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Many people on the autism spectrum have some form of sensory processing disorder. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is also referred to as sensory dysfunction or sensory integration dysfunction; People with sensory processing disorder have difficulty managing their sensory input. They may over- or under-react to what they see, feel, and hear (visual, tactile, and aural input), sometimes to the point that they are unable to participate in typical life activities. Sensory processing disorder is most common in children, though it affects some adults.


People with sensory processing disorder react differently to the following:

  • Visual stimulus (e.g., bright lights, large crowds)
  • Sound, including sudden or sustained noises, and anything from music to whining kitchen appliances or tools
  • Touch (e.g., physical contact, clothing tags, certain fabrics like wool)
  • Physical pressure, such as hugging, and hand shakes

Their taste and smell processing may also be affected; this can manifest in different ways:

  • Overresponsivity: High sensitivity to outside stimuli that can result in anxiety, difficulty with daily living activities, and problems adapting to situations
  • Underesponsivity: May not acknowledge stimuli; delayed or muted response
  • Sensory craving: A drive for sensory stimulation that’s difficult to satisfy

Sensory reactions can be mild or so debilitating that a person must leave the situation immediately. Given the limiting nature of these challenges, social development may be hindered.

Some concurrent symptoms may also occur:

  • Dyspraxia, coordination disorder that slows development of fine motor skills: In young children, it can delay milestones like walking and self-feeding. As children get older, it affects writing, drawing, and athletic ability.
  • Postural disorder: Poor perception of body position and movement that can include muscle weakness and low physical endurance
  • Sensory discrimination disorder: An inability to discern subtle differences in sensory input (visual, tactile, auditory, physical)

SPD can have a significant impact on children due to high anxiety levels, developmental challenges, and school and social complications.


Diagnosing SPD has historically been problematic. While many practitioners now diagnose it as a separate condition, and clinics exist to specifically treat it, however, sensory challenges were added to the manual as one possible symptom of autism spectrum disorder. Majority of people on the spectrum have some level of sensory processing disorder especially children on the spectrum, they have trouble processing sensory input.

Diagnosis usually begins with parents or teachers observing symptoms. A medical professional preferably someone with direct experience with SPD can perform a screening, which may include a developmental history, general health and physical/psychological evaluations, speech/language testing, and first-hand observation. Parents suspecting their children may suffer from sensory processing disorder may also be asked to fill out diagnostic screenings that can help guide clinicians. It’s important to understand that other diagnoses may intertwine with SPD, such as autism and ADHD. If a child hasn’t been previously diagnosed, more extensive testing may be warranted for these other conditions.



SPD management will vary since most cases are unique to the individual. The front line treatment is occupational therapy.

One form of sensory integration therapy that has had positive results for SPD specifically is Sensory diet; this may involve the creation of a daily sensory diet of routines and helpful interventions such as supportive sensory strategies (quiet space, weighted blanket), physical activities (yoga, swimming), and sensory materials (music, stress balls, items for distraction);

Sensory diet is a program that helps organize sensory input activities a child needs to fully function throughout the day tailored based on a child’s preferences or tendencies and implemented as the child need it.

To start a sensory diet; you need to know your child’s sensory needs, few things to put into considerations are; identifying sensory seeking behaviors, unmet sensory needs and emotional regulation from impaired sensory inputs such as point of melt down.

Tips on how to create sensory diet

  1. Organize the list of activities into categories that address the 5 senses (visual, auditory, tactile, smell, taste.)
  2. Make a list of the time your student needs sensory input the most.
  3. Make a list of environments that can be challenging or stimulates sensory seeking input.
  4. Insert the appropriate activity to match the timing, environment, or the sensory input being sought.
  5. Create a visual for you and your child/student to follow
  6. Have flexibility with the sensory diet; make changes if necessary.

Write down what you see and keep log of things like; behavior exhibited, triggers and time of the day. Once you assess the child and find out why or the root cause of the exhibited behaviors, try out different activities. Trial and error period will help you see what works and doesn’t for your child, you will be able to narrow down activities and only include the ones that works.

In conclusion it is imperative to educate family members, teachers, caregivers, administrators, and policymakers about Autism and other related needs and also ways to render help if the need arises to prevent unforeseen circumstances. Background knowledge of the disorder and how it affects people, especially children is vital to helping them live their best life with the disorder.

Source: verywell and autismadventure


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