3 Major Types of Sensory Disorders

Sensory disability is a condition in which a person’s ability to hear, smell, taste, touch, and see gets affected. Such disabilities are the result of different types of sensory disorders. Some sensory disorders1 are curable but some cause life-long sensory problems. The brain’s ability to process sensory information gets affected in most types of sensory disorders.

Do you want to know what are the different types of sensory disorders? Then keep reading till the end. But before diving into the types of sensory disorders, first get an idea about what is sensory processing disorder.

1. Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder2 (SPD) is a kind of neurological disorder that is associated with the brain’s information or sensory processing function. In this disorder, a person can’t able to receive and process sensory stimuli.

As the brain has an important role in the sensory systems to perceive and process sensory information. And this important part of the sensory system gets affected in sensory processing disorder.

It is more common in children than adults. Some people might relate it to autism disorder but both are different. This confusion happens because both disorders are sensory system-related issues. But They have differences “Autism” is a developmental disorder that completely interferes in the development process of children at every stage of development, while “SPD” doesn’t affect much on the development process rather it hinders a child’s senses.

1.1. Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

As this disorder is associated with the sensory system that’s why most of its symptoms are the result of a loss of senses. Sometimes multiple senses are also get affected in children. The symptoms of sensory processing disorders are divided into two categories such as hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. Here are the symptoms children experience in both kinds of sensitivity. Let’s see each one.

1.1.1. Signs of Sensory Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity3 is a condition in which a child shows extremely sensitive behavior to sensory stimulation. Due to hypersensitivity, children quickly respond to each and everything in their surroundings.

Here are some common symptoms of sensory hypersensitivity;

  • Loss of focus due to many sensory inputs.
  • Unable to pay attention to things for a long time.
  • Trouble in adapting.
  • Behavioral issues.
  • Lack of coordination and body control.
  • Emotional disbalance.


types of sensory disorder
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1.1.2. Signs of Sensory Hyposensivity

Sensory hyposensitivity4 is the opposite of hypersensitivity, here, a child seeks to perceive objects and sensations. As in this condition, the responsivity towards all sensations is reduced, so children want to interact with their surroundings for sensory stimulations.

Here are some signs or symptoms of sensory hyposensitivity;

  • Touching objects or things repetitively.
  • No concern for personal space.
  • Interacting with other persons or objects.
  • Clumsy behavior.
  • Giving bear hugs.
  • Confusing behavior.
  • Continuous Movements.
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1.2. Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder

The causes of SPD are still not clear; hence more research and study need to be done in this area. It has been found in some studies that it is due to some prenatal and birth complications. There are many other generic and external factors that are responsible for causing sensory processing difficulties.

  • Premature birth.
  • Maternal deprivation.
  • Prenatal malnutrition.
  • Complications during pregnancy.
  • Alcohol or drug consumption during pregnancy.
  • Frequent childbirths.
  • Nutrition deficiency at an early stage of development.

1.3. Sensory Processing or Sensory Integration

Importance of Sensory Integration

Well, all the information received through sense organs reaches the brain in the form of sensory stimulation. After receiving the sensory input, the brain does the work of processing and then finally interprets the received information.

This phenomenon of receiving and responding to the senses is known as sensory processing or integration. These two terms are used as synonyms due to their similar meaning. So, don’t be confused between sensory integration and sensory processing.

2. Types of Sensory Disorders or Sensory Processing Disorders

What are the types of sensory disorders? There are three major types of sensory disorders that we are going to cover in detail here.

2.1. Sensory Modulation Disorder

What is sensory modulation?

This is the first category of sensory processing disorders which is also further divided into subtypes. In this case, a child experience difficulty in processing sensory information and is unable to give the response required for that sensory stimulation.

2.1.1. Sensory Over Responsivity

Sensory over-responsivity shows intense and quick responses toward each and every sensory stimulus. This type of sensory modulation disorder makes a child overwhelmed with sensory stimulations. As a result, children give fight or flight response to sensory stimuli.

2.1.2. Sensory Under Responsivity

Sensory responsivity5 leads to quiet and passive nature. Less responsive behavior towards any sensory input makes a child less active. Due to this sensory issue, children may hurt themselves as they cannot react on time to sensory stimuli. They can’t even feel the pain when they fall.

2.1.3. Sensory Craving

In this case, a child becomes a seeker of senses. That’s why the child wants as much as possible sensations. Sensory craving behavior shown by the child is excessive touching, licking, jumping, crashing, climbing, biting, and many more sensory-seeking behaviors.

2.2. Sensory-Based Motor Disorder

In this kind of sensory processing disorder, a child face problem doing motor tasks. A child has poor motor skills in the case of sensory-based motor disorder6. The two subtypes of this disorder are;

2.2.1. Dyspraxia

 types of sensory disorders
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Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder, affects an individual’s physical movement and coordination ability. Activities like moving, balancing, and playing games get affected, but intelligence doesn’t. It brings lots of troubles in a child’s development.

Currently, no such treatment is available for dyspraxia, but occupational therapy and speech therapy work well to manage it.

