We all know the five basic senses – vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Proprioception (body position awareness) and vestibular sense (spatial awareness and balance) are the lesser-known but equally important senses. Together, these senses help us to the most basic and complex functions. The brain processes information (stimuli) and helps us to effectively interact with our environment.
However, for some, the brain is unable to process information seamlessly leading to sensory processing disorders (SPDs). These can hinder their ability to make sense of the sensory-rich environment in their daily lives.
Through this blog, we’ll help you understand the world of sensory processing disorders, the different types of SPDs, their characteristics, diagnosis, as well as effective management strategies.
Note: Contrary to popular misinformation, SPDs are not childhood disorders only. Adults live with it too. Therefore, the management strategies we’ll be talking about will also help adults with sensory processing disorders to live with their condition.
What are sensory processing disorders?
Sensory processing disorders are neurodevelopmental conditions that cause disruptions in the normal processing of sensory stimuli. Individuals with SPDs tend to face challenges when it comes to sensory modulation, discrimination, or integration. These difficulties often lead to heightened sensitivity (hypersensitivity), reduced sensitivity (hyposensitivity), or difficulty filtering out irrelevant sensory input.
Types of sensory processing disorders
Sensory Modulation Disorder – It refers to challenges in regulating and responding to sensory input in an adaptive, appropriate, and socially acceptable manner. Simply put, the brain is unable to properly regulate the degree and type of sensory responses to different stimuli. The three types of sensory modulation disorders are:
Sensory Overresponsivity (SOR)
- Characterised by heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli
- Strong, typically negative, reaction to seemingly ordinary sensory input
- Common triggers: loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, specific textures
- Management strategies: desensitisation techniques and sensory diets
Sensory Underresponsivity (SUR)
- Characterised by reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli
- Failure to notice or respond to sensory input, especially potentially harmful input
- Management strategies: environmental modifications to increase sensory awareness, and sensory integration therapy
Sensory Seeking (SS)
- Characterised by the urge to actively seek out sensory input and engaging in repetitive or unusual behaviors to satisfy sensory cravings
- Restlessness, inability to stay focused
- Management strategies: structured sensory activities and sensory integration therapy
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder – This type of SPD is characterised by difficulties with coordination, balance, and motor planning. People with sensory-based motor disorder may find it difficult to ride a bike, catch a ball, or even tie their shoelaces. Occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy are prescribed for this type of SPD.
Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) – Individuals with this type of SPD have difficulty differentiating between various sensory stimuli. For instance, they may struggle to understand the difference between temperatures, textures, or sounds. Sensory exposure therapy and sensory discrimination training are prescribed for this type of SPD.
Sensory-Related Anxiety – This type of SPD causes intense fear or panic in response to even everyday sensory stimuli. Exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are often recommended to manage this condition.
Sensory processing disorder causes
Below are some potential causes of sensory processing disorders:
- Family history
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Neurological conditions, such as abnormalities in the structure or function of the brain
- Exposure to toxins
- Maternal drug use especially during pregnancy
- Sensory overstimulation or deprivation
- Developmental delays
- Developmental disorders
How does an early diagnosis help?
Early diagnosis of sensory processing disorders can give the individual immediate access to support and the necessary interventions. Early diagnosis of SPD in children can significantly improve their quality of life.
Occupational therapists, psychologists, neurologists, and developmental paediatricians typically work together to diagnose SPD in children. This multidisciplinary approach usually involves standardized sensory assessments, clinical observations, as well as parent (and teacher) questionnaires, depending on the child’s age.
Managing sensory processing disorders
At Plexus, we offer a combination of the following interventions to improve quality of life. Remember, these plans can vary based on the individual’s age, the specific subtype of SPD, and its severity.
Sensory Integration Therapy
A cornerstone of SPD management, sensory integration therapy focuses on sensory processing issues. It involves structured, sensory-rich activities that help the individual to adjust and adapt to overwhelming sensory stimuli. Other benefits of sensory integration therapy include:
- Improved performance of everyday activities
- Improved independence
- Better motor control
- Initiation of environmental exploration
- Improved response to sensory stimuli
Sensory diets are part of sensory integration therapy. They involve sensory-rich activities scheduled throughout the day to help regulate sensory processing.
Occupational therapists help improve motor skills, everyday functioning, and sensory processing Sensory Integration therapy is provided only by Occupational Therapists who are experts in assessing, evaluating and treating sensory processing disorders in children and adults.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and behaviour therapy help manage sensory-related anxiety, and also devise coping strategies.
The main focus of management of sensory processing disorders is building resilience and harnessing the individual’s strengths to improve their quality of life. If you have a particular type of SPD, it is important to surround yourself with people who are empathetic and supportive. Likewise, if your loved one has an SPD, make sure you are someone they can always count on to navigate this sensory-rich world.
If you wish to know more about our Occupational Therapy services for children with SPD, early intervention programme, sensory integration therapy, or any of the other SPD management strategies, do reach out to us today.
What are the most common sensory processing disorders?
Sensory modulation disorder is the most common type of SPD.
What type of disorder is SPD?
SPDs are neurological disorders.
What age do sensory issues start?
Sensory issues are typically noticed during toddlerhood – between 1 and 4 years of age.
What are the 4 areas of sensory processing?
Low registration, sensation seeking, sensory sensitive and sensation avoiding are the four areas of sensory processing.
What are the 5 basic sensory systems?
Visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), and tactile (touch) are the five basic sensory systems.
What is sensory processing therapy?
Sensory processing therapy or sensory integration therapy uses sensory-rich activities to adapt to overwhelming sensory stimuli.
Can sensory issues be cured?
Sensory issues are permanent. They can only be managed with proper therapy and timely intervention.