Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a brain based problem that affects approximately five percent of school age children in the U.S. One subtype of SPD is Sensory Over Responsivity (SOR). SOR kids respond to sensory information (i.e. sound and touch) as though it were extremely aversive. They feel continually bombarded by stimuli. The resulting physiologic over-arousal and emotional dysregulation negatively impact the child’s daily functioning. Patterns of instable moods are typical and SOR children find even pleasurable activities difficult, or unbearable. Awareness of SPD is very low. Children are frequently misdiagnosed and prescribed inappropriate treatment plans. The results can be devastating.
Sensory processing (originally called “sensory integration dysfunction” or SID) refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a sandwich, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires accurate processing of sensation.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.
One study (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, McIntosh, 2004) shows that at least 1 in 20 children’s daily life is affected by SPD. Another research study by Alice Carter and colleagues who are members of the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group (Ben-Sasson, Carter, Briggs-Gowen, 2009) suggests that 1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions.
Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, like those of most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children, adolescents, and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic, and they can significantly disrupt everyday life.