2.2.2. Postural Disorder

The postural disorder is the result of poor postural control. This is also one of the sensory processing problems in which individuals have trouble maintaining proper postures. Due to bad postures, many other issues arise, such as pain, trouble in stretching, and body control issues.

Therapies and exercises work very well to correct all those bad postures and positively cure postural disorders.

2.3. Sensory Discrimination Disorder

A person suffering from this disorder can’t able to differentiate sensory messages. Sensory discrimination means the inability to find differences among sensory stimuli.

Sensory discrimination disorder also causes delays in processing and perceiving sensory stimuli. Individuals with this sensory disorder can’t be able to make decisions. Even forgets the learned things also. That’s why learning for such individuals becomes so difficult.

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Eight domains of senses get affected in the case of sensory discrimination disorder. These eight sensory domains are such as,

2.3.1. Auditory Domain

The problem of auditory discrimination results in difficulty discriminating between actual audio information and background noise. For example, listening to wrong words or experiencing confusion in audio information.

2.3.2. Visual Domain

Visual discrimination helps in distinguishing things by seeing them. But, Visual discrimination troubles a child in his learning process. He can’t able to recognize letters and symbols. As a result, he experiences difficulty in reading and studies also. For example, the problem of sorting objects and numbers.

2.3.3. Tactile Domain

Tactile discrimination means identifying things by touching them. Children with tactile discrimination difficulty cannot understand sensory input by touch. For example, they cannot differentiate between pen and pencil by touch.

2.3.4. Olfactory Domain

Any discrimination problem related to the olfactory domain leads to losing the ability to smell and odor recognition. As a result, the person can’t able to detect any smell. For such people, it becomes so difficult to detect whether food is fresh or not. For example, eating spoiled food.

2.3.5. Vestibular Domain

If a person has vestibular discrimination disorder, then he doesn’t have body awareness. He lacks physical awareness, and as a result, sometimes, he may hurt himself. For such people, doing day-to-day activities becomes hard due to physical distortion. They are not able to balance themselves properly.

2.3.6. Gustatory Domain

If the child has a discrimination disorder related to the gustatory domain, then he will experience difficulty in recognizing different food dishes. They don’t identify the taste and flavor of any food. As a result, they can’t able to experience the flavor of food.

2.3.7. Interoceptive Domain

Café Stillpoint 28: Still, the Native Americans and Osteopathic Principles, Rafael Zegarra-Parodi

The interoceptive domain of sensory discrimination disorder relates to the body’s sensory messages. This domain is essential for processing everyday sensory information produced by body organs. For example, the feeling of tiredness after running or workout.

Due to the interoceptive discrimination problem, a child’s mind cannot process all the sensory stimuli released by internal organs. This will cause more trouble for that person as he/she has poor body awareness. Even if they do workout so hard, they can’t able to notice pain in muscles due to sensory discrimination.

2.3.8. Proprioceptive Domain

This domain is related to motor coordination and muscular movement. If this domain gets affected, a person experiences trouble controlling fine motor skills or activities.

Under this domain of sensory discrimination disorder, a person shows poorly developed movement patterns, sensory-seeking behaviors, and poor coordination. For example, not understanding how much strength require to do any particular motor task.

3. Diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder

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The diagnosis of any sensory disorder can be done through observation. As the symptoms are quite observable, that helps identify the sensory disorders. But the types of sensory disorders are only detected by an occupational therapist or physiotherapist. They can determine the sensory issues through the child’s behaviors and activities.

For accurate diagnosis of types of sensory disorders, some special tests are also used by health professionals. These tests help to identify SPD, as its symptoms might be related to autism or other types of sensory disorders.

3.1 Sensory Processing Measure (SPM)

This is usually used to detect sensory issues in children aged 5 -12. For this, the assessment can be done at home, at school, and at the community.

3.2 Sensory Integration and Praxis Test

SIPT helps to identify the types of sensory disorders by measuring visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and coordinative performances. Sensory integration and praxis tests7 include 17 tests such as oral praxis, postural praxis, constructional praxis, praxis on verbal command, sequencing praxis, space visualization, manual form perception, graphesthesia, design copying, motor accuracy, body balance, bilateral motor coordination, localization of tactile stimuli, figure-ground perception, post rotary nystagmus, finger identification, and kinesthesia.

4. Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorder

All types of sensory disorders are not restricted to a specific area; they affect any body part. That’s why every person with sensory processing disorder has different sensory difficulties. Therefore, before beginning any therapy or treatment, your doctor will first detect sensory processing issues. And in this, understanding the child’s behaviors help a lot.

Sensory Processing Disorders

The treatment of SPD or sensory integration involves various therapies. The most common is occupational therapy and some lifestyle change also. The main objective of sensory integration is to bring back senses to normal so that the person obtains sensory stimulation and processes them.

4.1. Through Medication

Treating sensory processing issues through medications is impossible, as no medications are available. But the symptoms of SPD can be reduced by using certain drugs. These drugs are methylphenidate and amphetamine-based stimulants that work efficiently to regain sense.

