What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological difference that affects how the brain processes sensory information from the environment. People with sensory processing disorders may have difficulty receiving and responding to sensory stimuli, leading to challenges in their everyday lives. Sensory processing involves the brain’s ability to screen and interpret sensory input, such as touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. This process can be overwhelming for individuals with SPD, causing sensory processing difficulties that interfere with their ability to engage in daily activities.

Sensory stimuli perceived as ordinary by others might be experienced as painful, distracting, or distressing for someone with a sensory processing disorder. These challenges can impact various aspects of life, including social interactions, academic performance, and mental health. Occupational therapy plays an important role in supporting individuals with sensory processing disorders. Occupational therapists work with individuals to develop sensory integration techniques, helping them adapt and respond appropriately to sensory input. Through targeted interventions, individuals with SPD can learn to modulate their responses to sensory stimulation, enabling them to participate fully in their daily routines.

By addressing sensory processing challenges, occupational therapy enhances the individual’s quality of life. It promotes mental well-being and mental health, empowering them to navigate the sensory-rich world with confidence and resilience. As awareness grows and research advances, our understanding of sensory processing disorder continues to evolve, emphasising the importance of progressive approaches in providing support and improving the lives of those affected by SPD.

How Sensory Processing Disorder Affects the Senses

Sensory processing disorder affects how people experience the world around them. For example, some people feel overwhelmed by everyday things – a soft touch might feel incredibly harsh, or a normal light might seem incredibly bright. For individuals with a sensory processing disorder, simple tasks like getting dressed or going to a busy store can be extremely challenging.

With understanding and support from others, individuals with SPD can learn to manage these challenges, allowing them to lead fulfilling lives and share their unique perspectives with the world.


Sensory processing disorder can profoundly impact how individuals perceive and process visual information, creating significant challenges in their daily lives. Overwhelming visual experiences can lead to sensory overload, even simple tasks like reading a book or crossing the street, causing anxiety and withdrawal from social interactions.

Yet, with understanding and support, individuals with SPD can learn coping strategies to navigate the visual world, gradually transforming their challenges into opportunities for growth and resilience. With the right interventions and support, individuals with sensory processing disorders can make remarkable progress in improving their visual experiences. Occupational therapy, specialised sensory activities, and adaptive tools can help them develop better visual processing skills and enhance their overall quality of life. The overwhelming world of visual information can become more manageable through gradual exposure and positive reinforcement.

As they gain confidence and learn to interpret their surroundings, individuals with SPD can participate more fully in everyday activities, fostering a sense of belonging and independence. By promoting empathy and awareness, society can create an inclusive environment where individuals with sensory processing disorders are empowered to embrace their unique perspectives and contribute meaningfully to the world around them.


For people with SPD, even the softest fabric can feel uncomfortable to wear. Simple, everyday activities like dressing or participating in group activities can evoke immense anxiety and distress. SPD can heighten sensitivity to touch and disrupt the brain’s ability to interpret and process these sensations, leaving individuals struggling to navigate a world of tactile information.

Through progressive therapies and compassionate support, people can learn to cope with and adapt to the complexities of touch sensitivity. Occupational therapy techniques, such as deep pressure touch and desensitisation exercises, help individuals gradually acclimate to different textures and sensations.


Sensory processing challenges can impact people’s sense of smell, and simple tasks like entering a restaurant or smelling perfume can be incredibly overwhelming, making everyday life a constant challenge. For someone with SPD, their sense of smell can be hypersensitive, picking up even the faintest odours with an intensity that can be unbearable. Alternatively, some individuals might display hyposensitivity and struggle to detect odours, making identifying potential dangers like spoiled food or gas leaks challenging.

The impact of SPD on the sense of smell is far-reaching, affecting not only personal comfort but also the ability to engage fully in social activities and maintain a sense of safety in the surrounding environment. Fortunately, awareness about SPD and its effect on the sense of smell is growing, leading to innovative therapies and support systems. At Nurseline Community Services, our occupational therapists work diligently with individuals to develop coping strategies, gradually desensitising hypersensitive responses and enhancing hypo-sensitive perceptions. These interventions are tailored to each person, allowing them to navigate the world more easily and confidently.


