Did you know that sensory processing disorder can be broken down into several aspects of “sensory” based on considerations that you see in sensory challenges? Here, you’ll find a sensory chart covering these sensory processing attributes to better explain the vastness of SPD. You’ll also want to check out our resource containing a sensory processing disorder checklist as it covers sensory red flags that potentially indicate the terms you see below in this sensory chart.
Gaining an understanding sensory processing disorders can have a vast difference in supporting clients, patients, parents, and the entire team involved with children or students who struggle with daily functional tasks as a result of sensory processing differences.
The neurodiversity make us who we are, but understanding how this all works together is pivotal.
For more information on sensory integration, please check out our resource on Ayres Sensory Integration as a tool for understanding the theory behind sensory processes. It can make all the difference in gaining a full picture of the nervous system.
Sensory Processing Disorder Chart
Let’s cover the sensory breakdown to better understand this complex concept and various attributes of sensory preferences and behaviors. These explanations and sensory information is found in greater detail in our resource, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.
Sensory Processing Disorder as a global umbrella term that includes all forms of this disorder, which includes three primary areas (Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory Discrimination Disorder, and Sensory-Based Motor Disorder).
Let’s look at each of these areas:
Sensory discrimination disorders–
Sensory discrimination is defined as the ability to discriminate (or identify) sensory input, sensory differences, quantities, and qualities of sensory stimuli. When we discriminate sensory input, we use our sensory systems to taste, touch, hear, feel, smell, and perceive sensory information. This discrimination allows for safety and functional participation in everyday tasks. Sensory discrimination can mean smelling smoke from the stove vs. smoke from a backyard firepit, hearing an alarm sounding, tasting spoiled food, knowing when to go to the bathroom, knowing when to stop spinning on the swing, and so many other aspects of daily life!
Children with sensory discrimination difficulty have problems recognizing or interpreting differences in stimuli.
- They will bump and crash into others or objects.
- They might eat until they are sick rather than stopping when full.
- They may write with a heavy or overly light pencil pressure.
- Individuals with sensory discrimination disorders frequently drop items
- There might be poor balance
- Others may be overly afraid of heights
- You may see balance and coordination challenges.
It can look like so many different things! Check out this resource on sensory red flags for more descriptions.
There are so many aspects of daily life that are related to sensory discrimination!
Sensory modulation disorder
Sensory modulation disorder is defined as the challenge of interpreting sensory information, either overly responding, under-responding, or specifically seeking out sensory input.
Sensory Modulation Disorder is further broken down into subtypes, or three categories:
- Sensory Over-Responsiveness
- Sensory Under-Responsiveness
- Sensory Seeking
Sensory Over-Responsiveness– With one type of sensory modulation disorder, over-responsiveness, sensory input can be irritating, painful, or abrasive and the individual avoids that particular sensory input. The sensory systems are overly responsive in this way. You may see food or texture avoidance, issues with noisy environments, and distractions by light, sounds, textures, etc.
Sensory Under-Responsiveness- The other end of the spectrum is a under-responsive sensory system. In this case, the individual may not realize or recognize sensory input. They may seek sensory input, but they can also be lethargic or fatigue easily. This is where you will see running into traffic, slow to react, or clumsiness.
Sensory Seeking- Another type of sensory modulation issue is the seeking out of specific sensory input. Likewise, sensory input can be stimulating and pleasant. The individual will seek out sensory input that they prefer: rubbing a particular texture, jumping, crashing, etc. are some examples of sensory seeking.
With each of these types, you will see preferences of certain sensory inputs and a withdrawal from other responses. They may become upset by noises and sounds and are easily distracted by stimuli. Each individual will be drastically different.
These kids have problems regulating response to sensory input.
These subcategories are explained in further detail under the sensory systems section.
For children who struggle in this area, a sensory diet might help them to modulate sensation in the environment. Children experience a poor compatibility of sensory information and the tasks they need to accomplish.
Sensory Based Motor Disorder
Sensory Motor Disorder is another aspect of sensory processing, referring to the motor output as it relates to sensory information. Those with sensory motor disorder challenges have difficulty navigating their world. Their bodies don’t do what their brains tell them to do.
Sensory Based Motor Disorder has two subcategories: Dyspraxia and Postural Disorder.
- Dyspraxia– Children with dyspraxia have difficulty planning, timing, organizing, sequencing, or executing unfamiliar actions. These children may appear awkward and poorly coordinated. Dyspraxia describes developmentally acquired motor planning deficits and includes poor planning of movements.
- Postural-Ocular disorder– Children with postural-ocular disorder have trouble with controlling movements and posture. They may have difficulty with coordination of functional vision. Joint instability seen in these children results in controlled motions. These children may slouch in their seats and exhibit muscle weakness, low tone, or poor balance. Kids with postural disorders have difficulty keeping up with their peers and may appear as lazy or clumsy.
