Therapies for Sensory Processing Disorders

Young child - sensory processing disorder
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

So now your child has a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or you know they have sensory issues, so what do you do? While there are no medications to treat SPD, there are therapies that can help. Although SPD is often associated children with Autism and ADHD, not all children with SPD are on the Autism spectrum.

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What is a Sensory Processing Disorder?


SPD means that your child’s brain has a hard time taking in and responding to sensory based information. Previously called a sensory integration dysfunction, it is not considered a distinct medical diagnosis which can be difficult for parents.

Children with SPD can have developmental difficulties, such as speech delays, because their sensory conditions impact their ability to focus. However, parents should keep in mind these deficits can often be overcome with the proper treatment.

One sign of SPD is that a child is overwhelmed and loses control when in a loud or overcrowded space.

While no official DSM diagnosis exists, experts agree that the signs of SPD include over and under sensitivity to information one receives through their senses. For example, a child with SPD may have trouble with noise or touch sensitivity or they may display a need for deep muscle pressure. Additionally, research shows that SPD is relatively common with 16 percent of 7 to 11 year olds displaying symptoms of SPD.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) vs Sensory Processing Issues

What are Sensory Issues in Children?

Sensory integration issues in children refer to difficulties in processing and responding to sensory information from the environment. Sensory processing involves the way the nervous system receives and interprets information from the senses, including touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Here are the most common symptoms of sensory issues in children:


  • Auditory Hypersensitivity: Overreacting to sounds, becoming easily startled by noise.
  • Tactile Hypersensitivity: Avoidance of certain textures or discomfort with touch, clothing, or grooming.
  • Visual Hypersensitivity: Sensitivity to bright lights or visual stimuli.
  • Olfactory Hypersensitivity: Strong reactions to certain smells.


  • Auditory Hyposensitivity: Difficulty paying attention to sounds, seeking out loud environments.
  • Tactile Hyposensitivity: Insensitivity to pain, seeking out intense touch or pressure.
  • Visual Hyposensitivity: Lack of responsiveness to visual stimuli.
  • Olfactory Hyposensitivity: Reduced sensitivity to smells.

Motor Planning Issues

  • Difficulty with coordination and motor planning, affecting activities such as dressing, writing, or playing.

Difficulty with Transitions

  • Challenges in transitioning between different sensory environments or activities.

Avoidance or Seeking Behaviors

  • Avoidance of certain sensory experiences or, conversely, seeking out intense sensory stimuli.

Regulation Challenges

  • Difficulty self-regulating emotions and behaviors in response to sensory input.
  • Social and Behavioral Impacts: Sensory issues may contribute to challenges in social interactions, attention, and behavior.

What Causes Childhood Sensory Disorders?

What Causes Childhood Sensory Disorders

The exact causes of sensory disorder are not yet fully understood, and it likely involves a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. Here are some potential causes of sensory processing disorder:


  • Genetics: There may be a genetic component to SPD, as it often appears to run in families. Certain genetic factors might influence an individual's sensory processing abilities.


  • Neurological Factors: Differences in the way the brain processes and interprets sensory information may contribute to SPD. Structural or functional abnormalities in the central nervous system could play a role.


  • Premature Birth or Low Birth Weight: Infants born prematurely or with low birth weight might be at a higher risk for sensory processing challenges. The sensory systems in such infants may not have fully developed before birth.


  • Exposure to Environmental Stressors: Prenatal and perinatal factors, such as exposure to toxins, certain medications, or stress during pregnancy, may impact sensory development.


  • Complications during Birth: Difficulties during labor or delivery, including oxygen deprivation, may contribute to sensory processing challenges in some cases.


  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and developmental disorders, are often associated with sensory processing difficulties.


  • Trauma or Environmental Factors: Traumatic experiences or exposure to overwhelming sensory stimuli in early childhood may contribute to the development of sensory processing challenges.

How is Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosed?


Diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder involves a thorough and multidimensional assessment conducted by healthcare professionals, primarily occupational therapists and developmental pediatricians. 


The process begins with a comprehensive clinical assessment, where information about the child’s developmental and medical history, as well as current symptoms, is gathered. Observation of the child’s behavior in various environments and in response to different sensory stimuli is a crucial aspect of the evaluation. Parental or caregiver input is also considered valuable in understanding how the individual navigates sensory experiences.


