Sensory Processing Disorder

SPD Is Not a Behavior Problem!

SPD is commonly misunderstood as a behavior problem, especially among family and friends who don’t understand its origins or symptoms. Here’s what they need to know about children with SPD.

Q: “How do I bring awareness of sensory processing disorder (SPD) to friends and relatives who think my child has a behavior problem?”

A child with significant sensory needs may need opportunities for movement. They might spin, jump, run, flip upside down, or crash into you. They may seem clumsy or unaware and miss what is happening around them. These behaviors are all about the body attempting to process sensory input.

It can be incredibly overwhelming to children with SPD to be in unfamiliar environments, with new and different smells, sounds, sights, and people. At times like these, you should support and validate your child’s needs.

How to Explain SPD

The degree to which you can discuss your child’s sensory needs hinges on this: How much are your friends or relatives willing to learn about sensory processing?

They need to know that sensory systems are vital for children to grow and develop. The Pyramid of Learning model shows that sensory processing is foundational to all other learning and functioning. Without these foundational building blocks in place, children miss important information, which will interfere with learning.

[Read: The ADDitude Gift Guide for Kids with Sensory Needs]

Hiccups in processing sensory input must be addressed first to help children learn better and participate fully in daily life. This means that support, accommodations, and sometimes therapy, are required. SPD can occur with other diagnoses, including ADHD and autism.

It helps to use sensory-rich language to speak with your child when it appears to others that he or she is behaving poorly. To teach your child what might be going on during a sensory episode, you might say: “I see you covering your ears and crashing into the couch. It’s pretty loud in here. Maybe we can take a break in the other room.” Or: “Your body has so much energy right now! Can I help you figure out where to use that energy? We can run around outside or do animal walks (like frog jumps or bear walks) in the basement.”

The truth is, we can tell a child repeatedly to stop acting in a certain way, and we can punish them or offer rewards for encouraged behavior. This may temporarily control their behavior, but it will not address their underlying needs.

Your child may not be able to tell you how much they appreciate your advocacy on their behalf. But your ability to put their sensory needs first, before responding to other people’s opinions or perceptions, is exactly what makes them feel safe and seen.

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder: Next Steps


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