About Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder is a disorder caused by immature nervous system development and coincides with many other diagnosis such as:

  • Developmental Delay
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (also the hyperactivity type)
  • Learning Disability
  • Dyspraxia
  • Apraxia
  • Executive Functioning Disorder
  • Hypotonicity
  • Down's Syndrome
  • Premature Births

It is a very strong component of the profile of a child on the Autism Spectrum, for which there is a separate section on this website.

Sensory Processing Disorder can also exist without any other diagnosis and is a "hidden" disability in many struggling learners today.

Sensory Processing is the ability to take in, sort out, and give meaning to information from the world around us. This is not a conscious or intentional process but an automatic process and therefore we do not have to think about it on a daily basis, we simply access it and use it.


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If your child's profile includes one or some of the following:

  • Seems bright, but does not perform according to intelligence
  • Avoids certain textures, foods, and activities
  • Seeks opportunities for movement and/or deep pressure
  • Has low frustration tolerance
  • Exhibits emotional meltdowns
  • Withdraws from or avoids social experiences
  • Has never really been able to play
  • Is sensitive to noises and other multi-sensory stimuli

Our team views Sensory Processing as the underlying process of all of our interventions. Jean Ayers has started a framework that continues to develop today through the work of professionals such as Dr. Lucy Miller and others. The central nervous system starts the development of all other systems such as motor and language development. Starting a treatment program while considering the individual's ability to process sensory information, is vital to the successful outcome of our treatment plans.


  • In order for the child to develop higher order thinking and learning performance, the child has to develop certain neuro-developmental pathways.
  • Sensory Processing is mostly a "bottom up" approach
  • Developing more efficient coping strategies inside the child's nervous system
  • Changing nervous system circuitry to develop a more functional adaptive response to the environment in the child.
  • Developmental approach, also considering play, intrinsic motivation and child led intervention
  • Much emphasis on empowering and assisting parents in the home environment
  • Very current research available from prominent professionals such as Dr. Roseann Schaaf, Dr. Lucy Miller and Dr. Winnie Dunn.

Auditory or verbal information

Does your child or loved one struggle with attending to auditory or verbal information?

    1. The hypersensitive child who shows intolerance for auditory stimuli may:

      • Display oversensitivity to sounds heard during typical everyday situations.
      • Become overly emotional when hearing loud noises, such as toys banging, fire alarms, others screaming and babies crying.
      • Become very upset as well to the sound of a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher or hair dryer.
      • Cover their ears often and run away from source of noise.
      • Scream or talk loudly to compete with the noise, which is uncomfortable.
      • Fail to listen or pay attention to what is said to him/her.
      • Fail to follow through to act upon requests to do something or to understand directions.
      • Seem to be confused as to which direction sound is coming from.

    1. The hyposensitive child who shows increased tolerance for auditory stimuli may:

      • Enjoy being in loud environments with crowds of people.
      • Like to make loud noises, scream or yell.
      • Talk excessively.
      • Like to sing or dance to music.

  1. Symptomatic behavior of problems in the auditory processing area may be:

    • Confusion in sounds/words heard
    • Difficulty in spelling words that are dictated
    • Problem remembering names and places that are heard
    • Requests a speaker to repeat what is said on a frequent basis
    • Difficulty in following directions that have been given orally
    • Easily distractible by extraneous sounds
    • Leaves out words and letters when asked to repeat what is said on a frequent basis
    • Misinterprets one sound or word for another
    • Confuses the sequence of sounds, words, and steps in a task when presented verbally
    • Trouble differentiating one sound from another
    • Easily distracted by noises
    • Inability to select and attend to relevant auditory stimuli
    • Difficulty recognizing a word when only parts are given
    • Slowness to respond to questions presented orally
    • Inappropriate responses to relatively simple, age appropriate questions
    • Inability to gain meaning or the complete meaning form material presented orally

Intolerance to touch

Does your child or loved one show an intolerance for Touch?

