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What is Sensory Processing Disorder?: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Sensory Processing Disorder Explained

Imagine sitting in a room surrounded by your peers, but everything in that room is dialed up to 10. The lights seem like spotlights baking down on you, the smell of someone’s aftershave invades your nostrils so strongly that it makes you feel sick, the noise from the conversation of others jabs at your brain like a jackhammer.

Sounds awful right? Well this is what daily life can be like for someone who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is a term that is often talked about around neurodiversity, stirring both acknowledgement and debate among professionals and families alike. Seen as an imbalance in the flow of sensory information from our senses to our brain, it plays a profound role in how individuals interact with their world.

In this article on the essence of SPD, we aim to explore its symptoms, causes, and the blossoming realm of therapies that can help, all through the lens of empathy and inclusivity.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder, is a condition where the brain finds it challenging to interpret and respond to sensory information. First identified in 1972 by Occupational Therapist Anna Jean Ayres, it is a diagnosis that still causes much disagreement within the medical community. People who have Sensory Processing Disorder often experience the world like an overwhelming orchestra of sensations, each note, whether a touch, a sound, or a sight, can resonate too loudly or fade away before its melody can be understood.

The narrative of SPD is interwoven with a spectrum of experiences. Some individuals might find the brush of fabric against their skin feels like they are being stabbed with a thousand needles, whereas others might not feel someone touching them unless it is a massive bear hug. The landscape of SPD is diverse, each experience as unique as the individual.

Amidst the professional realms,  SPD is still a subject of much debate. While some experts advocate for its recognition, others question its standalone existence apart from other neurodivergences like ADHD and Autism.

For instance the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), currently does not recognize SPD, adding a shade of complexity for parents searching for answers for their child’s sensory struggles. Yet, the lived experiences of individuals and the observations of many practitioners echo the authenticity of SPD’s impact.

A Child with Sensory Processing Disorder stands in a classroom with hus hands over his ears as too much sensory input surrounds him

Navigating the Sensory Spectrum: The 7 Senses Unveiled

Related: Understanding the Seven Senses: Navigating Overstimulation and Understimulation in Everyday Life

Our senses play the lead role in our daily existence, choreographing our interactions with the world around us. Yet, like every dance, the rhythm and response of our senses can vary, painting a diverse sensory spectrum. For some, this spectrum may tilt towards overstimulation, while for others it goes towards understimulation. Understanding the nuances of the 7 senses and how they manifest in over or under stimulation forms the cornerstone of understanding SPD.

The Classical Quintet: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch


Related: Visual Stimulation: Top 10 techniques to help over (or under) sensory stimulation

   – Overstimulation: Strong colors or movements may overwhelm, making tasks like reading or distinguishing objects in a pattern a challenge.

   – Understimulation: A craving for visual stimuli may beckon, leading to seeking out bright lights or fast-moving objects.


   – Overstimulation: The world turns into a cacophony, where even a gentle whisper feels like a scream.

   – Understimulation: A quest for auditory stimulation might manifest in seeking out  loud music or the rhythmic beating of drums.


   – Overstimulation: The aroma of freshly baked cookies might morph into a suffocating cloud, making it hard to catch your breath.

   – Understimulation: The world may seem odorless, leading to a search for strong scents like curry or strong perfume.


   – Overstimulation: The gentle taste of sugar on the tongue might feel like a fiery spice, steering away from anything but the blandest tastes.

   – Understimulation: A craving for intense flavors could lead to a love for spicy or sour treats.


   – Overstimulation:  A gentle breeze might feel like a torrent of needles, making even the softest fabric a field of discomfort.

   – Understimulation: The world may feel numb, leading to a quest for textures, seeking the comforting pressure of a tight hug or the rough terrain under bare feet.

The Unsung Duet: Vestibular and Proprioceptive Senses

Vestibular (Balance and Movement)

   – Overstimulation: The world may seem like a relentless merry-go-round, where movement might feel unbearable.

   – Understimulation: A thirst for movement might arise, leading to a love for swings, spinning, and motion.

Proprioception (Body Awareness)

   – Overstimulation: The body might feel like a tangled puppet, where every movement feels exaggerated and out of sync.

