In order to under Sensory Processing Disorder, it’s important to understand what “sensory processing” or “sensory integration SI” is and how it works. Sensory processing refers to the way the central nervous system accepts signals from the surrounding environment through our senses and converts them into motor and behavioral responses.
For example, you smell your mother cooking spaghetti and meatballs, your tummy rumbles, you realize your hungry and the appropriate response is to eat food so the feeling goes away. All of this is your brain processing multiple sensations – sensory integration.
SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder (aka “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a medical condition that exists when the stimuli from your senses do not get processed correctly and therefore the motor and behavioral responses do not make sense. As pointed out by the occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., this phenomenon can be described as a “traffic jam” of neurology that blocks certain parts of the brain from obtaining information required to translate sensory information properly.
Someone who has SPD has a hard time interpreting and acting upon stimuli perceived through the senses, which makes performing routine tasks quite challenging, the effects of which can be clumsiness, behavioral problems, mental problems like depression and anxiety and academic struggles.
One study which can be found here: Prevalence-of-Parents-Perceptions-of-SPD-2004, shows that 1 in 20 children’s lives are affected by SPD. It’s important to keep in mind that like with all disorders, there are levels of severity that are individual to each person.
What Sensory Processing Disorder Looks Like
One important aspect to understand is that Sensory Processing Disorder can affect different senses in different people. While one person has issues with touch another person can have issues with sound. Someone suffering from SPD might over-respond to a stimulus or even under-respond. The point is that they do not know how to process them correctly.
Even though Sensory Processing Disorder is generally diagnosed in children, it can occur in adults as well. Especially if it is not diagnosed in childhood and the condition goes untreated. These “sensational adults” may have difficulty performing routines and activities especially anything that involves work, or close relationships. Because adults with SPD constantly feel like they are struggling, many of them also experience depression and social isolation.