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160: What is Sensory Processing Disorder

Dive into today’s episode on Sensory Processing Disorder, affecting individuals across the spectrum. Explore how sensory challenges turn into clinically recognized disorders, shaping daily lives.

Sensory processing issues can affect a wide range of people, regardless of neurotypical or neurodivergent status, and can sometimes be linked to developmental factors. The key question then is what turns these issues into a clinically recognized disorder.

In today’s episode, I want to delve into one of my favorite topics that many neurodivergent individuals, including some neurotypical ones, struggle with – sensory processing disorder.

Sensory processing disorder and its impact on daily life.

Sensory processing, at its core, involves receiving information through our senses. When our nervous system is functioning properly and regulated, we can tolerate loud sounds or someone touching our shoulders without feeling bothered. However, when it's dysregulated, we become reactive and so, we struggle to modulate the sensory input we receive.

I've had the opportunity to work closely with kids on the autistic spectrum or those dealing with ADHD who often face challenges related to taste and texture, particularly in the context of eating. While some children may go through a developmental phase where these difficulties naturally resolve, it becomes a sensory processing disorder (SPD) when it significantly interferes with their daily functions.

This can manifest in various aspects of their lives, such as disrupting sleep, hindering school performance, or impacting other routine activities, posing a challenge that parents need to actively manage. On a positive note, addressing these clinical issues often leads to resolution. However, some individuals may grapple with sensory processing challenges for an extended period.

Sensory processing disorder and its relationship to autism and other conditions.

When it comes to understanding sensory processing disorder (SPD) in comparison to conditions like autism or other clinical issues, it's crucial to note that many individuals on the autism spectrum commonly experience sensory processing challenges. From my experience, most people in the autistic spectrum navigate a balance with sensory information – some may be under-sensitive, seeking activities like constant spinning for stimulation, while others may be overreactive, displaying heightened responses to seemingly mundane stimuli like a flushing toilet. These reactions provide clues to an underlying reactivity of the nervous system, indicating the presence of sensory processing challenges.

It thus becomes essential to emphasize that individuals with sensory issues aren't intentionally causing disruptions; for them, it's similar to the discomfort of nails on a chalkboard. Everyday activities, such as people chewing, can be profoundly disruptive for some children, making it challenging for families to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Understanding the difference between SPD and autism is important. While almost all people with autism may also have SPD, not everyone with SPD has autism. SPD can be linked to various physical issues like problems with cell function, joint laxity, ADHD, rejection-sensitive feelings, avoidance of demands, anxiety, depression, or OCD. And sometimes, sensory challenges are connected to primary issues like anxiety or depression, making the nervous system more active.

Sensory processing issues in children with autism and how to help them.

Supporting kids with sensory processing issues requires patience and a proactive approach. Personally, I've found value in being proactive rather than reactive. Addressing these challenges involves a hands-on approach, including the use of a sensory diet – a personalized set of activities to help the child manage sensory information better. While working with an occupational therapist is recommended, a sensory diet is a practical tool for effective support.

Navigating sensory processing challenges involves proactive engagement, individualized strategies, and the expertise of professionals in the field. This could include various activities like scalp massages, dry brushing, trampolining, or even exploring the benefits of a weighted blanket. The goal is to identify what sensory inputs regulate the child's sensory system. Additionally, collaborating with an occupational therapist allows for a systematic exploration of different beneficial sensory inputs tailored to the child's needs.

Managing sensory issues in children using proactive strategies.

I’ve been working with this adolescent who’s been struggling with regulating sleep. The good news, however, is that magnesium has been a helpful supplement although it’s a slow improvement. And so, we decided to introduce a weighted blanket, and surprisingly, it made a significant difference as he can now get to sleep more easily, and with consistent efforts from both him and his parents, his nervous system is gradually regulating.

I can’t stress this enough – being proactive in addressing sensory challenges is key. Engaging in conversations with the child about their preferred strategies also helps as it creates a sense of empowerment. These proactive approaches help in building a strong parent-child relationship and contribute to the child's ability to self-regulate.

For more information, you can read the following blog posts:

●      5 Surprising Ways Magnesium Helps ADHD Anxiety OCD and Depression

●      Dysregulate Kids

●      Clinical Guide Mood and Behavior

●      What is Sensory Processing

●      Therapies for Sensory Processing Disorders

●      Magnesium Benefits Autism

●      Coping Skills for Kids with ADHD SPD Anxiety and Mood Issues

To learn more about Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge and science-backed mental health solutions, please visit

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