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Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Terms and Definitions

It can be overwhelming diving into a whole new world. As a parent with a child who has difficulties with sensory processing, you’re trying to learn everything you can in order to better understand and help them. 

As you work your way through the websites, books, and blogs, most likely you have come across some new lingo. 

Below is a list of SPD terms and definitions to help you more easily navigate this new world. The more you know the more you can help!

SPD definitions

Sensory Processing is the registration and interpretation of sensory input; it is the way your brain receives sensory stimuli, interprets, and responds to it in an effective manner.

Sensory Integration (SI) is another term used for sensory processing.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is when you do not effectively interpret and respond to sensory stimuli. Previously referred to as Sensory Integration Dysfunction. Learn more about sensory processing disorder here.

Sensory Diet is a specific set of activities and exercises to help someone with SPD learn how to more effectively process sensory input; also used to help fulfill their sensory needs. Learn more about the components of a sensory diet here.

Sensory Hypersensitivity refers to being more (hyper) sensitive to sensory input. An example is covering your ears with normal volume talking, this person is more sensitive to sound (auditory) input.

Sensory Hyposensitivity refers to being less (hypo) sensitive to sensory input. An example is leaning into others, pushing harder than necessary, falling/crashing onto the floor, this person is less sensitive to proprioceptive input and needs more to be fulfilled.

Overstimulated is when you are overwhelmed by the amount of sensory stimulus you are receiving. One person may become upset and act out, another may retreat to a quiet area and wish to be left alone.

Types of input

Tactile Input is what you feel (touch input). Your pants rubbing on your legs, the grass under your feet, the hair brushing your neck, or the dirt on your face, are all examples of input into your tactile system. 

Vestibular Input is head movement and position. The vestibular system is in your inner ear and gets input from head movement. You know you are right-side-up because of your vestibular system. Spinning, hanging upside down, and rolling are all ways to get vestibular input.

Proprioceptive Input is where your body is in space without the use of your eyes (body awareness). You can close your eyes and touch your left knee accurately because of your proprioceptors. Proprioceptors ‘live’ in your muscles, joints, and ligaments and give feedback to your brain of where you are. Deep pressure and heavy work provide input to this system.

Oral Input is input to your mouth. Eating a bowl of soft oatmeal gives a much different input to your mouth than a crunchy, cold, sour dill pickle.

Auditory Input is what you hear.

Olfactory Input is what you smell.

Gustation is what you taste.

Response to sensory input

Tactile Defensiveness is being more sensitive to touch input.

Vestibular Insecurity is difficulties processing vestibular input. Becoming anxious or nervous when your feet are not on the ground or when you are on an unstable surface.

Sensory Seeking is a term used to describe someone who needs more sensory input. We sometimes refer to these people as seekers.

Sensory Avoiding is a term used to describe someone who doesn’t like as much sensory input or avoids it. Sometimes referred to as an avoider.

Interoception is your ability to understand and respond to your own internal signals. Identifying and responding appropriately to your bladder being full, your heart beating faster, or an itch are examples of interoception. When you don’t process these inputs correctly you may not respond appropriately to pain, you may not notice when you are hurt or may scream in pain from a light touch. If you struggle with interoception you may also have difficulties with identifying emotions.

Sensory Regulation is when you have the appropriate level of alertness to respond successfully to different inputs.

Who can help?

Occupational Therapy (OT) commonly works with children with SPD. Goals when working with clients are to promote independence and allow for greater participation in daily routines and roles. When working with children with SPD they will include a sensory diet and family education.

You’ve got this

Keep learning, keep working with your child to find what works for them, and ask questions! Leave us a comment below or let us know here what you have questions about.

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