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Sensory Processing Disorder / Sensory Integration Dysfunction

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder / Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a neurological condition which occurs when sensory signals are not organised into the appropriate motor and / behavioural responses. The main senses include sight, sound, touch, taste, movement and body awareness. Sensory integration is the process used to distinguish between these senses. Sensory integration occurs automatically for most people, however for others this process is ineffective and causes Sensory Processing Disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder is caused by neurological disorganisation in the brain, which can occur in three ways:

  • Disconnection in the neurons leading to the brain not receiving messages
  • Sensory messages are received inconsistently
  • Sensory messages, although received consistently, do not connect properly with other sensory messages

This poor processing of sensory information within the brain will lead to disorganised motor, emotional and language output.

The exact cause of Sensory Processing Disorder has not yet been identified. Sensory Processing Disorder is usually detected in young children and difficulties will continue into adulthood. These difficulties may appear less severe as the child grows and is usually due to the child adopting coping strategies for their difficulties.

Sensory Processing Disorder can occur in isolation; however it commonly occurs alongside other conditions and disorders which include:

Some of the common symptoms associated with Sensory Processing Disorder include:


  • Negative responses to loud or unexpected noises
  • Holding hands over ears
  • Speech and language delay
  • Humming or producing strange noises


  • Avoiding bright lights and preferring the dark
  • Hesitation of going up and down the stairs
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Tendency to stare at people or objects

Taste/ smell

  • Avoiding specific tastes / smells that form a normal part of children's diets
  • Seeking out certain tastes / smells


  • Appearing to seek touch due to a desire / need of sensation that is frequent, long or intense
  • Avoiding activities which involve getting messy e.g. sand, paint and glue
  • Over sensitive to specific textures or fabrics
  • Dislike of being barefoot
  • Decreased awareness of temperature or pain
  • Touching others / objects frequently which may become annoying to others


  • Avoiding playground equipment
  • Increased anxiety when their feet are not touching the ground
  • Minimal awareness of danger and need for safety
  • Physically clumsy
  • Difficulty learning new tasks or movements
  • Difficulty carrying out tasks which use fine and gross motor skills
  • May appear lazy

Attention, behaviour and social

  • Reduced attention span
  • Highly affectionate with others
  • Increased levels of anxiety
  • Prone to accidents
  • Inability to make friends
  • Unable to express emotions
  • Tendency switch activities regularly
  • Decreased self-control
  • Finds it difficult to deal with stress

Individuals with sensory Processing Disorder may have various or a combination of symptoms from the above list. The types of symptoms the individual will have are dependent on the type of Sensory Processing Disorder the individual has.

There are three main types of Sensory processing disorder which include:

Sensory Modulation Disorder
Sensory modulation disorder is a difficulty grading or regulating a response to sensory stimulus. There are three subtypes within this category:

  • Sensory over-responsitivity - too much response, for too long or too weak an intensity.
  • Sensory under-responsitivity - too little response, or requires very strong stimulus to be made aware of the stimulus.
  • Sensory seeking - responds with an intense searching for more or stronger stimulus.

Sensory Based Motor Disorder
Sensory based motor disorder can be divided into two subtypes:

  • Postural disorder - a difficulty with balance and core stability.
  • Dyspraxia - difficulty with organising, sequencing and motor planning.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Sensory Discrimination Disorder is a difficulty with interpreting certain characteristics of sensory stimulus, including intensity, duration and speed.

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