, and also help you build your profes-
    •   difficulty with fine motor tasks (e.g., writing,             sional library.
        buttons, stringing beads, using scissors, etc.)
    •   poor handwriting and drawing skills                          building bridges with Sensory Integration
    •   speech-language, motor skill, or learning delays             By Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton, & Paula Aquilla
    •   inconsistent sleep and hunger patterns
                                                                     Sensory Integration and the Child
    Many children show these signs for a variety of                  By Jean A. Ayres
    reasons. Some of these behaviours are appropriate
    at certain ages. Most toddlers are pretty impulsive              Senseabilities – Understanding Sensory
    (that’s the terrific but “terrible” two’s). However,             Integration
    a 10-year-old who acts on every little impulse is                By M. Colby Trott, M.K. Laurel & S.L.Windeck
    a different matter. A strong dislike of wool cloth-
    ing, discomfort making eye contact with strang-                  The out-of-Sync Child
    ers, or fear of a goat at the petting zoo that bleats            By Carol Stock Kranowitz
    loudly and unexpectedly all fall within the range of
    so-called typical sensory sensitivity for a child so             Sensational kids: hope and help for Children
    long as these sensory experiences do not interfere               with Sensory Processing Disorder
    with his day-to-day function. A child with sensory               By Lucy Jane Miller
    problems usually has maladaptive responses to ev-
    eryday situations and consistently displays behav-
    iours that are not age-appropriate and that cannot
    be dismissed.

    Additional Resources:

    Common SenSeS –
    Common Senses is an online Sensory toyshop dedi-
    cated to offering affordable sensory toys for young

    The SPD neTwork -
    A network for families and professionals with resources
    that can help you learn more about SPD and find effec-
    tive treatment.

    The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.
Learning Together - Fact Sheet                                                                                                page 3 of 3

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