  • React negatively and emotionally to light touch sensations, exhibit anxiety, hostility, or aggression She may withdraw from light touch, scratching or rubbing the place that has been touched. As an infant, she may have rejected cuddling as a source of pleasure or calming.
  • React negatively and emotionally to the possibility of light touch. She may appear irritable or fearful when others are close, as when lining up.
  • React negatively and emotionally when approached from the rear, or when touch is out of her field of vision.
  • Prefer receiving a hug to a kiss. She may crave the deep pressure of a hug, but try to rub off the irritating light touch of a kiss.
  • Overreact to physically painful experiences, making a “big deal” over a minor scrape or a splinter. The child may remember and talk about such experiences for days.
  • Avoid touching certain textures such as certain fabrics, blankets or stuffed animals.
  • Complain about the feeling of their clothing such as shirt collars, textures, turtlenecks, tags, elastic waistbands, belts, hats and sock seams.
  • They may refuse to wear socks and shoes all together. Or prefer to wear sandals on a cold day or long sleeves on a hot day.
  • Dislike being touched on the face or head when being washed.
  • Dislike baths complaining that it is too hot or too cold.
  • Dislike having fingernails cut.
  • Avoid messy play activities, such as shaving cream, sand, fingerpaint, glue or mud and hurry to wash off hands.
  • Avoid walking on the grass, sand or through water barefoot.
  • Dislike having hair brushed or getting their haircut.

Movement in the body

Does our child or loved on struggle with moving his/her body?

    1. The hypersensitive child who shows intolerance for movement may:

      • Dislike playground activities, such as swinging, spinning and sliding.
      • Be cautious, slow moving, and sedentary, hesitating to take risks.
      • Seem willful and uncooperative.
      • Be very uncomfortable in elevators and on escalators, perhaps experiencing car or motion sickness.
      • Demand continual physical support from a trusted adult.
      • Get carsick easily.
      • Get nauseous and/or vomit from other movement experiences.
      • Lose balance easily, appearing clumsy.
      • Misunderstanding of the meaning of words in relation to movement or position.

    1. The child with gravitational insecurity may:

      • Have a great fear of falling, even where no real danger exists. This fear is experienced a primal terror.
      • Be fearful of heights, even slightly raised surfaces. The child may avoid walking on a curb or jumping down from the bottom step.
      • Become anxious when her feet leave the ground, feeling that even the smallest movement will throw her into outer space.
      • Be fearful of climbing or descending stairs, and hold tightly to the banister.
      • Feel threatened when her head is inverted, upside-down or tilted, as when having her head shampooed over the sink.
      • Be fearful when someone moves her, as when a teacher slides her chair closer to the table.
      • For self-protection, try to manipulate her environment and other people.

  1. The hyposensitive child with increased tolerance for movement may:

    • Need to keep moving, as much as possible, in order to function. The child may have trouble sitting still or staying in a seat.
    • Repeatedly and vigorously shake her head, rock back and forth, and jump up and down.
    • Crave intense movement experiences, such as bouncing on furniture, using a rocking chair, turning in a swivel chair, assuming upside down positions, or placing his/her head on the floor and pivoting around it.
    • Be a “thrill seeker” enjoying fast moving or spinning playground equipment, or seeking the fast and “scary” rides at an amusement park.
    • Not get dizzy, even after twirling in circles or spinning rapidly for a lengthy amount of time.
    • Enjoy swinging very high and/or for long periods of time.
    • Like seesaws, teeter-totters, or trampolines more than other children.

Overtolerance to touch

Does your child or loved one show an unusual tolerance to Touch?

  • Hurt other children or pets not realizing the pain that others feel.
  • Not realizing that she has dropped something.
  • Show little reaction to pain from scrapes and bruises.
  • Seem unaware of touch unless it is very intense.
  • Seem out of touch with her hands as if they are unfamiliar (discrimination).
  • Be unable to identify which body part is being touch without looking.
  • Be fearful in the dark.
  • Be unable to perform fine motor and self-help tasks such as zippering and buttoning.
  • Have difficulty holding and using crayons, scissors and forks.
  • Have trouble perceiving the physical properties of objects, such as texture, shape, size and temperature.

Poor body awareness

Does your child or loved on indicate poor body awareness?