Standardized assessments, such as the Sensory Processing Measure, Sensory Profile, and Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests, are often employed to quantify and categorize sensory-related behaviors. 


These tools help professionals systematically evaluate the individual's sensory processing abilities. Collaboration with other healthcare professionals, including pediatricians, psychologists, and speech therapists, may be necessary to rule out other potential causes for observed behaviors and to gain a holistic understanding of the child’s overall development.


While SPD is not recognized as a standalone diagnosis in major diagnostic manuals, the diagnostic process is tailored to the individual's unique needs. Occupational therapy evaluations, specifically designed to assess sensory processing abilities, play a crucial role in an SPD diagnosis. 

What is Sensory Processing Disorder Therapy?

Sensory Processing Disorder therapy, also known as sensory integration therapy, is a specialized approach aimed at helping individuals who experience challenges in processing and responding to sensory information from their environment. 

As sensory disorders in children can affect how they respond to stimuli such as touch, sound, sight, taste, and smell, the goal of the sensory disorder therapy is to help individuals develop and enhance their ability to effectively process and integrate sensory input, improving their overall daily functioning.

SPD therapy is often tailored to the specific sensory needs of the individual and may include a combination of activities designed to stimulate or soothe the senses. Therapists use various techniques to help individuals gradually adapt to and organize sensory information.

It promotes better attention, self-regulation, and participation in daily activities. This type of therapy can be beneficial for individuals of all ages, but it is commonly employed in children with sensory processing challenges to support their overall development and improve their quality of life.

What are Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment?


Aside from Sensory Processing Disorder therapy, there are other treatments available for SPD. Treating sensory processing disorders often involves a multidisciplinary approach tailored to the child’s specific sensory challenges. Here are the other components of a treatment for sensory processing disorder.


1. Occupational Therapy 


The goal of occupational therapy for sensory disorder in children is to develop appropriate body responses to sensations in an active, meaningful, and engaging way so the child can learn how to act more functionally at home and school


Occupational therapy for sensory processing disorder may include activities to regulate sensory input, improve coordination, and develop coping strategies. Interventions may also involve the skilled use of sensory and motor treatment activities and equipment as well as engagement in activities that provide increased proprioceptive sense, movement opportunities, and tactile defensiveness treatment.


2. Sensory Diet


A plan to support sensory needs is referred to as a “sensory diet”. A sensory diet is a group of activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day, both at home and school, to support attention and adaptive responses. A sensory diet can be very useful in helping a child alert to and follow through with learning activities


Specific to each child’s sensory needs, the activities are chosen based on what type of input they need. The use of specific types of input; proprioceptive, tactile, visual auditory, vestibular, gustatory, and oral motor are introduced during various times of the day and assist the brain in regulating attention and foster an appropriate level of arousal. 


3. Behavioral Therapy


Behavioral interventions can be beneficial in addressing specific behaviors related to sensory challenges. This may involve reinforcement techniques and behavior modification strategies (Senkow, 2018). 


Psychologists can offer clinical counseling for the child and parent coaching, as well as psychoeducation around SPD and sensory needs. SPD in children is characterized by having difficulty with regulating emotions, which can impact all facets of a child’s life including learning and social functioning. 


4. Parent and Caregiver Education


Educating parents and caregivers about sensory processing challenges helps create a supportive environment. Understanding the individual's sensory needs and implementing strategies at home can enhance the effectiveness of treatment.


Accommodations and adaptations in school may involve a daily routine with a menu of individualized, supportive sensory strategies, identified physical activities, and materials. This allows the child to appropriately use their senses to take in and organize sensory information for success in everyday activities. 


5. Environmental Modifications


Adjusting the individual's surroundings to be more sensory-friendly can contribute to treatment success. This may include changes in lighting, sound levels, or the introduction of sensory tools.


6. Social Skills Training


Social skills training can assist individuals with SPD in navigating social interactions and relationships, addressing challenges that may arise due to sensory problems. A psychologist can guide kids by teaching them how to cope, self-regulate, and use strategies that are key to positively managing their sensory disorder symptoms. Parents are big part of that because they need the tools to coach their sensory processing challenged child.


