Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

About sensory processing disorder

Sensory processing is the ability to take in sensory information from the world around us and interpret this information effectively so that we may function optimally throughout the day. The brain not only processes information through the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound, but the nervous system also interprets this sensory information and translates it into movement, body position and pressure.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) occurs when the nervous system has difficulty regulating, processing, and interpreting information from one or more of the senses. This may affect one’s ability to function optimally in all environments, and these difficulties can adversely affect a child’s social skills, academic performance, and motor development.

Occupational therapy is one of the many main treatments for SPD in children. Contact us today to learn more about options for your child.

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What are some symptoms of sensory processing disorder?

We take in and experience sensory information from the environment every minute of our day, and we use this Sensory Processing Disorderinformation to produce a reaction. Our brains take in this information, and must be able to organize it, process it and use it in order for us to respond appropriately to a particular situation. It is the organization of all of this sensory information that is termed sensory integration. The sensory information that we receive includes auditory, tactile, visual, olfactory, vestibular and proprioceptive information. The vestibular and proprioceptive senses are the less known and obvious of the senses, and they are responsible for sense of movement and sense of body position in space, respectively.

Different children perceive and process sensory information differently. Some children find loud noises scary, while others like to bang objects and search for interesting ways to create noise. Similarly, some children may only tolerate certain fabrics or textures for clothing, while others may enjoy rolling around in grass, sand, or on the carpet. All children and adults have different sensory preferences, and while most adults have learned to adapt to their specific needs, some children need guidance in processing sensory information to reach their full potential.

Some symptoms of sensory processing disorder in children include:

  • Inability to focus on an activity if there’s background noise
  • Jumping from one activity to another, never fully being able to complete a task
  • Responding negatively to loud noises, or often covering ears
  • Seeking high movement activities, but often appearing clumsy
  • Showing a strong preference for certain foods or smells
  • Irritation from shoes, socks, tags, or different textures
  • Difficulties learning new activities
  • Under or over-sensitivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
  • Tendency to be easily distracted
  • Social and/or emotional problems
  • Unusually high or low activity level
  • Poor coordination
  • Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
  • Poor fine motor coordination
  • Impulsivity, lack of self-control
  • Difficulty in making transitions
  • Inability to unwind or calm self
  • Emotionally reactive
  • Poor self concept
  • Delays in speech, language, motor skills
  • Delays in daily skill performance (dressing, feeding)
  • Delays in academic achievement

What is sensory processing disorder and what causes it?

When sensory information (that we take in from our environment) is not being efficiently organized and processed in our brains, what results is called sensory integration dysfunction. An underdeveloped nervous system causes inefficient processing of sensory information, an this can often be seen in children who were born prematurely, or have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, among other reasons.

How can I tell if my child may have sensory processing disorder?

Sensory integration dysfunction can be presented in a few different ways, and can be placed in three general categories:

1.) Sensory Modulation Disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder is a problem with responding appropriately to sensory information in a way that matches the nature and intensity of the sensory information. A child can be over-responsive (respond more intensely, quickly and for a longer time to sensory input than typical children- ex. can’t tolerate tags on clothing), under-responsive (exhibit less of a response to sensory input than the situation demands, or take longer to react) or sensory seeking (crave and actively seek out sensory experiences, often in socially unacceptable ways.)

2.) Sensory-Based Motor Disorder

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder is a problem with stabilizing, moving, or planning a series of movements in response to sensory demands (a child may have difficulty with coordination and control of their bodies, as this is a dysfunction of the proprioceptive and vestibular senses).

3.) Sensory Discrimination Disorder

Sensory Discrimination Disorder is a problem with sensing similarities and differences between sensations. These children may have a difficult time zipping their jacket without looking, or have difficulty distinguishing between a written p or q, for example.

When children are unable to process sensory information efficiently, it can affect them in many different ways, including their ability to regulate their emotions, their social skills, speech and academic skills, and fine and gross motor skills.

How can I help treat my child’s sensory processing disorder?

With effective treatment provided by an occupational therapist, a child’s nervous system can develop the ability to process sensory information in an appropriate manner. A child with poor sensory integration skills may need to learn specific compensatory strategies to function optimally and integrate sensory input in an efficient manner.

Our approach to sensory processing disorder at North Shore Pediatric Therapy

At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we tailor our therapy to meet the needs of each individual child. Our therapists are specially trained to provide your child with vital sensory input and experiences needed to meet the needs of his nervous system. Children with sensory processing disorder require individualized treatment plans adapted to motivate and empower them to reach their full potential, with the proper balance of arousal, calming and organizing activities.

Client Reviews (16)

I completed my first FWII placement at NSPT in Bucktown. I had such a fantastic learning experience that truly helped me to grow my skills and experience. The staff at Bucktown was extremely welcoming and happy to teach, answer questions and allow me to observe outside my discipline to make this an even more well-rounded experience. The orientation/mentor program is great for students and makes heading into FW a much easier transition that sets you up for success. I had a great working relationship with my clinical instructor who helped me develop my treatment planning, documentation and intervention skills as well as teaching me a great deal about being a practicing OT in general! Overall, I couldn’t ask for anything more from a FWII experience!


I completed my Level IIA Fieldwork at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Bucktown. I am so impressed by the organization of the student program and its emphasis on the reflection process. This reflection process has helped me develop clinical reasoning skills that are significant to treating clients. I also felt surrounded by a professional body of therapists that took on a mentor role, especially my supervisor. The gradual increase in case load was challenging yet manageable, providing me with client-centered intervention experience that will apply to my future endeavors as a therapist. Thank you, North Shore.