Sensory Processing Disorder Considerations
Each of the areas described in the sensory processing disorder chart may have some or all of the considerations listed below. We cover these areas in greater detail in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.
Emotional regulation– Children with this difficulty have trouble maintaining an emotional state that matches the task or activity. They may overrespond to emotional situations. Read more on emotional intelligence to determine typically developing emotional regulation skills vs. challenges in this area.
Somatodyspraxia is a type of sensory-integrative based dyspraxia where there is evidence of poor processing of somatosensory information. Essentially, somatodyspraxia is a combination of visual and proprioceptive input. The somatosensory system interprets information from the skin and around joints and carries that information to the central nervous system.
This includes tactile discrimination or sensory touch which includes heat or temperature awareness, vibration, pain registration, interoception, pressure, proprioception, and position of body in space. All of this information leads to one’s ability to perceive temporal and spatial organization, develop body scheme and postural response, stabilize the head and body during movement, and interpret touch sensation and pain needed for movements and actions.
Children with somatodyspraxia often exhibit poor tactile and proprioceptive processing, clumsiness, frequent tripping, falling, and bumping into objects; difficulty with fine motor and manipulation skills, and poor organization (Cermak, 1991).
Treatment focuses on providing heavy work, deep pressure, and light-touch experiences. Verbal cuing and feedback may also be used (Koomar & Bundy, 1991). The sensory diet/sensory lifestyle and environmental modification ideas for decreased discrimination of tactile and proprioceptive information should be used in addition to the ideas specific to praxis issues.
Impaired Bilateral Motor Coordination
Children with impaired bilateral motor coordination often exhibit difficulty with bilateral activities, or tasks that require the two sides of the body to work together in a coordinated manner.
This includes clapping, hopping, skipping, and jumping jacks.
Individuals with impaired or delayed motor coordination may have some right–left confusion, avoid midline crossing, and have difficulty developing a hand preference. Additionally, they appear to have vestibular and proprioceptive difficulties.
Treatment generally focuses on providing vestibular and proprioceptive experiences and graded bilateral activities. Treatment may start with simple crossing midline, rotation, and symmetrical activities and work toward asymmetrical activities and more complex coordination skills (Koomar & Bundy, 1991).
The sensory diet/sensory lifestyle and environmental modification ideas for decreased discrimination of vestibular and proprioceptive information that address vestibular input should be used in addition to the ideas specific to bilateral motor coordination.
Children with tactile defensiveness often exhibit an aversive response to a variety of tactile experiences, such as craft materials, food, clothing, bathing, or touch. They will often avoid a variety of activities and may react aggressively at times. They can be easily distracted and have difficulty with attention.
Therapy generally focuses on providing heavy work and deep pressure input. Slow linear vestibular input may also be helpful.
Therapy also provides opportunities for participation in graded tactile experiences (Royeen & Lane, 1991). The proprioceptive sensory diet ideas for decreased discrimination of proprioceptive and vestibular information could be used in addition to the ideas specific to tactile defensiveness.
Children with gravitational insecurity may exhibit limited participation in gross motor play; avoidance or fear of escalators, elevators, cars, or planes; or resistance to being off the ground. Treatment in the clinic environment generally focuses on providing proprioceptive input and graded vestibular input. In treatment, the child is always in control of the amount of vestibular input received and is never pushed beyond his or her limits (Koomar & Bundy, 1991).
Environmental modifications would focus on helping the child to feel safe in all environments and situations. Sensory diet activities would focus on providing calming proprioceptive input throughout the day. The proprioceptive sensory diet ideas for decreased discrimination of proprioceptive and vestibular information could be used in addition to the ideas specific to gravitational insecurity.
Individuals with these difficulties may have certain behaviors or characteristics in common. There are underlying needs that result in adverse reactions to sensory processing.
The integration of sensory input leads to poor attention, self-regulation, co-regulation, self-monitoring, self-esteem, anxiety, discrimination, motor skills, communication, or responsiveness. Incorporating healthy sensory habits within the family lifestyle is critical to success.
The Sensory Systems
Most of us learn about the five senses early in our childhood education. Taste, touch, sight, sound, and scent are ingrained from a very young age. It might be surprising to find out there are actually more than just five sensory systems. With a typical Google search, you will learn that there are two more sensory systems that are added on to those five sensory systems.
The sensory breakdown includes aspects of each of the sensory systems (listed below):
The proprioception system and vestibular system are two additional sensory systems. However, when we consider perception, regulation, movement, interaction, and functioning, there are actually MORE systems that are involved.
These important systems are deeply connected to the central nervous system and are essential for perceiving and interpreting our world around us. While they do not specifically sense input from the environment, they are and always have been an essential part of our existence.
