What Is Sensory Processing Disorder In Children?

The American Academy of Family Physicians defines sensory processing disorder (SPD) as a condition that affects how a child’s brain processes information, also known as stimuli. This disorder interferes with a child’s ability to process and then act on information received by sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The severity of sensory processing disorder greatly varies on a case-to-case basis.  

Sensory Processing Disorders

With sensory processing disorder affecting 5 to 16% of school-aged children, it is important to understand the primary types, symptoms, and characteristics of this condition. The STAR Institute for Sensory Processing suggests there are three major patterns:  

  1. Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

Pattern one is sensory modulation disorder (SMD) which is described as difficulty regulating responses to certain sensory stimuli. This may include:

  • Sensory over-responsive: Responding too much, too soon, or for too long to things others find tolerable. 
  • Sensory under-responsive: Responding not at all, too little, or in a delayed manner when compared to others.
  • Sensory craving: Highly attracted to or interested in certain stimuli such as movements, sounds, smells, colors, textures, light, etc. 

These three subtypes of sensory processing disorder all deal with responses to outside stimuli that, when compared to the average person, are done with more or less intensity.  

  1. Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

Sensory Based Motor Disorder is pattern two and is defined as difficulty with balance, gross motor and fine motor coordination, and the ability to perform skilled, familiar, or novel motor actions. This may include:

  • Postural disorder: Children with postural disorder may demonstrate poor core strength, poor body awareness, decreased endurance, and move slowly and cautiously with a preference for sedentary activities.  
  • Dyspraxia: A form of sensory processing disorder where a child may experience difficulty with ideation, motor planning, and/or execution.

Being aware of these conditions at an early age is crucial in order for your child to receive a proper diagnosis and ensure they’re able to perform necessary mental and physical tasks as they age. 

  1. Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

The third pattern is sensory discrimination disorder which is exhibited by difficulty interpreting the qualities of people, objects, places, or different environments. The eight subtypes of SDD include:

  • Auditory DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is heard
  • Visual DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is seen
  • Tactile DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is felt on the skin or touched
  • Vestibular DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is through the movement of the body
  • Proprioceptive DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli when using muscles and joints
  • Gustatory DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is tasted
  • Olfactory DD: Difficulty interpreting stimuli that is smelled
  • Interoception: Difficulty interpreting stimuli from internal organs

Those with this subtype of sensory processing disorder may need extra time to distinguish what they have seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled. 

Risk Factors And Treatment For Sensory Processing Disorder

Risk factors for sensory processing disorder may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Being exposed to drugs while in utero
  • Abnormal brain activity
  • Certain food allergies
  • Developmental delays or other neurological disorders
  • Understimulated during critical periods of neurological development

Sensory processing disorder treatment often involves therapy but varies on each child’s individual needs. The Child Mind Institute suggests sensory integration therapy works to “rewire” a child’s brain so they can properly respond to stimuli. This is done through movement activities, resistive bodywork, and other sensory experiences.  

If you believe your child may have a sensory processing disorder, we’re here to help. Wake Forest Pediatrics can provide your child with an evaluation and develop an individualized treatment plan that works best for them. We know it can be challenging to find help, but we are here and ready to assist! For more information, call our Wake Forest office at 919-556-4779 or our Knightdale office at 919-266-5059, or visit our website.

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