Our son Ian has been having sensory issues for a while & we were very pleased with the work that Ms. Dawn had been doing with him to help him deal with his processing issues. We were sad to leave NSPT due to a move out-of-state.

Stephanie Long

I completed my level II OT fieldwork at NSPT and it was a really positive experience. There is a multidisciplinary staff that are all eager to welcome and assist in the learning process. It is a really great location to learn about diverse applications of pediatric OT. All of the staff are passionate about what they do and have creative and exciting ideas to motivate children as they work on a wide variety of skills. NSPT is a wonderful placement for developing skills for pediatric OT and I am grateful to have had this experience!


We are incredibly fortunate to have Mrs. Ellyn’s influence. Even though we have only been here for 6 months, I am seeing a more able, more confident child. Mrs. Ellyn not only has helped gross and fine motor control, coordination and motor planning, but has helped set boundaries and attainable goals for my child. It is great to see him grow so strong.


I completed my final level II OT fieldwork at NSPT and had one of the best clinical experiences I could have expected. The entire staffs’ level of investment in their work motivated me to be creative while also working hard to deliver evidence-based research interventions. The successful stories I often heard from parents regarding their child’s growth reflects the passion and love each clinician at NSPT has for their job. I am so sad to have to say goodbye to the staff and the kids I’ve been working with for the past three months, and can’t express how grateful I am to have been placed here!

Mary Kate Mulry

My 5-year-old son has been receiving OT therapy at NSPT for 2 1/2 years. Could not be happier with his progress. Thank You NSPT!

Barnaby Wilde

My son (now 4) has been receiving OT at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Glenview for almost a year. He receives a wide array of OT services including feeding therapy, core strengthening, fine-motor work, and balance activities. It is very encouraging to see the progress he has made and how much he enjoys his sessions. The OT truly listens to our concerns and provides us with plenty of resources and activities that we can work on at home to keep his progress going.

Jennifer N

North Shore Pediatric Therapy (NSPT) has changed our lives for the better! My six year old son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder when he was 3. Getting through a day was a difficult journey for the entire family until we began to get Occupational Therapy services (OT) for him. We see Ellyn, an OT at the Highland Park office, and she acts not only as an advocate for my son helping him strengthen his areas of weakness, but also as a great support system for me (mom). The entire NSPT team has been fantastic. I highly recommend them!


Our daughter is currently 3.5 years old. Since birth, we knew something wasn’t quite right. Her colic lasted nearly a year and when the colic broke, whining/crying/severe tantrums began. She was evaluated at 3 and 24 months by an OT for potential sensory processing issues and both came back inconclusive. We had her seen by a behavioral specialist as well as a developmental pediatrician. No one was able to help our struggled daughter or us. Until Dec 2013 when we came to North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Highland Park….we met Ellyn Kearney. She understood our daughter before she even met her. Ellyn has changed our lives and how we live day to day. Our daughter suffered from severe sensory processing issues despite being a healthy beautiful child. The progress noted from my child is remarkable. Thank you NSPT and Thank you Ellyn.


My 6 year-old son was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism/PPD-NOS around age 3 1/2 years old. After searching and looking for Occupational Therapy services we started coming to North Shore Pediatric Therapy in April 2013. We began seeing Shannon Phelan here at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Bucktown for his OT services. We have seen a tremendous amount of growth in his OT Fine & Gross Motor skills: holding a pen/pencil, writing his letters and numbers and working on his Sensory Processing Integration. We are extremely pleased with our Occupational Therapist, Shannon and the entire North Shore Pediatric Staff. I would highly recommend coming here if you need Occupational Therapy services for your child.

Melinda V

I completed my Level II Fieldwork at NSPT in Bucktown in 2011. From the moment I walked in on the first day it was clear that NSPT created a supportive environment that would further my development as a professional and as an occupational therapist. The sense of community created a comfortable environment to collaborate with other disciplines. Not only was my clinical instructor invested in my learning, but so was the whole staff. Through this experience at NSPT, I found my passion for working within pediatrics. I increased my clinical knowledge, clinical reasoning and confidence during this time. I would highly recommend this site for occupational therapy students looking for a well-rounded and challenging experience.


I completed my second Level 2 fieldwork experience at North Shore Pediatric Therapy and could not have enjoyed my time more. I learned invaluable lessons about the world of pediatric occupational therapy all in a warm and welcoming environment created by staff members of all disciplines. I would highly recommend this fieldwork experience to anyone interested in working with children.


I was able to complete my Level 2 occupational therapy fieldwork at NSPT. It was a great experience! I was challenged educationally and clinically, and as a result came out of the experience with a greater knowledge about sensory integration, fine and gross motor skills, and how to evaluate and treat a wide variety of children in an outpatient setting. My supervisor and all of the staff made me feel welcome and a part of the team!


I completed my second Level 2 fieldwork at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Glenview and Bucktwon in the Spring of 2012. I enjoyed my experience so much that I am now an employee at NSPT! Overall, I had a very positive yet challenging learning experience that supported growth in my clinical and professional skills. Not only did I grow my OT skills and knowledge but I was able to learn about and collaboate with many different disciplines including social work, physcial therapy, speech language pathology, neuropsychology, etc. NSPT is able to provide students a unique experience to learn how to treat the whole child to help them function at their fullest potential!

Sara Probasco

I had the opportunity to complete my Level 1C fieldwork experience at North Shore Pediatric Therapy Bucktown. I was incredibly impressed by the knowledge and professionalism of all the staff and their work with the clients and their parents. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I highly recommend this site for any level 1 or 2 OT student interested in pediatrics. I wish I could have stayed longer.