    1. The hypersensitive child who shows poor awareness of their body may:

      • Not know where his body parts are or how they relate to one another.
      • Have trouble orienting his arms and hands, legs and feet to get dressed.
      • Withdraw from movement experiences, to avoid touch sensations.
      • Avoid putting weight onto their joints when standing, pushing, or jumping.
      • Complain about lifting heavy things.

  1. The hyposensitive child who shows poor awareness of their body may:

    • Deliberately bump into objects, seeking jumping and crashing opportunities.
    • Stamp or slap his feet when walking.
    • Bang a stick or other object on a wall or fence when walking.
    • Rub his hands on the tables, bite or suck on his/her fingers, or crack his/her knuckles.
    • Enjoy being wrapped up in a blanket or tucked in tightly at bedtime.
    • Chew constantly on objects such as on shirtsleeves, pencils or toys.
    • Press hard on a writing implement.
    • Handle objects forcefully, and frequently breaks things.

Visual system

Is your child or loved one struggling with visual adaptation?

    1. The hypersensitive child who shows intolerance for visual stimuli may:

      • Be oversensitive to light.
      • Be easily visually distracted.
      • Tend to avert eye contact.
      • Want to wear sunglasses or a hat often.
      • Cover his/her eyes often.
      • Startle easily.
      • Complain that print on page is too bright or “moving”

  1. The hyposensitive child who shows increased tolerance for visual stimuli may:

    • Seek toys, which contain moving objects or flashing lights.

Videos

Dr. Schaaf on Sensory Integration



A child’s view of Sensory Processing



View: In the clinic with Dr. A Jean Ayres/ The Sensory Processing



What is Sensory Processing Disorder




Utricle and Saccule Movie



The Vestibular System Endolymph Motion Demonstration




Testimonials

"His teachers were blown away"


Hi Maude,


I wanted to let you know that M. had an awesome year at school. He is ending the year with 2 A's and the rest B's, maybe a C. He did fantastic in the state testing, getting a 4 out 5 in reading and a 3 in Math, but a high 3. His teachers were blown away. He got better and better as the year went by.


He started out in academic support but worked his way out and never looked back. He did not really use the accommodations except at test time because he had to by law since he had an IEP. I think the medicine helped, his teachers were great and the work you did with him. He is going to counseling to address some anger and self esteem issues. He has sensory issues with his bowels, which is a big problem, but we're hoping he will recognize the feeling sooner as time goes on. He has matured alot too and grown, he is 5'7".


Thank you for ALL your help over the years!!


C.T. - June, 2010


May 2017


Hi Anne and A Total Approach,


I just wanted to share this picture with you! My son was able to compete in a Knowledge Bowl all day yesterday! There were so many little things that would have set him into a spiral had it been a few years ago! He managed to wear clothes with buttons, ride a buss full of kids, compete with hundreds of other students, change rooms for every competition, and managed to stay positive whether his team won or lost! HUGE day for him!!


We cannot thank you all enough for all your help. This truly would not have been an option before therapy! We all have our ups and downs, but the challenging days are a rarity now! He's doing amazing!


Hope all is well,

Grateful Mom


Parent Comments


Our son, Steven, was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction in March 2005. The doctors at CHOP directed us to A Total Approach. Angela completed the initial evaluation to determine what Steven's needs were, and I left that day feeling for the first time that I had some direction on how to help our son. It was as if someone was finally listening to our concerns and validating everything we suspected about Steven. Angela recommended that Steven go to Occupational Therapy (OT) to address his motor planning problems, modulation, sensory issues, and postural insecurity; to use the skin-brushing program; and to do Therapeutic Listening. Steven began seeing Natalie once a week in May 2005. Throughout this past year Natalie has incorporated many different therapies (in addition to the listening and brushing) including: joint compressions, oral therapy, horn therapy, straw therapy, a sensory diet, behavioral plans, exercises to improve his core muscles, and a proprioception home program. Due to the combination of strategies used at his OT sessions, Steven has improved in all areas of need. Steven is able to tolerate his clothing and other textures better, and most importantly for us, his tantrums and "meltdowns" are less frequent. In February 2006 the doctors at CHOP added Asperger's Syndrome to Steven's diagnosis. We are in the beginning phases of using the DIR®/Floortime™ method to address Steven's social and emotional needs. We look forward to seeing him improve in these areas as well.


