Saturday, June 18, 2022

Perception and Sensory Processing Disorders

All of this talk about perception and our ability to expand on our senses got me thinking about Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). Commonly found in people with Autism, ADHD, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (among other conditions), people with SPD experience difficulty in integrating sensory information. This impaired ability to process sensory stimuli can lead to a lot of life problems. The ability to detect sensory information and interpret it are vital to our experience of the world around us, but a person with SPD can be fixated with or overwhelmed by the sensory information that enters their brain. This can lead to emotional dysregulation, and can seem like a behavioral issue they might have control over or can be consequenced through, when in reality it is a biological difference that may require considered support. 

Studies are showing that those with SPD have quantifiable and structural brain differences causing their integration issues. These issues might present as hypersensitivity to any sense (sound, sight, touch, smell, or taste), distraction and/or avoidance, and/or a problem with fine motor skills. Advanced MRI studies using diffusion tensor imaging have shown that those with SPD have abnormal white matter tracts, which handles perceiving, thinking, and learning. 

"The imaging detected abnormal white matter tracts in SPD subjects, primarily involving areas in the back of the brain, that serve as connections for the auditory, visual, and somatosensory (tactile) systems involved in sensory processing, including their connections between the left and right halves of the brain," (Bunim, 2013). It is now believed that the abnormal paths sensory information takes in the the brain of a person with SPD is what makes the processing and integrating of information so difficult.

Better understanding the causality of sensory processing disorders will enable therapists, clinicians and educators to properly support those with SPD to be successful by developing methods that accommodate and assist with biological brain differences. Just as we wouldn't force a person with blindness to operate as though they can see without assistive technologies, perhaps we shouldn't force a child who becomes dysregulated by too much sensory input to simply endure it, or berate them. Noise dampening head phones would be a form of assistive technology for someone with an audible sensory processing disorder. This information about sensory processing disorder as a structural disorder should be considered when working with that population. This recognition and development of thoughtful, constructive approaches to SPD would be a marked improvement from traumatizing, punishing, or labeling this population with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or other mental health disorder.

Bunim, J. (2013). Breakthrough study reveals biological basis for sensory processing in kids. University of California San Franscso.

Owen, J.P., Marco, J.E., Desai, S., Fourie, E., Harris, J., Hill, S.S., Arnett, A.B., & Mukherjee, P. (2013). Abnormal white matter microstructure in children with sensory processing disorders. NeuroImage: Clinical, Volume 2pp. 844-853, ISSN 2213-1582, (



  1. Hey Alisha! I really loved your post! My goal is to become and Occupational Therapist, and work with children who have sensory processing disorders and developmental/intellectual disorders. I completely agree that a child with sensory processing issues should not be forced to endure things that will make them uncomfortable for the sake of "fitting in with the norm". I believe that taking things one step at a time is very important when working with someone who has a SPD, especially a child.

    1. That's great Emily! I also want to work with kids who have biological based brain disorders. Here's hoping with both accomplish our goals.