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What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how the brain processes and responds to information received from an individual's senses. This can include information related to touch, sound, taste, smell, sight and from the lesser known senses of propropception, vestibular, and interoception. SPD can impact individuals in many ways, and it is commonly associated with individuals with neurodivergent conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Dyspraxia.


There’s much still to be understood about the mechanisms underlying SPD but it is generally thought to be caused by a neurological change in the way that one’s nervous system processes sensory information. This can result in individuals experiencing heightened or reduced sensitivity to various stimuli, such as textures, sounds, smells, movement, light and deep pressure.

Individuals with SPD can find it challenging to navigate some environments, particularly in situations where not enough, or too much, sensory stimuli may be present, such as grocery stores or libraries. They may become overwhelmed, understimulated, confused, anxious or agitated, impacting their ability to concentrate or communicate with others. 

Neurodivergent individuals are particularly susceptible to also have SPD. These individuals may have difficulty filtering out irrelevant sensory information from their environment or from the task they are performing. This then leads to difficulty focusing on the necessary stimuli and difficulty regulating emotional responses. To compensate for the dysregulation felt, many individuals will engage in behaviors to self-soothe, such as rocking or fidgeting. Although many self-stimulating behaviors are neutral, some can be disruptive or distressing to self or others. 

There are many strategies that can be used to help individuals with SPD self-regulate when in these (sometimes unavoidable) situations. Occupational therapists (including yours truly at Diverge) can work with individuals to better explore and understand their unique sensory needs and develop sensory regulation strategies that meet these needs in safe and effective ways. This can look like use of proprioceptive or vestibular activities or modifying the environment or task. 

It is important to note that everyone’s nervous system and sensory profile is different and what works for some will not work for others. By understanding the unique needs of each individual with SPD and collaborating with a trained professional, it is possible to help individuals gain the knowledge needed to live more comfortable lives with less sensory struggles.

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