Sensory Processing Disorder: What is it, and how does it relate to autism?


Words by, Jillian Trevarthen

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), according to Autism Awareness Centre Inc., is a neurophysiological condition where the brain and nervous system have trouble processing or integrating stimulus. For a child with SPD, processing different feelings like hot or cold, tired, hungry, lights or loud noises, for example, can often be challenging and overwhelming.

SPD has long been associated with autism, and its external manifestations are often what lead a parent to get a diagnosis. It is possible for individuals to have SPD and not autism, or vice versa, but it is common for children with autism to also have SPD. As a parent of a child with autism, it’s important to be able to recognize sensitivities that your son or daughter may have, since most children with autism experience some degree of difficulty in dealing with certain sensory stimulation.

There are seven senses that could cause disturbances within your child with autism/SPD, according to “Ask an Autistic,” YouTube host Amythest Schafer. As Schafer illustrates in her series, the seven senses can impact sensory function in persons with autism. Those senses are:

  1. Sense of sight: ex) overstimulation of color
  2. Sense of hearing: ex) negative responses to loud noises
  3. Sense of taste: intolerance to certain tastes
  4. Sense of smell: intolerance to certain scents
  5. Sense of touch: intolerance to certain textures/clothing
  6. Proprioceptive Sense: ex) clumsiness; being too rough or too gentle
  7. Vestibular Sense: difficulty with fine motor skills

The first five senses are the major senses that most people are aware of. The other two senses, however, are not talked about too much, but can definitely play a role in how your child with ASD/SPD responds to certain things or situations. The Proprioceptive Sense, according to the Amythest, is essentially “where your body is in space; it allows for you to know where your limbs are, how much force you’re exerting on things, and also where you are spatially in your environment and how to interact with objects in your environment”. The Vestibular Sense is “all about motion and movement; it is the sense that tells you if you are in motion or standing still, up or down, swinging, spinning, upside down, etc.”

Children with autism/SPD often experience over or under-sensitivity to one or more of these seven senses, and can make daily life and interaction a lot more difficult to deal with than a neurotypical person. So, it is important for parents to understand their child’s triggers and get information and support on how to manage them. Getting in touch with an occupational therapist for treatment options and connecting with your child’s school can also provide assistance.

For more information on dealing with autism and its many factors, like SPD, follow us or reach out today.

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