Special needs parenting

Understanding the relationship between sensory processing disorder and autism spectrum disorder

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are two developmental disorders that share many similarities. Both conditions can affect how individuals perceive and respond to sensory information, leading to overstimulation, hypersensitivity, communication difficulties, and social interaction challenges. However, while the two conditions are related, they are not the same thing. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between SPD and ASD in more detail.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information from the senses. This can lead to overstimulation or under-stimulation of certain senses, resulting in a range of symptoms such as:

  • Hypersensitivity to certain sounds, textures, or smells
  • Difficulty filtering out background noise or distractions
  • Unusual reactions to sensory input such as spinning or rocking
  • Delayed response to stimuli

These symptoms can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life, making it challenging to participate in everyday activities such as going to school or work.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Individuals with ASD may have difficulty with:

  • Nonverbal communication such as eye contact or facial expressions
  • Maintaining conversations
  • Making friends or understanding social cues
  • Repetitive behaviors or routines

The severity of these symptoms can vary widely among individuals with ASD. Some may have mild symptoms while others may have more severe symptoms that require significant support.

The Relationship Between Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder

SPD and ASD are related conditions, but they are not the same thing. Research has shown that up to 80% of individuals with ASD may also have sensory processing challenges. However, not all individuals with SPD have ASD.

One way to understand the relationship between SPD and ASD is to think of them as two overlapping circles. The area where the circles overlap represents the shared symptoms between the two conditions, such as hypersensitivity to certain stimuli or difficulty with social interaction. However, there are also unique symptoms associated with each condition that do not overlap.

For example, a child with SPD may have difficulty with sensory input such as loud noises or bright lights. They may also struggle with motor skills such as balance or coordination. A child with ASD may have similar sensory challenges but may also exhibit repetitive behaviors or struggles with communication that are not related to sensory processing.

Challenges Associated With SPD and ASD

SPD and ASD can present many challenges for individuals and their families. These challenges can include:

  • Difficulty participating in everyday activities
  • Sensory overload or shutdowns
  • Anxiety or stress related to sensory input
  • Difficulty forming relationships or making friends
  • Misunderstanding social cues or nonverbal communication
  • Mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety

The impact of these challenges can be significant, affecting an individual’s quality of life and overall well-being.

Treatments for SPD and ASD

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating SPD and ASD. However, there are many evidence-based treatments available that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Behavioral therapy is often recommended for individuals with SPD or ASD. This type of therapy focuses on teaching individuals new skills and behaviors to help them cope with sensory challenges or social situations. Occupational therapy may also be beneficial for individuals with SPD, as it can help them develop strategies to manage sensory input and improve their motor skills.

Other treatments that may be recommended include medication, speech therapy, or social skills training.

Practical Tips for Parents and Caregivers

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with SPD or ASD, there are many practical tips you can use to help them manage their symptoms:

  • Create a sensory-friendly environment at home by minimizing loud noises, bright lights, or other triggering stimuli
  • Develop routines and schedules to provide structure and predictability
  • Use visual aids such as pictures or schedules to help with communication
  • Encourage physical activity to improve motor skills
  • Teach coping strategies such as deep breathing or mindfulness


Sensory processing disorder and autism spectrum disorder are related conditions that can present many challenges for individuals and their families. While the two conditions share many symptoms, they are not the same thing. Understanding the relationship between SPD and ASD is essential for receiving an accurate diagnosis and developing an effective treatment plan. With the right support and resources, individuals with SPD or ASD can learn to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.