When Sensory Processing Goes Awry

A conservative estimate regarding Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is that one in every 20 children is affected.  This number increases dramatically when speaking of children with Autism, whereby the number increases to at least nine out of ten children.  Yet, with numbers like these many people are unaware of SPD, the common characteristics, and most importantly, methods to support children who are affected by it.  This series of blog posts will discuss these areas.


A logical place to begin is with a brief explanation of sensory processing.  Sensory processing is a neurological process whereby the brain takes in sensory information, then sends out signals to the various parts of the body telling them how to respond to these inputs.  This is a natural event that continually occurs throughout the day.  Just as this is a normal process, it is also common for people to have “sensitivities” to certain sensory inputs.  For example, people can be bothered by the feel of certain fabrics on their skin, the sight of bright flashing lights, or a big one, the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.  (I wonder how many readers had an audible or physical response when they read the last example.)   The difference between these sensitivities and sensory processing disorder is when most people come in contact with examples like the ones just mentioned, they receive a signal from their brain of a mild to moderate discomfort, but they are able to continue to engage in their daily activities.  The experience is quite different for children with sensory processing disorders.  These children are impacted to the degree that they are unable to respond effectively to these inputs; therefore, their daily lives are drastically affected.   (Adults also have SPD, but in this blog post I will focus only on children.)


At this point a brief review of the senses may be helpful.  Most people think they possess five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.  Humans actually have seven senses; the five just mentioned along with the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.  The vestibular system provides a person with a sense of balance and awareness of spatial orientation.  The proprioceptive system tells a person where their body is in space and their body position.  


According to Dr. Christy Isbell, children with SPD do not have problems with their sensory inputs (such as having visual or hearing impairments), meaning their senses receive the information just as “typically functioning” children do, but their brains misinterpret the information once it has been received.  This is why it is called as the sensory processing disorder.


This post addressed the proverbial tip of the iceberg regarding SPD. Future posts in this series will discuss various subtypes of SPD and methods to support children with this disorder.



Isbell, C.  (2015). Integration: Recognizing and Responding to Young Children with Sensory Issues (video webinar). Retrieved from: https://home.edweb.net/?s=christy+isbell&post_type.



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1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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