7. Counseling and Psychosocial Support


Individuals with SPD and their families may benefit from counseling or psychosocial support to address the emotional and social aspects of living with sensory processing challenges. Psychologists can provide psychoeducation along with social, behavioral, emotional, and sensory support. 

What Services Can Schools Provide for Sensory Processing Disorder?

Many children with SPD receive occupational therapy at school and also have accommodations to support their sensory needs within the classroom.  A plan to support sensory needs or a sensory diet is often put into place at school so a child can learn to process sensory information more adequately to get a more functional response. Depending on what type of sensory input they need, the foundation of the plan comes with common classroom accommodations

Proprioceptive Input: 

  • Carrying a weighted bookbag or books to the office and back 
  • Moving heavy items
  • Wall push-ups
  • Seated push-ups
  • Weighted lap pad for sit-down activities 
  • Stacking chairs
  • Big self-bear hugs activities
  • Jumping jacks
  • Running in place

Oral Motor Input:

  • Chewy, crunchy foods to alert and increase attention (raw fruits and vegetables, licorice, gummy snacks, pretzel rods, gum, etc.)
  • Food with intense flavors (extremely sour) 
  • Whistles, blowing activities, (blowing cotton balls across a paper, blowing bubbles) 
  • Provide things to chew on
  • Sucking (use of straw water bottle)

Tactile Input: 

  • Provide accessible touch sensory activities (play in tubs of rice, beans, macaroni, use shaving cream, messy art)
  • Water activities
  • Practice letters and words in shaving cream 

Vestibular Input:

  • Swinging
  • Head shoulders knees and toes songs
  • Yoga

How to Fix Sensory Issues at Home

The best thing you can do for a child with sensory processing issues at home is to be proactive and avoid triggers. Ask your OT for a home-based sensory diet plan and try to follow it. Supporting your child as young as possible can help the nervous system mature and deal with sensory impairment in a more appropriate manner, which means a happier, healthier child and family

Suggestions for supporting a child with sensory processing issues or SPD at home:

  • Create a sensory area at home (e.g., trampoline, weighted blankets, obstacle course, etc)
  • Engage in sensory calming activities before stimulating or difficult tasks or activities (e.g., sensory toys for SPD)
  • Create a calm area for emotional times (think of an area to chill out not punish)
  • Reduce lighting and noise
  • Reduce clutter
  • Have clear-cut expectations
  • Provide a visual schedule
  • Alert to schedule changes
  • Use visual aids
  • Break down tasks and instructions
  • Stick to routine
  • Streamline getting dressed and mealtimes
  • Be consistent
  • Think and plan for difficult activities or times of day
  • Role play out social activities to model behavior
  • Be a “parent whisperer” by being nearby and offering support in social situations
  • Explicitly teach emotional words and calming strategies

Sensory issues in kids can improve when given the right suppor through these tips on how to provide SPD therapy at home. Creating the right program and being consistent and calm can go a long way to helping your child achieve sensory health and wellness

If you think your child might have SPD, contact a doctor. Early intervention and care can help alleviate the sensory disorder and SPD anxiety that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Addressing sensory overload in kids is much easier than treating sensory processing disorder in teens.

Is ADHD a sensory disorder?

ADHD is not classified as a sensory disorder, but diagnosed children may experience sensory issues in ADHD. The SPD signs and symptoms associated with ADHD can include hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, and difficulty with transitions between different sensory environments. 

Can sensory issues be a symptom of ADHD?

Rather than being a mere symptom, sensory issues in ADHD represent a nuanced interplay between attention, hyperactivity, and sensory processing. These unique responses to sensory stimuli can contribute to the complexity of ADHD, impacting how individuals perceive and engage with their surroundings.

Does ADHD cause sensory issues?

Sensory issues and ADHD are interconnected but ADHD itself is not a direct cause of sensory issues, even if children with ADHD may commonly experience sensory processing challenges. While these sensory challenges are not inherent symptoms of ADHD, they often co-occur, contributing to the complexity of an individual's sensory experiences and potentially impacting their daily life.

What's the link between ASD and sensory processing disorder?

ASD and SPD often coexist and share overlapping features, leading to a strong connection between the two. Many individuals with ASD experience sensory processing problems, and SPD is commonly observed in people diagnosed with autism. 