Interoception is the sensory system of our inner body. It includes organs, our heart, blood vessels, etc. While the receptors to the five commonly known senses are obvious and clear, the receptors to the interoceptive system are inside our bodies. They may not be seen but they are definitely important for functions such as emotional awareness, hunger, nervousness, fear, and feelings. Our ability to sense fullness, elimination needs, temperature, thirst, sweat, and all require regulation of the interception system.
You can see how this system is very much related and a part of other sensory systems in how a person functions.
Additionally, there are other important systems that we are going to discuss in this book. The somatosensory system refers to the integration of the visual and proprioceptive systems in order to perceive and respond with temporal and spatial organization, develop body scheme and postural response, stabilize the head and body during movement, and interpret touch sensation and pain needed for movements and actions.
Finally, praxis, or kinesthesis help us understand how to move our bodies. The praxic system, or the kinesthetic system essentially “puts it all together” when it comes to motor responses to sensory information that has been perceived by the other senses.
Putting it all together
Let’s look at all of the sensory systems in a list:
- Visual System (Sight)
- Auditory System (Sound)
- Tactile System (Touch)
- Gustatory System (Taste)
- Olfactory System (Smell)
- Proprioceptive System (Position in space)
- Vestibular System (Movement)
- Interoceptive System (Inner body)
And the systems that are deeply connected to these sensory systems:
- Somatosensory System (Movement organization)
- Praxic/Kinesthetic System (How to move)
Challenges with processing can mean that each of these sensory systems do not functioning adequately as an overall well-oiled machine. It’s then that you’ll see individuals with a poor reaction to the environment.
Typically, dysfunction within these sensory systems present in many different ways.
- You may see withdrawal or over-responsiveness to auditory and visual stimuli.
- You may see lack of focus on tasks and may feel insecurity in the environment, with poor body perception as a result.
- A child with sensory difficulties may be over- or under-responsive to sensory input.
- They may operate on an unusually high or unusually low level of activity.
- They may fatigue easily during activity or may constantly be in motion.
Children may fluctuate between responsiveness, activity levels, and energy levels.
Additionally, children with sensory processing dysfunctions typically present with other delays. Development of motor coordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, behaviors, executive functioning skills, language, and learning are all at risk as a result of impaired sensory processing.
It is important to note that sensory processing is deeply connected to a combination of the sensory systems working together as well as the impact of environmental stimuli.
Sensation from the environment is combined with family life, parent expectations, peer interactions, classroom rules, community expectations, internal states such as feelings, hunger, fatigue, and health to result in behaviors responses. Looking at the underlying reasons for behavioral responses is absolutely key to identifying strategies to help with “behaviors” or the actions we see.
We’ve created a visual, sensory processing diagram to show exactly how these terms break down from an umbrella term of sensory processing disorder into more detailed and nuanced areas. As you can see, there is a lot to the overarching term of “sensory processing”.
This free printable sheet guide to the breakdown or types of Sensory Processing Disorder is a great addition to your therapy toolbox.
Print off the sensory chart and hang in on a wall or bulletin board for sensory processing awareness. This occupational therapy chart is a great visual to share with parents or educators when explaining how the whole system relates to behaviors and sensory considerations.
Want a printable version of this sensory processing disorder chart? Enter your email address into the form below. You’ll receive the printable chart in your email inbox.
This sensory chart is also found in our Member’s Club. Members can log in and access the handout under our Sensory Downloads area in the membership. While you’re there, also grab other sensory resources without the hassle of entering your email address for each resource.
More Sensory Processing Information
Want to know more or to add another handy educational handout to your therapy toolbox? Grab a copy of each of the sensory processing tools below.
- Sensory processing information handout– It’s a great way to break these complex concepts down into easily digestible and understandable information. Print off the pamphlet and use it to share with educators, parents, caregivers so they can better understand sensory processing disorder.
- Sensory Red Flags– Print off this list of sensory red flags to use as a checklist to determine sensory challenges.
- Sensory Strategies Toolkit– The Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit is a free printable packet of resources and handouts that can be used by teachers, parents, and therapists. Whether you are looking for a handout to explain sensory strategies, or a tool for advocating for your child, the Classroom Sensory Strategy Toolkit has got you covered.
- Sensory Lifestyle Handbook– This is a resource for those living with, teaching, or working with children with sensory needs. For the child with sensory processing needs, everything about life can be distressing! Sensory processing challenges can impact a child’s every interaction and environment. Sensory challenges affect behavior, self-regulation, attention, development, learning, social skills, emotional development, and independence. The child who struggles with sensory processing may be challenged daily with rigorous interactions. For these children, sensory input or sensory-based accommodations can make all the difference.