In addition to helping our son immensely, A Total Approach has been a constant source of support for us as parents. We have learned so much about the reasons behind Steven's behaviors and reactions to different situations. Natalie and Maude have provided us with valuable information and recommendations on how to best help Steven at home. Working with A Total Approach has been a rewarding experience, and with their help, we look forward to enabling Steven to continue to make progress and be successful in all that he does.


Amy and Bob (June 2006)


Parent Comments


Our family is so grateful for the opportunity to work with the staff at A Total Approach. Their integrative approach to autism continues to expand, allowing me to consult with experts regarding many different and important pieces of my child's program and even to receive training in order to implement the therapies at home. There is a wealth of knowledge here that continues to grow, offering my children the best opportunities for success and affording me the peace of knowing that while they are working with any one of the highly qualified therapists, there is no better place that they could be at that moment.


The Haggerty Family


A Total Approach Comments

Their older son has completed 4 loops of Tomatis training and participates in an extensive SI/DIR program on a weekly basis. The younger daughter participates in Therapeutic Listening, as well as SI/DIR sessions on a weekly basis. Both children also receive consultation at their pre-school placement to assist with translating newly learnt skill into a functional setting.


Parent Comments


Maude Le Roux at A Total Approach has been a part of our lives since almost four years ago. Maude and her dedicated employees have provided both of our girls with therapeutic help in their particular areas of need, ranging from fine motor delays, visual motor and perceptual delays, sensory processing regulation difficulties, motor planning, and rigid play schemes. This has been accomplished in both individual one-on-one sessions and as part of a social skills play group. The clinic provides a playful atmosphere with therapeutic swings, balls, rope and ladder climbing, huge pillows and tubes, along with an expansive array of toys to entice our girls to work on their O.T. and sensory needs along with floortime play. In addition, our daughters have both gone through Tomatis therapy sessions at the clinic. We have seen extraordinary gains in all areas of need. Both girls are able to attend regular public school and are fully included in the curriculum with no one-on-one aides! Their writing is better, they are more confident with fine motor and gross motor activities, and their play schemes have expanded. But most impressive to us is their positive growth in the sensory processing and regulation area. They both used to scream at a passing siren, now they can tolerate parades and theme parks! Our hats go off to Maude and her outstanding staff at A Total Approach!


LB


Parent Comments

Our son, Daniel, who is now three years old, has been going to A Total Approach since he was 19 months of age. The therapists who work with Daniel are dedicated to helping him learn and grow. They look at the "whole" child, evaluating and addressing Daniel's areas of need, but also emphasizing and utilizing his strengths and incorporating them into his program. At A Total Approach, Daniel is given the individual attention he needs to further his development, and in the eyes of his therapists, he is a young child with great potential. As parents of a child with a disability, we have received an enormous amount of support from the staff at A Total Approach, and that in turn, helps us support our son.


Diane and Michael McDade


Parent Comments


We started working with Maude Le Roux in early 2003, when our two children, boy (6) girl (8) were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. We were looking for a therapist/program that would focus on their immediate needs for sensory integration (diet) and strategies for "staying on task." One of the things that we learned very quickly was that Maude is extremely interested in remediation of their root problems.


Our daughter was two years behind in acquiring adequate skill in reading. Maude developed an intense and rigorous home program (45 minutes/day 5 days/wk) during which she (our daughter) was able to "catch-up" almost 1 full year in her reading skills within a 6-month time frame. We also completed a 15-day regimen of Interactive Metronome during this time frame. We continue to see Maude on a monthly basis with home programming and have started another program that will focus on her phonemic awareness as well as sequencing strategies.


Our son struggled with socialization skills as well as staying "on task." He has been in a "small group of peers" with "Miss Nancy" for over 1 year. His socialization skills have increased significantly. Miss Nancy works with the group on role playing real world situations that the boys need to negotiate on a regular basis, in their daily lives. In addition to working with him in a group setting we also have a home program that involves a therapeutic listening program that assist him in improving his modulation. In the two years of working with Nancy/Maude he has settled down tremendously. The severity and quantity of his emotional outbreaks have been dramatically reduced.


