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  • Writer's pictureSharon Starkey

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Autism

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) was formerly called Sensory Processing Dysfunction. Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. To put it in understandable terms, messages enter the brain from the senses (sound, smell, taste, sight and touch). The brain is unable to organize the responses and put them in the right places. The sensory information is essentially “mixed up” in the brain.

Sensory Processing Disorder is often a characteristic seen in autism. Autistic people often have problems organizing the information they are getting from the environment around them. They have issues interpreting and regulating stimuli. As a result their responses can be inappropriate, resulting in a “meltdown”

There are several types of responses:

  • Sensory Avoidant: This variety of autistic person is always fearful and anxious. They are constantly assessing for threats. They tend to be hyper-vigilant. Looking at them, however, they normally appear calm.

  • Sensory Seeking: These individuals usually come across as impulsive. They take risks. They tend to be over excited by stimuli and their arousal is heightened.

  • Sensory Over Responsive: These autistic individuals are in fight or flight mode. They tend to be impulsive and aggressive. They are highly aroused and easily distracted.

  • Sensory Under Responsive: These individuals have a flat affect. They tend to be inattentive. Their arousal is decreased so they are passive.

For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, check out the book The Out- of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz (


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