How to Overcome Sensory Processing Disorder


– By Bob Gottfried PhD

Sensory processing disorders (SPD; sensory integration disorder) constitute a group of neurological disorders caused by the inability of the brain to organize and interpret information acquired by our senses: touch, smell, hearing, sight or taste, along with difficulties in movement coordination and spatial orientation. It is estimated that nearly 10% of the population suffers from SPD to various degrees [1], often in association with another condition, such as schizophrenia [2], autism [3] or prenatal alcohol syndrome [4]. Symptoms of SPD are also reported after brain injury [5], getting a cochlear implant [6], or in the absence of other conditions (idiopathic) [7].


How to Recognize Sensory Processing Disorders?


Have you ever seen a child scream when padded softly on the back, choke on popular food items, or experience difficulty holding scissors? These aberrant behaviors will not fade away over the years. But early intervention can suppress the symptoms of SPD considerably and restore normal reactions to the environment. The quality of the treatments will depend on the ability of healthcare professionals to identify the specific type of SPD, which are classified in 3 major categories:

• Sensory Modulation Disorder: Over- or under-reacting to stimuli, in terms of intensity and duration.
Symptoms: Withdraw from light or unexpected touch, gagging food, oversensitive to sounds.

• Sensory-Based Motor Disorder: These individuals have difficulty navigating in space because their body simply refuses to follow their brain’s commands. There are 2 categories:

1 – Postural Disorder: They have poor muscle tone, which affects their core stability and balance. Symptoms: There are different subtypes, including oral (drool or spit), ocular (double vision, poor throwing aim), vestibular (clumpsy, tripping, poor coordination) or prioceptive (difficulty swallowing).

2 – Dyspraxia: They exhibit poor coordination, planning and timing and their movements.
Symptoms: There are different subtypes, including tactile (difficulty handling utensils or scissors) and vision (miss reaching objects, poor dancer).

• Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Difficulty to interpret the intensity, duration or spatial position of a stimulus.
Symptoms: Using too much or too little force to hold a pencil, inadequate speed of movements.


What are the Treatment Options?


There is no cure or drug treatment available for SPD. But most symptoms can be significantly suppressed by personalized therapy. Since early detection is critical, most therapies are designed for children. This play-based intervention is offered by private practices, clinics, hospital outpatient facilities and university departments hosting therapy programs. However, The SPD Foundation recommends that the therapies should be conducted by a clinician or at a research-based clinic to ensure safety and efficacy. The sessions take place in a room where the child interacts alone with the therapist, which will reinforce appropriate responses during sensory-oriented activities specifically designed for the subtype of SPD.

The activities are specifically designed to meet four objectives:

  • Just Right Challenge: Tailored for each child so they can meet the challenge with minimum stress.
  • Adaptive Response: The child must be able to display adaptive behavior to meet the challenge.
  • Active Engagement: The nature of the activity must stimulate the child to participate.
  • Child Empowerment: The child chooses activities that he/she likes.

The amplitude, or difficulty level, of the activities is adjusted continuously to make sure that the child does not become overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation. Because of the inherent plasticity of the brain’s neuronal network [8], a child with SPD can learn to process sensory stimulations normally with time and repetition of each activity.


What Kind of Activities Are Used to Treat SPD?


• Sensitivity to Sounds can be finely tuned using talking toys, musical instruments or computer games.

• Touch Sensitivity can be corrected using different materials, including rice, play dough or rubber toys.

• Reaction to Smell may be addressed using different fragrances in rice or play dough.

• Hand-Eye Coordination is improved by activities like hitting the ball with a bat, throwing and catching a variety of toys (balls, balloons and beanbags).

• Balance Therapy may use hanging upside down, dancing, rocking chairs or swings, which all involve moving the head in different directions and angles to stimulate the vestibular system of the inner ear.

• Sequence of Movements. The child will navigate through obstacle courses, mazes, and build complex toys.




Neurofeedback is a method that improves brain self-regulation. By teaching the brain how to balance brain wave activity, the brain is able to better regulate stimuli and balance sensory input.

In summary, these interventions are designed to be fun, engaging and empowering activities for children of all ages. When conducted by a healthcare professional, they can considerably suppress the symptoms of SPD and reopen the bridges of communications with their family and schoolmates. By restoring their ability to interpret sensorial information, they will welcome social interactions and become avid learners, in school, and for life.

Bob Gottfried PhD is the clinical director of ACEclinics located in Toronto, Canada.
He specializes in neuro-cognitive treatment to treat ADD, ADHD, LD and other neuro-cognitive disorders.



1 Ben-Sasson, A., Carter, A. S. and Briggs-Gowan, M. J. (2009) Sensory over-responsivity in elementary school: prevalence and social-emotional correlates. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 37, 705-716
2 Javitt, D. C. (2009) Sensory processing in schizophrenia: neither simple nor intact. Schizophrenia Bulletin 35, 1059-1064
3 Baker, A. E., Lane, A., Angley, M. T. and Young, R. L. (2008) The relationship between sensory processing patterns and behavioural responsiveness in autistic disorder: a pilot study. J Autism Dev Disord. 38, 867-875
4 Wengel, T., Hanlon-Dearman, A. C. and Fjeldsted, B. (2011) Sleep and sensory characteristics in young children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 32, 384-392
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6 Bharadwaj, S. V., Daniel, L. L. and Matzke, P. L. (2009) Sensory-processing disorder in children with cochlear implants. Am J Occup Ther. 63, 208-213
7 Miller, L. J., Anzalone, M. E., Lane, S. J., Cermak, S. A. and Osten, E. T. (2007) Concept evolution in sensory integration: a proposed nosology for diagnosis. Am J Occup Ther. 61, 135-140
8 Russo, N. M., Nicol, T. G., Zecker, S. G., Hayes, E. A. and Kraus, N. (2005) Auditory training improves neural timing in the human brainstem. Behav Brain Res 156, 95-103


Keywords: Autism, Balance, Brain Surgery, Coordination, Dyspraxia, Neurological, Overeactivity, Prenatal Alcohol Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Sensory-Based Motor Disorder, ACEclinics, Sensory Discrimination Disorder, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Senses.

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