Special needs parenting

The Ultimate Guide to Diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder: Symptoms, Tests and More

Sensory processing disorder (SPD), also known as sensory integration disorder, is a condition that affects how the brain processes and responds to sensory information. Children and adults with SPD may experience heightened sensitivity to touch, sound, taste, and smell or have difficulty interpreting sensory input, leading to challenges in daily life activities. If you suspect you or a loved one may have SPD, it’s essential to seek a proper diagnosis to receive appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

The symptoms of SPD can vary widely from person to person and depend on the type of sensory processing difficulty they experience. Some common signs of SPD in children include:

  • Difficulty tolerating certain textures or fabrics
  • Oversensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
  • Resistance to being touched or hugged
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks such as handwriting or using utensils
  • Intense reactions to smells or tastes
  • Avoidance of playground equipment or physical activities
  • Frequent meltdowns or tantrums when overwhelmed by sensory input

In adults, SPD can manifest as difficulty with multitasking, poor coordination, clumsiness, anxiety in social situations, and feelings of being overwhelmed by sensory input.

The Diagnosis Process for Sensory Processing Disorder

The diagnosis process for SPD typically involves several evaluations by healthcare professionals. The first step is usually a comprehensive medical evaluation by a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the symptoms. Once medical causes have been ruled out, an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration therapy can conduct further assessments.

The occupational therapist will typically use standardized assessments such as the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) or the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) to evaluate the individual’s sensory processing abilities. These assessments involve observing the individual’s response to various sensory stimuli and may include tasks such as balancing on one foot, catching a ball, or manipulating small objects.

It’s important to note that SPD can be challenging to diagnose as it shares symptoms with other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders. A comprehensive evaluation that considers all possible diagnoses is crucial to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options for Sensory Processing Disorder

Once a diagnosis of SPD has been made, treatment typically involves occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy. Occupational therapists trained in sensory integration therapy work with children and adults to develop strategies for managing sensory input and improving overall functioning in daily life activities.

Sensory integration therapy involves exposing individuals to various sensory stimuli in a controlled environment to help them learn how to process and respond appropriately. For example, a child who is oversensitive to touch may participate in activities that involve gradually increasing levels of tactile stimulation such as touching different textures or playing with playdough.

In addition to occupational therapy, other treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, speech therapy, or medication may be recommended depending on the individual’s specific needs.

Challenges of Diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder

One of the biggest challenges of diagnosing SPD is the lack of awareness and understanding among healthcare professionals about the condition. Many doctors are not trained in recognizing SPD symptoms or referring patients for appropriate evaluations.

Additionally, there is no universally recognized diagnostic criteria for SPD. This means that different healthcare professionals may use different assessments or diagnostic tools, leading to inconsistent diagnoses across providers.

Furthermore, the symptoms of SPD can vary widely from person to person and may overlap with other conditions, making it challenging to differentiate between them accurately.

Benefits of Early Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of SPD can have significant benefits for children and adults. By identifying sensory processing difficulties early on, individuals can receive appropriate therapy and support to improve their functioning in daily life activities.

For children, early intervention can prevent or minimize the development of more severe symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Children who receive appropriate therapy for SPD are better able to regulate their emotions, engage in social activities, and participate in academic work.

In adults, treatment for SPD can improve overall functioning in daily life activities such as work and social interactions. It can also help reduce anxiety and stress associated with sensory overload.


Sensory processing disorder is a condition that affects how individuals process sensory information. While the diagnosis process for SPD can be challenging due to the lack of awareness among healthcare professionals about the condition and the absence of universally recognized diagnostic criteria, it’s essential to seek a proper diagnosis to receive appropriate treatment.

If you suspect you or a loved one may have SPD, consult with a healthcare professional trained in sensory integration therapy. Early diagnosis and treatment can have significant benefits for individuals with SPD, improving their overall quality of life and functioning in daily life activities.