   – Understimulation: A craving for pressure and a sense of place might manifest, leading to a love for heavy blankets and a clear understanding of one’s spatial dance.

 Embracing the diverse sensory spectrum, acknowledging the over and under stimulations of each sense allows a fostering of understanding, acceptance, and sensory harmony.

A child its with ear defenders on in a noisy street with sensory input all around him

Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder

Unveiling the causes of SPD is a subject of much debate and uncertainty even now. Genetic factors often play a profound role. Environmental influences too can be considered when looking at the sensory experiences of the individual.

Research shines a light on the ongoing dialogue regarding the neurological basis of SPD, with some studies suggesting a distinct neurological signature, while the broader medical community awaits further exploration.

Current Research and Treatments

The realm of treatments for Sensory Processing Disorder is ever changing, as researchers and practitioners search for concrete answers. Amidst the plethora of treatments, Sensory Integration Therapy and Occupational Therapy have emerged as potential aids on the path of sensory harmony.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy often involves sensory-rich activities that are tailored to the individual’s needs, nurturing their ability to process and respond to sensory stimuli.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy often accompanies a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and helps empower individuals to navigate through the daily challenges of life with grace. Through activities that foster motor skills, coordination, and adaptive responses to sensory stimuli, individuals gain tools that help them find the path through the often over-sensory world.

Both Occupational therapy and Sensory Integration Therapy are viewed  through a mixture of professional opinions, with differing perspectives on its impact and methodology. Yet the empowerment that it brings to the lives of individuals with SPD is often enough for parents to seek them out.

 A child overlooks a calming vista of sensory calmness

Tips for Parents of Children with SPD

The SPD journey is one that is often shared, where parents and caregivers walk alongside their children, desperate to find support and understanding.

Strategies for Home and School

At home and in school, crafting a sensory-friendly environment is a must. Simple adjustments like reducing sensory stimuli, creating quiet corners, and incorporating sensory breaks can make all the difference for children with SPD. This should be somewhere the child can access without having to draw attention to  themselves, or having to ask. The times when the sensory space is needed are the times when they can’t be asked for.

Resources for Sensory-Friendly Clothing and Tools

Related: Embracing Comfort: The Essential Guide to Sensory-Friendly Clothing for Neurodiverse Individuals

In the quest to aid children experiencing Sensory Processing Disorder, resources like sensory-friendly clothing and fidget toys like Popits and fidget spinners become essential. Our Fidget-T combines these into something that fosters both comfort and self-regulation, designed with love for the sensory needs of individuals. Its soft seams and hidden popit fidgets provide a comforting embrace, nurturing the sensory well-being of children.

Navigating Sensory Processing Disorder: Support For Parents

As we travel through the peaks and troughs of Sensory Processing Disorder, it’s essential to pause and reflect on the understanding and support that is available through our community. Social media pages and in-person support groups offer more peer-to-peer support, whereas organisations like Sensory UK offer more structured help and treatment for SPD and other associated Neurodivergencies.



FAQ Section

In summation, here are some frequently pondered queries about SPD:

  • What is Sensory Processing Disorder and how does it affect children?

  • SPD affects how individuals process and respond to sensory stimuli, which can impact their daily interactions and experiences.

  • What are the common symptoms of SPD?

  • Symptoms can range from hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli to challenges in motor coordination and social interactions.

  • What causes SPD?

  • The causes are thought to be a blend of genetic and environmental factors, though the exact cause is a subject of ongoing research.

  • What treatments are available for children with SPD?

  • Treatments like Sensory Integration Therapy and Occupational Therapy are often recommended, alongside creating supportive environments both at home and school.

  • How can parents support their children with SPD at home and school?

  • Crafting sensory-friendly environments, seeking professional guidance, and embracing a rhythm of understanding and support can play a profound role in nurturing the sensory well-being of children with SPD.


Life with Sensory Processing Disorder can offer a mixture of challenges, understanding, and hope. As we continue to explore, research, and support one another, understanding and acceptance grow more each day, weaving a narrative of empathy and inclusivity for all individuals, whether neurodivergent or neurotypical. It is our hope that Comfa can play a part in building on this, and supporting parents for years to come.

Written by: Matt Palfrey

Published on: 16 November 2023

Categories: Resources

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