Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition of childhood that is characterized by either over or under reacting to the information provided by the senses and/or integrating the information in a useful manner. Although sensory processing deficits are often symptoms of other childhood disorders, like autism, they can occur in children who appear to have no other developmental delays or problems. However, this disorder can cause extreme disruption in a child's life and make it difficult if not impossible for them to enjoy normal, everyday activities. They may feel challenged in school, despite having normal intellectual abilities, and may respond poorly to sights, sounds, and textures that most people wouldn't notice. Both over and under reacting to sensory stimuli can cause a child significant social, education and emotional problems that can profoundly affect their quality of life.

Fortunately, although sensory deficits are not completely curable, they are treatable. After a thorough evaluation, a pediatric rehabilitation therapist can create a sensory diet, which is a detailed plan that outlines the child's specific integration processing issues as well as a comprehensive list of treatment strategies. This plan is implemented in the therapeutic setting, but is also used at home and at school to help the child manage the sensory information that may be overwhelming for them. A sensory diet will detail very specific techniques that are unique to the child, but they can include a wide range of sensory stimulating, or sensory limiting experiences. Often a sensory diet means providing a quiet, clutter-free space, the option to wear weighted garments, brushing the skin with very soft bristle brushes and/or playing with equipment that provides unique tactile input. These techniques need to be carried out under the supervision of a qualified therapist, and they are often amended or changed as the child adjusts to the stimulation.

Although each plan is tailored to meets the child's specific needs, often the same activity provides treatment for both under and over reacting to sensory stimuli. For example, spinning is an effective training technique for both hyper and hypo arousal. Because the activities are multi-functional, parents can take advantage of sensory gyms, which are gyms designed especially for children with SPD, though kids with normal sensory processing enjoy them as well. Sensory gyms are becoming more popular, because they not only provide essential therapy, they provide a fun place where the child can be themselves as well. They can play in ball pits, jump on trampolines, crash into piles of oversized pillows or take advantage of squeeze machines that provide deep, calming pressure.

The ultimate goal of sensory integration therapy is to rewire the brain so that sensory responses become normalized. Although there is some debate among clinicians as to whether this type of therapy actually trains the brain over the long term, most parents and caregivers agree that the therapy is providing significant help for their children.  If you are concerned that your child may have SPD, talking with a licensed rehabilitation therapist may help you develop a workable plan to improve their quality of life. For more information, visit professional websites like