Parent Comments


Jason is almost exactly 3 1/2 months old (Birthdate 6/19/01), and he was diagnosed with autism by Dr. Anne Meduri at A. I. DuPont Hospital for children in January 2004. His current program includes: 5 day/wk. typical preschool from 9:15am-1:15pm with TSS support during all 20 hrs. in school, BSC 2hrs./wk. at school, 2 hrs/wk. OT 1 hr./wk PT (every other week includes 1/2 hr. water therapy in pool), 1hr./wk of Itinerant Teacher at school, 1 hr./wk of Speech Therapy. As Jason's mother I attend A Total Approach one time every week armed with a DIR video on Jason and our play together. I would like to focus on the results we had found using the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol, suggested to us by Maude Le Roux.


We started brushing on 11/7/04 and brushed usually 5 or 6 times a day. We are very scheduled people and knew that without a written schedule we would not be able to fully follow the protocol. We typed up a schedule to fill-in each time we completed a session. Our average times for brushing followed by joint compressions were: 8:30am (before school), 10:30am (by TSS at school), 4pm, 6pm, and 8pm (after bath). We were able to get his pants off for brushing by making it part of the changing (pull-ups) routine. We never brushed less than four (4) times a day. It was usually 5 or 6 times a day. We were able to do it around our schedule. It took us about 5-7 minutes and after a few times, he LOVED it. We are still doing it 4x/day.


The changes we noticed, while on the protocol were obvious and no doubt attributed to the brushing protocol—since there were no other changes in his program during this time period. They include: (1) Greater variety and acceptance of different foods (as he only had a diet of about 5 foods and only water out of one cup); (2) Willingness to put on a costume or headpiece (firehat, Indian headband and beaded necklace, hood of coat) and wear for an extended period of time; (3) He pooped 9 out of the first 10 days (he has a very bad constipation problem); (4) Less foot sensitivity (feet don't curl up anymore when we brush them). These are not the changes that we expected, but they are real and exciting. We expected less "stimming" and/or better transitions, but we gladly accept these strides forward. Along with the advances, he is experiencing some "growing pains," which is probably to be expected. He is going through a pretty intense "Mommy-Separation-Anxiety" phase for the first time. His "stimming" also seems to have increased at home. This could also be due to the fact that it has decreased at school, indicating that he is perhaps more aware now of pacing himself and "letting go" when and where it was more appropriate.


All in all, we are very pleased with the outcome so far. It can't hurt to try!!! I am so glad that we finally committed to it.


Stacey and Brian Fliegelman


Parent Comments


"When Collin was 20 mos old, he wasn't talking as the other kids had. He began early interventation speech therapy where the therapy concentrated on helping him have a "bank of words." Collin did very well with this, and did not have trouble with articulation, but more with finding the word and getting it out. What was going on? 


We were so fortunate that one center, A Total Approach, in Glenn Mills PA returned my email by a phone call. A few days later, I spoke with Angela Gaudiuso Johnson, an extremely knowledgable head OT, and a wonderful mentor at A Total Approach ( ATA) for 45 minutes discussing our experiences. Could they help? Were they familar with dyspraxia because it seemed no one had ever heard of it..... and the answer was YES!!! 


Upon their evaluation, they found he had sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia. He wasn't crossing midline consistently, standing at a table he had so much postural sway he used the table for support, and he was using so much energy to just be upright ( fighting our primitive reflexes that hadn't yet been integrated) that he missed some of the typical developmental steps. As for the vestibular system, he craved the movement, but his brain wasn't registering it.


We did Tomatis (a listening program) while playing ( actually therapy) where there was a calming of his system and a notable change in his balance / vestibular system / body awareness over the course of 5 months. A few months later, he did more Tomatis with more improvements, Interactive Metronome ( for timing - we have to do this one again, he still needs work in this area.


How is he doing now? As of last summer, he was riding a two wheeled scooter, with no foot behind the other, and was riding a 2 wheeled bicycle ( no training wheels - this from a child who would somehow fall over riding a bike even with training wheels)! Amazing!!!"