What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
As beings living in a physical body we interact with the world through our senses.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which has also been known by other names such as Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) and Dysfunction in Sensory Integration (DSI), was first acknowledged as a disorder by the late Jean Ayres, Phd, in the 1950’s. ‘She likened SPD to a neurological ‘traffic jam’ that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.’ (Spdstar.org, 2017)
We all know about the five external senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing.
However, neurologists believe there may be many more senses, such as;
‘First consider the senses that relate to the position of our bodies. Close your eyes, and then touch your right forefinger to your left elbow tip. Easy? How did you do it? Somehow you knew where the end of your finger was and you also knew the position of your left elbow. This sense is known as proprioception and it’s the awareness we have of where each of our body parts is located in space. Proprioception is possible thanks to receptors in our muscles known as spindles, which tell the brain about the current length and stretch of the muscles.’ (Jarrett, 2017)
The Vestibular System
‘Now imagine you are blindfolded and I tilted you forwards slowly. You’d immediately have a sensation of how your body’s position was changing in relation to gravity. This is thanks to the fluid-filled vestibular system in your inner ear, which helps us keep balance. This system also gives us our experience of acceleration through space, and it links up with the eyes, making it possible to cancel out our own motion. If you wiggle your head around while reading, for example, you’ll see that it makes little difference to your ability to read and stay focused on the words.’(Jarrett, 2017)
These ‘extra’ senses also include those that provide us with information about the inner state of our bodies, such as hunger, pain, the need to go to the loo etc.
According to Carol Stock Kranowitz, ‘When their central nervous systems are ineffective in processing sensory information, children have a hard time functioning in daily life.’ (Kranowitz, 2005)
Children can suffer from disorders that affect any of these senses by creating over-sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under-sensitivity (hyposensitivity).
Those that have sensory hypersensitivity may have difficulties with;
Noise – even at a normal level noise can be intolerable and painful
Light and strong patterns can hurt
Tastes and smells can be overwhelming
Touch can be torture. (although they may also like pressure from heavy clothing or blankets)
Movement especially sudden movements such as being on a swing or being driven in a car may make them feel sick
Those that have sensory hyposensitivity may have difficulties with;
Noise – they may seek out noise
Light – They may be drawn to lights and shiny objects
Tastes – they may enjoy strange, and strong, smells and taste
Touch – they may like messy play, textures and heavy pressure
Movement – they may enjoy spinning and fast-moving play
In addition to this some children with sensory processing disorder may not have a sense of balance, they may continually bump into things, they may drop things, they may not be in control of their bodily functions or they may eat all sorts of inappropriate things.
‘Sensory seeker, eats clothes, please design clothes that digest, its awful when it comes out the other end.’ (Designing Clothing for Children with Sensory Challenges, 2017)
Children with sensory processing disorder may feel isolated, they may lack self-confidence, withdraw or exhibit outbursts of anger and inappropriate behaviour. These behaviours can be puzzling, extremely difficult to live with and they are often misunderstood. These children seem to be marching to a different tune.
‘… subtle areas of their nervous systems are not functioning as they should. These changes result in behaviors that confuse, frustrate, and anger parents and teachers. They wonder why these children lack self-help skills, become aggressive or withdrawn in a group, or refuse to participate in activities or sports.
. . . we need to remember that behaviors are a message, a symptom – not a diagnosis.’ (Silver 2005)
What these children experience on a daily basis is a form of torture. Torture victims are often subjected to the same kind of sensory overload that children with SPD experience. The playing of nonstop music, 24-hour lighting, sleep deprivation and loss of comfort and choice are intended to disorientate, confuse and destroy the mental abilities of prisoners.
‘Experimental studies with subjects exposed to intense auditory and visual stimuli showed heightened and sustained arousal, discomfort, mood changes, illusions and hallucinations and body image distortions, irritability, distraction, disorientation and a withdrawal from reality. Early work in this area reported that sensory overload could produce symptoms similar to various pathologies and produced thinking and behaviour, particularly speech content, associated with schizophrenia.’(Leach, 2017)
Tactile defensiveness is the form of sensory processing disorder that pertains to touch.
Typically, a child with this condition will avoid touch – whether from people or objects. They often have other forms of SPD and other conditions – such as autism.
They may dislike wearing most (or any) clothes.
(He) ‘… hates wearing any clothing, hits and punches and screams when getting him dressed. Will keep them on when out but will strip when at home..’ (Designing Clothing for Children with Sensory Challenges, 2017)
They may find clothes;
Difficult to put on
While they are distracted by these feelings they may find it very difficult to make friends, enjoy social situations or to learn at school.
A child with any form of SPD should be seen by an occupational therapist who may create a sensory diet aimed at balancing the sensory information that the child is exposed to.
Reducing a child’s sensory overload through the creation of special clothing can contribute to his quality of life by creating a calm space in which he can concentrate on his social skills or education.
Mass produced clothing can be reintroduced slowly when the child feels ready to deal with them.
Typically, the clothes in our collection feature;
A loose fit with low necklines
External or enclosed seams
Clothes that can be worn ‘back to front’
Interesting elements to hold the child’s attention
Tags to which toys, fidget blankets, chews and labels can be attached
We have created these sewing patterns for children to help you and your child enjoy life to the full. Our clothes are designed to make kids happy. We hope that they will also make the wider family – and social group – a happy place as well.
For more information see my Masters Degree Report available to view or buy at Blurb.com
Spdstar.org. (2017). About SPD. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].
Jarrett, C. (2017). Psychology: How many senses do we have?. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].
Kranowitz, C. (2005). The out-of-sync child. New York: Perigee Book.
Silver, L.B. (2005) Foreword.In: C.Kranowitz The Out of Sync Child. New York: Perigee
Leach, J. (2017). Psychological factors in exceptional, extreme and torturous environments.
Maddock, R (2017). Survey: Designing Clothing for Children with Sensory Challenges. Hereford: Unpublished.