In2great Pediatric Therapy

Sensory Processing Disorder 

Sensory Processing Disorder 

We all know someone who struggles with some type of sensation. Some people can’t eat certain textures without gagging; others have no difficulty with the textures of any foods. Some people get carsick easily; others love rollercoasters. Some people can’t stand the feeling of tags in their clothes; others don’t even notice. When do we say “disorder” and when is it just “preference”? Many people who have been diagnosed with dyspraxia, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, and other diagnoses, often have difficulty with tolerating or integrating sensations in their daily lives. Does that mean that everyone who can’t eat yogurt has autism? Does it mean that everyone with ADD is upset when their hands are messy? Before we can think about those questions, and all the questions surrounding our ability to process the sensations in our lives, it may be helpful to understand how sensory processing works. 

Sensory processing, in its very simplest form, is: 


Think of it as a little machine that takes in information, asks and answers questions about the information, and puts out a response based on the answers to the questions. Let’s explore an example of this little machine: Someone who doesn’t like the feeling of tags in their clothes… 

INPUT: I feel a little tickling at the back of my neck. My skin feels weird every time I move, right at the neckline at the back of my shirt. Wow, this is an itching/tickling feeling. 

PROCESSING: What could be causing this? Maybe it’s the tag in my shirt. Do I enjoy this sensation? No, I do not. Is this sensation distracting? Yes, it is. Is this sensation possibly dangerous to my survival? Maybe…jury is out on this one – it is my neck, and that’s a pretty important part of me. What should I do about this sensation? Make it stop. 

OUTPUT: Scratch the back of my neck. Rip out the tag. Take off my shirt. Cry. 

Let’s be clear: sensory processing is a very complicated neurological system that involves millions of nerve cells, infinite questions and answers in the processing phase, and outputs that depend on age, environment, developmental level, education, culture, psychology – the list is nearly endless. However, when it comes to better understanding our kids, our friends, our loved ones, we can use simplicity to understand the issues and complexity to empathize with individuals.  

Let’s start with a quick history: Sensory integration was defined by occupational therapist Anna Jean Ayres in 1972 as “the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment”.[1][2] Sensory processing disorder has been characterized as the source of significant problems in organizing sensation coming from the body and the environment and is manifested by difficulties in the performance in one or more of the main areas of life: productivity, leisure and play[3] or activities of daily living.[4]. Ms. Ayers observed and documented the various outputs (behaviors) observed based on various inputs (sensations). She was one of the first people to understand that the sensations we experience shape our thoughts and behaviors. If you’ve ever experienced an optical illusion, you can begin to understand that how we process information from our senses can be individual, depend on our experiences, and cause us to feel certain things or behave in certain ways.  

In this series, let’s discuss input, processing, and output. What are those things? How do they affect us? When should we be concerned? Stay tuned for the sound of buzzing bees and duck or rabbit – which do you see? 


  1. Ayres AJ (1972). Sensory integration and learning disorders. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services. ISBN 978-0-87424-303-1. OCLC 590960. 
  1. ^ Ayres AJ (1972). “Types of sensory integrative dysfunction among disabled learners”. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 26 (1): 13–8. PMID 5008164. 
  1. Cosbey J, Johnston SS, Dunn ML (2010). “Sensory processing disorders and social participation”. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 64 (3): 462–73. doi:10.5014/ajot.2010.09076. PMID 20608277. 
  1. ^ “Sensory Processing Disorder Explained”. SPD Foundation. Archived from the original on 2010-05-17 




Sensory Processing Disorder 
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