For some individuals with SPD, sensory issues can make specific tastes and textures distressing. While mealtime should be a source of comfort and nourishment, people with SPD face difficulties with overpowering sensations, making it challenging for them to enjoy food.

In understanding and supporting individuals with SPD, it’s vital to recognise how it affects their relationship with taste. By acknowledging the hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity experienced by those with SPD, we can promote awareness and empathy. Progress lies in creating inclusive environments and cultivating a compassionate society where the unique sensory needs of individuals with SPD are acknowledged and accommodated.


Individuals with hypersensitivity might cover their ears or avoid noisy environments, limiting their social interactions and daily activities. On the other hand, hyposensitivity can result in an inability to recognise or respond to familiar sounds, making it challenging to understand speech or follow conversations. This can hinder academic progress and social communication, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. Through understanding and support, individuals with SPD can learn coping strategies to navigate the auditory world, fostering a more inclusive and accommodating environment for their unique sensory needs.

Early recognition and intervention are crucial in helping individuals with sensory processing disorders overcome hearing-related challenges. Occupational therapy and sensory integration techniques are pivotal in gradually desensitising hypersensitive individuals and enhancing the auditory experiences of those with hyposensitivity. By incorporating tailored therapeutic activities and adaptive technologies, such as noise-cancelling headphones or hearing aids, individuals with SPD can gradually adapt to various sounds, improving their overall quality of life.

Types of Sensory Processing Disorder

Our senses serve as gateways to understanding the world, and by understanding sensory processing challenges, we can create a more inclusive society and help each individual thrive in their environment.

Here is a list of the types of SPD:

Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

Sensory modulation disorder (SMD) affects how individuals process sensory information from the world around them across single or multiple sensory systems. For people with SMD, everyday sensations such as touch, sound, or light can be overwhelming or barely noticeable, disrupting their ability to engage with the world comfortably. SMD is a challenge that should be met with understanding and support.

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

Sensory-based motor disorder (SBMD) affects how the brain processes information from the senses, leading to challenges in motor skills and fine motor coordination. It is a unique challenge where sensory issues intersect with motor difficulties. Unlike sensory modulation disorder, where sensory input is complex, individuals with SBMD are adept at regulation but face sensory-motor challenges.

SBMD presents in two forms: postural disorder, involving challenges in maintaining body posture, and dyspraxia, affecting physical coordination. These subtypes often co-occur, and children with poor postural control might also exhibit dyspraxia. Understanding SBMD is crucial, as it sheds light on the complex interplay between sensory and motor functions, emphasising the importance of tailored interventions to empower individuals facing these challenges.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

Sensory discrimination disorder causes people to feel confused about their senses, making it challenging to understand space, leading to clumsiness and difficulty recognising basic needs. SDD manifests differently in each person, varying in intensity. Understanding and support are crucial for fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

The characteristics of SPD vary in type and severity for each individual. Some people may experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity, ranging from excessive reactivity to stimuli to no response. This means a gentle touch may be perceived as a painful stimulus to one person, while another may not feel the touch at all. The most common symptoms of SPD include:

  • Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity
  • Expressing strong emotions
  • Difficulties in engaging in conversations
  • Poor posture
  • Excessively high or low activity level
  • Disliking loud noises
  • Consistently blinks, squints, or rubs one’s eyes
  • Language and speech delays
  • Poor motor skills
  • Low muscle tone
  • Impaired coordination
  • Limited attention span
  • Poor balance
  • Overstimulated in group settings

Sensory Processing Disorder and Related Conditions

SPD often coexists with various conditions and neurological differences, intensifying individual challenges. Among these are autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders, which may increase sensory sensitivity and make social interactions more challengingThe presence of these related challenges underscores the intricate nature of SPD, emphasising the importance of comprehensive and tailored approaches to diagnosis and intervention, ensuring individuals receive the support they need to navigate a world that can be overwhelming and perplexing for their senses.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and SPD