Is Sensory Processing Disorder autism?

No, SPD is not autism. While sensory processing challenges are often observed in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, SPD is a distinct condition. While it commonly coexists with ASD, individuals can either have autism or sensory processing disorder. Both conditions share some overlapping features, particularly related to sensory experiences, but they are separate diagnoses with unique characteristics and criteria.

Can you have sensory issues without autism?

Yes, kids can have sensory issues without being diagnosed with autism. SPD is a condition where sensory stimuli are processed and interpreted differently, leading to challenges in daily functioning. While sensory issues are commonly associated with autism, they can also occur independently.

Does my child have sensory issues?

Identifying childhood sensory issues involves recognizing patterns of reactions to sensory stimuli, such as aversions or seeking out intense experiences. Signs may include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to textures, smells, sounds, or lights, difficulty with motor skills, and social or emotional challenges related to sensory input.

Why do I have sensory issues?

Experiencing sensory issues is a complex interplay of various factors, including genetic, environmental, and neurological elements. Your individual responses to sensory stimuli are shaped by a combination of these influences, contributing to a unique sensory profile. 

What does it mean to have sensory issues?

Having child sensory issues means experiencing a unique and personalized relationship with the world of sensory stimuli. It involves perceiving and responding to sensations in ways that might differ from the norm, impacting various aspects of daily life. Children with sensory issues may find certain sensory inputs overwhelming or, conversely, seek out specific stimuli for comfort, influencing how they navigate and interact with their environment.

What are the signs of sensory processing disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder signs encompass hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, motor skill challenges, and difficulties with transitions, often leading to avoidance or seeking behaviors. Social and behavioral impacts, ritualistic behaviors, unusual responses to pain or temperature, and food sensitivities are also common indicators. 

What are sensory issues in toddlers?

Toddlers with sensory issues act with distinctive responses to sensory stimuli, shaping their early interactions with the world. These issues can be observed in behaviors like extreme texture disorder, aversions to specific smells or sounds, or a heightened need for sensory input. 

How to deal with sensory issues?

Effectively managing physical sensory issues involves tailoring strategies to your unique responses to stimuli. This may include creating a sensory-friendly environment, developing routines for predictability, and incorporating sensory tools like deep pressure techniques or breathing exercises. 

How do you treat sensory processing disorder

The treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder in children involves a personalized, multidisciplinary approach, commonly including Occupational Therapy, Sensory Integration Therapy, and the development of a sensory diet. Behavioral therapy, parent education, environmental modifications, and social skills training are essential components, aiming to address specific behaviors and create supportive environments. 

Does sensory processing disorder go away?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is generally considered a lifelong condition, but its impact can be managed and reduced with appropriate interventions. Many individuals with SPD, especially when identified and addressed early, can develop effective coping strategies and adaptive mechanisms, allowing them to navigate sensory challenges more successfully as they age. 

What are sensory difficulties commonly seen in children?

Sensory difficulties encompass a spectrum of challenges in processing and responding to stimuli, ranging from hypersensitivity to motor skill difficulties. Individuals may exhibit avoidance or seeking behaviors, impacting their daily routines and social interactions. Addressing sensory difficulties requires personalized interventions and strategies, recognizing the diverse ways individuals navigate their unique sensory experiences.

How to help a child with sensory processing disorder?

Addressing sensory processing disorder in kids involves consulting with professionals, creating a sensory-friendly environment, and establishing predictable routines. Providing sensory breaks, using visual supports, and incorporating sensory tools can help the child regulate their sensory experiences. Open communication, education of caregivers and peers, and celebrating successes contribute to a comprehensive and supportive approach tailored to the child's unique needs.

How to cure sensory processing disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where children experience challenges in processing and responding to sensory stimuli. It's important to note that there is no sensory processing disorder cure, as it is typically considered a lifelong neurological condition. However, various therapeutic approaches and interventions aim to manage and alleviate the challenges associated with sensory processing difficulties.


Ben-Sasson, A., Hen, L., Fluss, R., Cermak, S. A., Engel-Yeger, B., & Gal, E. (2009). A Meta-Analysis of Sensory Modulation Symptoms in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(1), 1–11.

Senkow, A. (2018, May 11). Unlocking Behavior: Interventions for Children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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