Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to things in their environment. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming. The light touch of a shirt may chafe the skin. Others with sensory processing disorder may: Be uncoordinated, bump into things, be unable to tell where their limbs are in space, and be hard to engage in conversation or play. Sensory processing problems are usually identified in children. But they can also affect adults. Sensory processing problems are commonly seen in developmental disorders like autism.
Sensory processing disorder may affect one sense, like hearing, touch, or taste. Or it may affect multiple senses. And people can be over- or under-responsive to the things they have difficulties with.
Like many illnesses, the symptoms of sensory processing disorder exist on a spectrum.
In some children, for example, the sound of a leaf blower outside the window may cause them to vomit or dive under the table. They may scream when touched. They may withdraw from the textures of certain foods.
But others seem unresponsive to anything around them. They may fail to respond to extreme heat or cold or even pain.
Many children with sensory processing disorder start out as fussy babies who become anxious as they grow older. These kids often don’t handle change well. They may frequently throw tantrums or have meltdowns.
Many children have symptoms like these from time to time. But therapists consider a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder when the symptoms become severe enough to affect normal functioning and disrupt everyday life.
Many families with an affected child find that it is hard to get help. That’s because sensory processing disorder isn’t a recognized medical diagnosis.
Treatment depends on a child’s individual needs. But in general, it involves helping children do better at things they’re not good at and helping them get used to things they can’t tolerate.
Treatment for sensory processing problems is called sensory integration. The goal of sensory integration is to challenge a child in a fun, playful way so he or she can learn to respond appropriately and function more normally.
With the right treatment, loving, understanding and patient parents, children with sensory processing disorder may lead a happy, successful and normal life.