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Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Parents often ask - does my child have sensory processing disorder (SPD)? This is a tough question as SPD is not so concrete. As a parent, if you ask yourself this question you may want to contact an occupational therapist.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the way the nervous system receives messages and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. A child who has SPD does not properly receive the messages sent by the nervous system. These children have challenges participating in everyday tasks.

Sensory systems involved with sensory processing:

Vestibular – sense of movement/balance

Proprioception – sense of body awareness

Tactile – sense of touch

Visual – sense of sight

Auditory – sense of hearing

Olfactory – sense of smell

Gustatory – sense of taste

What does sensory processing disorder look like?

Children who have SPD can respond to sensory input in various ways:

Over-respond to sensory input

Children who are avoidant, sensitive or bothered by various sensory experiences. For example: Children easily gag at the taste or smell of foods, have difficulty in noisy environments (i.e. birthday parties), unable to wear clothing with tags.

Under-respond to sensory input

Children who appear to be clumsy and have difficulty with body awareness.

Seek/Crave sensory input

Children who appear impulsive and fidgety. They are constantly leanings on things, can’t sit still and is constantly touching everything.

Sensory Processing and Occupational Therapy:

Occupational therapists help children with SPD use various techniques and theories; including sensory integration. First, the occupational therapist assesses what is interfering with the child’s daily functioning using observation, parent interview and standardized assessments. If a child requires intervention, an occupational therapist will create an individualized treatment plan that will target specific skills.

Some activities an occupational therapist will help improve are:

  • Reduce tactile defensiveness

  • Improve body awareness

  • Improve bilateral coordination

  • Improve motor planning

  • Improve balance

  • Improve visual perceptual skills

  • Improve fine motor skills

Collaborating with parents, teachers and other professionals are key for the child to succeed. Follow through is extremely important when a child is given a sensory diet to follow.

What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is a multi-sensory schedule for children who require various input throughout the day. It gives the child “breaks” (ie. Vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile input) throughout the day as needed. Sensory diets are individualized to meet the specific needs of the child, which will be put together by an occupational therapist. It is important that for a sensory diet to work that the entire team (i.e. other professionals and parents) must follow through with the activities implemented.

Sensory Diets can include:

Tactile Activities:

  • Painting

  • Playdoh

  • Messy boxes

  • Brushing*

  • Texture books

*Consult with an OT before brushing

Vestibular Activities:

  • Spinning

  • Scooterboard

  • Swinging

  • Bouncing on therapy ball

  • Jumping on trampoline

Proprioceptive Activities:

  • Wall pushups

  • Deep input/massage

  • Gross motor activities

  • Stirring

Oral Motor Actvities:

  • Drinking from a straw

  • Blowing bubbles

*A sensory diet should not be implemented without speaking to an occupational therapist*

Some great resources:


1). Kranowitz, C. (2005). The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

2). Sensory Processing Disorder Explained | SPD Foundation. (2015). Retrieved September 22, 2015.

3). Yack, E., & Sutton, S. (2002). Building bridges through sensory integration: Therapy for children with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders (2nd ed.). Las Vegas: Sensory Resources.


The content in this blog should not be used in place of medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes. All activities/exercises posted in this blog should be performed with adult supervision, caution, and at your own risk. Big Leaps, LLC is not responsible for any injury while performing an activity/exercise that has been posted on this blog. If you have any information on the content of our blog, feel free to contact us at

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