Sensory Problems in Children

Our senses provide our bodies with data that helps us understand the world around us. The brain collects this data and processes it, deciding what details to pay attention to and what details to ignore. Processing also includes how to respond to the data that is collected.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a misinterpretation of these sensory signals that causes an overreaction or under-reaction that can interfere with daily function. SPD is common in children with autism.

Types of Sensory Problems

One or more senses may be impacted. SPD can make typical light feel too bright, make minor smells stronger, and/or turn up the volume and force of everyday sounds to the point of distraction.

Although the environment may seem normal to you, a child with SPD may over- or under-react to senses in the following ways:

  • Sound—may enjoy noisy places or be sensitive to noises that usually go unnoticed
  • Sight—may have problems tracking objects or may focus on small details
  • Touch—may seek pressure or may dislike being touched
  • Taste—may eat nonfood items or have a limited diet of specific foods
  • Smell—may not be aware of strong smells or may be affected by common everyday smells
  • Balance—may spin or rock to get sensory input or may have problems with activities that require body control
  • Body awareness—may stand too close to others or may have problems with fine motor skills

SPD can be overwhelming to the brain. As a result, other factors managed by the brain can be affected which may lead to:

  • Motor clumsiness
  • Behavioral problems
  • Social difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulties at school
  • Increased risk of injury

Occupational Therapy

Treatment for SPD involves teaching the brain how to adapt to the data that it perceives. Treatment will vary depending on the sensory difficulties your child is having.

A school-based or private occupational therapist can help your child learn appropriate responses to sensory data. Changes can also be made to the environment so that your child can tolerate it. For example, the therapist may prescribe a sensory diet or program that provides the sensory input needed for your child to stay focused and organized.


Here are some ways you can help manage your child’s SPD at home:

  • Look to change things in the environment that are causing difficulty.
  • Provide your child with his or her preferred sensory input by using items such as noise-cancelling headphones or weighted blankets.
  • Prepare your child for sensory input that will be occurring in the future such as a party or science fair that may be crowded and noisy.

SPD management can often involve a team to help your child learn coping skills and develop environments that help him or her cope.


Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
National Autism Association



About SPD. SPD Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 9, 2016.
Autism spectrum disorders. website. Available at:
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Updated February 2016. Accessed February 9, 2016.
The sensory world of autism. The National Autistic Society website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 9, 2016.
What is SPD? STAR Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 9, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 7/17/2014

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