Sensory Processing Disorder: What’s Happening In The Brain, And How We Can Help


A 2013 study at the University of California, San Francisco showed that children with SPD may have measurably different brain structure than other kids. MRIs of the brains of children who manifest SPD without also having autism or other complicating disorders show abnormal microstructures in these children’s sensory white matter tracts in the back sections of their brains. This was a breakthrough, since it provides evidence that SPD is a brain-based disorder rather than a purely behavioral one. The abnormalities seem to interrupt the normal timing of sensory transmissions, making it difficult or almost impossible for the child to integrate sensory information across his senses. The abnormalities found actually differed significantly from those typically found in children affected by autism spectrum disorders or ADHD, which occur in the frontal sections of the brain. These findings help show that SPD is indeed a disorder in its own right and not necessarily connected to the autism spectrum.


Therapy and treatment for SPD often places children in sensory-rich environments to provide play-based interventions. Occupational therapy and listening therapy are commonly part of treatment, and speech therapists or physical therapists may also contribute to an overall treatment plan. Activities involved in treatment often focus on gross motor skills, rhythm and timing, visual and auditory processing, and cognitive skills. Occupational therapists typically design activities to help each child succeed. Work with your therapist to learn what therapeutic activities might be helpful at home and be a part of your child’s challenges and successes.

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