Sensory Processing Disorder

My little guy Balsam Fir, age 8, was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder just before he turned 4-years-old. SPD is a neurological condition that will influence him always, but with a knowledgeable Occupational Therapist and wonderful on-line and book resources, Balsam Fir is well on his way to living a fulfilling life. Read his story here.

Update: Balsam Fir was discharged from OT in June 2011. He has made WONDERFUL progress towards regulating his neurological system and his therapist felt he was at a good point to discontinue OT for the time being. He continues to experience times of "disorganization", but we're quite prepared to meet those times and days when he needs some "sensory diet" activities.  We look forward to his continued growth towards meeting the Sensory World.

 What is SPD?

SPD is the acronym for Sensory Processing Disorder.

“Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder that is like a virtual traffic jam in the brain. The information from all eight senses is misinterpreted which causes a child (person) to often act inappropriately.”

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation’s website says the following: “Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.”

To get a better understanding of SPD, let’s break the SPDF’s definition down into a more consumable definition.

“…the way the nervous system receives messages…” — this is referring to the messages received (also known as ‘input’) from all eight senses and how they are conveyed to the brain through the nervous system. The brain is the key component to the nervous system, as that is where the ‘processing’ occurs. By ‘processing’, we are in very basic terms referring to whether or not the brain ‘understands’ those signals. When the brain misinterprets the meaning of those signals, and can’t process them appropriately, it leads to an inability to turn them into appropriate motor and behavior responses (also known as ‘output’). Example: If the ‘input’ isn’t understandable by the processing system then the ‘output’ becomes jumbled or non-traditional in nature.

“…appropriate motor and behavior responses…” – ‘appropriate’ here refers to the assumed way that a child should respond – if something is too loud, they should pull their ear back, if something is quiet, they shouldn’t scream it is too loud. The word ‘motor’ refers to a physical response – how your body moves as a result of the information from the brain, and then ‘behavior’ how the child continues to respond (over or under reactions). Example: Loud unexpected BOOM! Kid cringes and covers his ears (motor), then screams and runs away (behavior).

There are three types of Sensory Processing Disorders and formal definitions can be found here. Here is a summary of each type:

Type I: Sensory Modulation Disorder – These are the sensory avoiders or sensory seekers; their senses are under or over reactive (i.e. they avoid touch or sound or like to crash or jump or etc.).
Type II: Sensory Based Motor Disorder – This is where discrimination of the senses causes confusion, clumsiness and impacts gross and fine motor skills (i.e. crawling, walking, writing, sight, low muscle tones.).
Type III: Sensory Discrimination Disorder – This is where the senses become confused so it’s referred to as “discrimination”.  For example the body has a problem determining spacial awareness (movement and balance), differing pain from pleasure, hot and cold.  Also, sounds, smells and tastes can come across very different then they should to be interpreted by the brain.

For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit

Credit: This excerpt was taken from the The SPD Blogger Network.