4.2. Through Therapy

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Therapies are the best way to treat SPD and are used by most health professionals. Through therapy, occupational therapist or doctors try to bring the child’s senses back and function to normal stimuli.

Treating all types of sensory disorders can be done through therapies, and various kinds of therapies are used. The most common therapies are such as;

4.2.1. Occupation Therapy

An occupational therapist helps a child to do all those activities which he/she is not able to do due to sensory issues. This therapy reduces the symptoms of sensory processing disorder spd and improves a child’s motor skills and everyday tasks.

4.2.2. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy works effectively to treat sensory issues related to movement and coordination. This therapy is considered best for all types of sensory disorders, including, sensory modulation disorder, sensory-motor-based disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.

4.2.3. Sensory Integration Therapy

Trained therapists are required to perform SI therapy. This therapy is done in a controlled environment. For all types of sensory disorders, therapists use this therapy to assist children in doing all functional activities.

This therapy includes techniques, fun activities, and exercises regularly practiced by the children. The therapist designs all activities in this therapy program to stimulate sensory responses.

4.2.4. Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is not related to eating patterns, and it is a group of activities used by therapists to assist a child with sensory issues. Only occupational therapists or certified occupational therapy assistants can design and prescribe a sensory diet according to a child’s needs and sensory problems.

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All the activities included in a sensory diet covers all five senses and help a child to respond according to sensory stimuli experienced by him.

4.3. Through Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle change accelerates the treatment process of spd. It not only enhances the result of therapies but also improves sensory experiences. What lifestyle changes are required in spd treatment depends on the patient’s condition. Therapists and doctors work to design patients’ daily routines and activities for the treatment of sensory issues.

5. Some Other Types of Sensory Disorders

Although sensory processing disorder affects the sensory system, many other sensory disorders cause sensory disability. The main reason for all the sensory issues is the brain’s or sensory systems’ inability to process sensory information.

5.1. Schizophrenia

It is more than a sensory disorder. It is a serious disorder that affects mental health. A person’s emotions, behavior, and cognitive areas get affected very seriously in schizophrenia. That’s why it takes lifelong treatment.


5.2. Sensory Overload

It is a situation in which a person gets more sensory stimulation. Due to lots of sensory stimuli, the brain can’t handle them and fails to process all the sensory inputs. Sensory overload is not a single sensory issue; it is also associated with various other sensory processing issues like sensory processing disorder, attention deficit disorder, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

5.3. Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder8 is a kind of sensory disorder and a developmental disability. Development is not only about physical growth; it also covers emotional, social, behavioral, and cognitive domains.

All these areas get affected by this disorder. A person with such a disorder shows repetitive behavior, sensory hypersensitivity, and a lack of social communication.

5.4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

This is another sensory and developmental disorder. It is mostly observed in the childhood stage, but sometimes it occurs in adults, also. Children with this disorder experience hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsive behavior.

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Q1. What is a Sensory Disorder?

When the body cannot respond properly to the sensory stimuli due to the brain’s loss of senses processing function. This is the primary reason associated with many sensory disorders.

Q2. What are the Sensory Systems?

The sensory system is a part of the nervous system. It receives all the sensory inputs and sends them to the brain to interpret received information.

Q3. What is the Role of Sensory Receptors?

It plays an important role in capturing sensory stimuli and converting them into nerve impulses.

Q4. What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration is interpreting and processing sensory input or information by the sensory systems.

  1. Koziol, Leonard F., Deborah Ely Budding, and Dana Chidekel. “Sensory integration, sensory processing, and sensory modulation disorders: Putative functional neuroanatomic underpinnings.” The Cerebellum 10.4 (2011): 770-792. ↩︎
  2. Kranowitz, Carol Stock. The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. Penguin, 2006. ↩︎
  3. Müller, K. O. “Hypersensitivity.” Plant pathology, an advanced treatise 1 (1959): 469-519. ↩︎
  4. Zachor, Ditza Antebi. “SENSORY HYPOSENSITIVITY IS ASSOCIATED WITH MORE SEVERE CLINICAL PRESENTATION IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER.” International Journal of Child Health and Human Development 6.4 (2013): 377. ↩︎
  5. Aron, Elaine N., Arthur Aron, and Jadzia Jagiellowicz. “Sensory processing sensitivity: A review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 16.3 (2012): 262-282. ↩︎
  6. Niutanen, Ulla, et al. “Systematic review of sensory processing in preterm children reveals abnormal sensory modulation, somatosensory processing and sensory‐based motor processing.” Acta Paediatrica 109.1 (2020): 45-55. ↩︎
  7. Ayres, A. Jean. Sensory integration and praxis tests (SIPT). Los Angeles: Western psychological services (WPS), 1996. ↩︎
  8. Sharma, Samata R., Xenia Gonda, and Frank I. Tarazi. “Autism spectrum disorder: classification, diagnosis and therapy.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 190 (2018): 91-104. ↩︎

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Laveleena Sharma

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