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What Does SPD Look Like?
Motor Skills Problems
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex
disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults.
People with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as
touch, sound, and movement. They may feel bombarded by information,
they may seek out intense sensory experiences, or they may have
"Sensory processing" refers to our ability to take
in information through our senses (touch, movement, smell, taste,
vision, and hearing), organize and interpret that information, and
make a meaningful response. For most people, this process is
automatic. When we hear someone talking to us or a bird chirping,
our brains interpret that as speech or an animal sound, and we
respond to that information appropriately.
Children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder
(SPD), however, donít experience this process in the same way. SPD
affects the way their brains interpret the information they take in
and also how they act on that information with emotional,
attentional, motor, and other responses.
There are several types of Sensory Processing
Disorder; each one may result in a number of different behavioral
and sensory patterns. Some of the most common behavior patterns are
Some children with SPD are over-responsive to
sensation. Their nervous systems feel sensation too easily or too
intensely and they feel as if they are being constantly bombarded
Consequently, these children often have a "fight
or flight" response to sensation, a condition called "sensory
defensiveness." They may try to avoid or minimize sensations, such
as by avoiding being touched or being very particular about
These children may:
Respond to being touched with aggression or
Fear movement and heights, or get sick from
exposure to movement or heights
Be very cautious and unwilling to take risks
or try new things
Feel uncomfortable in loud or busy
environments, such as sports events, malls
Be very picky eaters and/or overly sensitive
to food smells
These children may be diagnosed with Sensory
Some children are under-responsive to sensation.
Their nervous systems do not always recognize the sensory
information that is coming in to the brain.
As a result, they seem to have an almost
insatiable desire for sensory stimulation. They may seek out
constant stimulation or more intense or prolonged sensory
experiences, such as by taking part in extreme activities or moving
Some behaviors seen in these children include:
Hyperactivity as they seek more sensation
Unawareness of touch or pain, or touching
others too often or too hard (which may seem like aggressive
Taking part in unsafe activities, such as
climbing too high
Enjoying sounds that are too loud, such as a
very loud television or radio
These children may be diagnosed with
Other children with SPD have trouble processing
sensory information properly, resulting in problems with planning
and carrying out new actions. They have particular difficulty with
forming a goal or idea or developing new motor skills. These
children often are clumsy, awkward, and accident prone.
These children may have:
Very poor fine motor skills, such as
Very poor gross motor skills, such as
kicking, catching, or throwing a ball
Difficulty imitating movements, such as when
playing "Simon Says"
Trouble with balance, sequences of movements,
and bilateral coordination
A preference for familiar activities or play,
such as lining up toys
A preference for sedentary activities, such
as watching TV, reading a book, or playing video games
These children may get frustrated easily and
may seem manipulative and controlling. Some may try to compensate
with an over-reliance on language and may prefer fantasy games to
real life. They also may try to mask their motor planning problems
by acting like a "class clown" or avoiding new group activities.
These children may be diagnosed with Dyspraxia
(sensory-based) Motor Planning Disorder.