Sensory or Behavior? Looking at sensory processing disorder and sensory modulation disorder


Is it sensory or is it behavior? The answer we all love to hate: It depends!

Let us first get some facts straight. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition in which incoming sensory information (visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, proprioceptive and vestibular) received from the environment gets processed in an unorganized way, thereby affecting outgoing reactions. Because these sensory signals are not interpreted effectively, responses to even benign stimuli can be dramatically altered and negatively affected. As a result, performing everyday tasks involving touching, hearing, smelling, tasting and moving one’s body can become daunting tasks. One of the categories under SPD is sensory modulation disorder (SMD) and this is defined as how a child regulates his responses to sensations. The three subtypes under this category include:

  • Sensory Over-Responsivity (SOR): Children with SOR typically are moody, fussy or picky eaters; dislike typical grooming habits, certain textures or messy play; or become overwhelmed by busy environments.
  • Sensory Under-Responsivity (SUR): Children with SUR have slow or delayed responses to sounds, sight, or touch; may not notice a messy face; exhibit high pain tolerance; are clumsy; have low tone; or appear to be daydreaming.
  • Sensory Seeker/Craver (SC): Children who are sensory seekers/cravers love to move, are constantly on the go, roughhouse, touch everything, crash into things or thrive in busy environments.

Do any of these symptoms sound like your child? Here is the kicker—we all have bits and pieces of all of these subtypes but do not get diagnosed as having SPD because we may only have a few of the symptoms. For example, tags could be bothersome, you have a fear of crowds, you dislike certain tastes, you have lots of energy at varying times of the day or you don’t notice when someone taps you on the shoulder. In these cases, sensory strategies may still help your child to address these very specific sensory issues.

Next in The Therapy Spot’s series on sensory vs. behavior, we will explore typical behaviors.

The Therapy Spot is a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy center that offers occupational therapy that helps children improve their ability to perform daily living activities. Click here to learn more about our occupational therapy options. 

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About the Author: The Therapy Spot
The Therapy Spot of Baltimore is a multi-disciplinary pediatric therapy center, featuring an energetic group of experienced and qualified therapists. We provide speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy to children in the greater Baltimore region.