Autism and sensory processing disorder often intertwine, creating complex challenges for individuals. ASD, a neurological difference, impacts social interaction, communication, and behaviour. It often coexists with SPD, where the brain struggles to appropriately process and respond to sensory information. For people with both challenges, everyday experiences can be overwhelming; seemingly ordinary sounds, touches, or textures can trigger extreme reactions. Sensory sensitivities also worsen social difficulties for people with ASD, making interactions more complex. Understanding the intersection between ASD and SPD is crucial, as it emphasises the multifaceted nature of these challenges, highlighting the need for tailored support and interventions to enhance the quality of life for people affected by these neurological differences.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and SPD

ADHD is characterised by difficulties in sustaining attention, impulsive behaviour, and hyperactivity, making it challenging to focus on tasks and regulate impulses. On the other hand, SPD involves difficulties with responses to sensory stimuli, leading to discomfort or sensory overload. These challenges frequently coexist, intensifying the difficulties faced by individuals.

For individuals with ADHD and SPD, their sensory environment can be overwhelming, worsening their attentional difficulties and impulsivity. The interplay between ADHD and SPD underscores the complexity of neurological differences, emphasising the need for tailored interventions and comprehensive support to enhance the quality of life for people affected.

Anxiety and SPD

Sensory stimuli that might be manageable for others can trigger overwhelming anxiety in individuals with SPD. Everyday experiences like crowded spaces, loud noises, or unexpected touches can provoke intense fear and apprehension, leading to heightened anxiety. Additionally, the unpredictable nature of sensory sensitivities amplifies the worry about upcoming situations, making social interactions and new environments sources of constant stress. It’s important to understand the impact that sensory difficulties have on mental well-being and that tailored therapies can be incredibly helpful.

Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder

In early childhood, the process of sensory integration begins, where the brain learns to organise and make sense of various sensory messages from the environment. However, this process does not unfold as seamlessly for individuals with SPD. Sensory issues emerge when the brain struggles to accurately filter and interpret sensory feedback. Bright lights or certain sensations others might perceive as usual can overwhelm someone with SPD. These challenges often lead to developmental delays, impacting crucial aspects like motor control and appropriate responses to sensory stimuli.

It’s important to note that the exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown. However, genetics may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility, and environmental factors such as early childhood experiences are pivotal in shaping sensory regulation. Specific triggers, like a lack of sensory information, can disrupt the natural progression of sensory development, leading to an imbalance between sensory input and appropriate responses. When these differences remain over time, it becomes harder for people with SPD to manage their surroundings, especially in social situations where sensory overload is an everyday occurrence. Early identification and intervention are crucial, aiming to provide tailored support that nurtures sensory integration and helps individuals gradually adapt to their environment, fostering a progressive improvement in their ability to process and respond to sensory stimuli.

Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorder

The treatment of sensory processing disorder is a gradual and individualised journey that addresses the complexity of sensory issues. Sensory integration therapy is essential in this progressive approach, involving carefully designed activities that challenge and refine the senses. Through systematic exposure to various stimuli, individuals learn to regulate their responses, gradually diminishing the overwhelming sensations that once dominated their experiences. Additionally, implementing a personalised sensory diet further refines this approach, offering a curated selection of sensory activities tailored to the individual’s needs. This intentional progression allows for the gradual desensitisation of triggers, empowering individuals to navigate the world more easily.

Progressive therapies incorporate exercises and social scenarios that teach individuals the nuances of personal space, fostering a deeper understanding of boundaries. Through consistent exposure and positive reinforcement, individuals learn to respect the personal space of others and establish their own, promoting healthier social interactions. This progressive treatment approach addresses immediate sensory challenges and cultivates essential life skills, enabling individuals to thrive in various social contexts with newfound confidence and ease.

Support for Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder with Nurseline Community Services

At Nurseline Community Services, we support individuals with sensory processing disorders through our progressive approach. Our dedicated clinicians, including skilled occupational therapists, are committed to providing a humanised and empathetic touch to our services. We understand that each person’s journey with SPD is unique, so our approach is tailored and person-centred. You can find our offices in Bristol, Birmingham, or Gloucester, where our expert team is here to create a supportive environment that nurtures personal growth and well-being. Look no further if you or your loved one is seeking compassionate care and specialised assistance in managing sensory processing disorder. 

Contact Nurseline Community Services today for tailored crisis support. Start your journey towards a better quality of life with us.