Many parents ask, “What is the difference between Autism (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? Are they the same thing?”  They are two distinct diagnoses.  Some children just have SPD or ASD, while other children demonstrate both.

What is SPD?  Sensory Processing Disorder, originally called Sensory Integration Dysfunction, refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses (, 2017). SPD is exhibited when sensory signals are not organized into appropriate responses. You process sensation all day long.

Whether you are biting into a crunchy food, riding a scooter, or simply lying on a firm sofa, you are processing sensation in some way.   SPD can affect one or more of the senses and varies from person to person.  Someone with SPD may be over-responsive to environmental stimuli.  For example, the touch of firm paper, or a soft shirt may set off a tantrum or meltdown.  Others may be under-responsive to environmental stimuli.  They may not be able to determine excessively hot or cold temperatures.  Children with this disorder may be uncoordinated, moody, and bump into things.  They may be unable to know where their body is in space, have unusual eating habits, and have difficulty engaging in play.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? The National Institute of Mental Health defines ASD as the name for a group of developmental disorders, which include a wide “spectrum” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability ( 2016).  ASD can be characterized by difficulty interacting with peers, language impairment, and repetitive behaviors.  Some children with autism may have difficulty expressing emotions. Autism is a developmental disorder that has symptoms related to delayed social skills, language, and obsessive interests, while SPD is a sensory disorder with symptoms caused by reactions to sensory stimuli.

It is important to know that a child with SPD can easily be misdiagnosed for a child with ASD, due to similar sensory symptoms. However, the SPD Foundation explains that most children with SPD do not have autism.IMG_3173If you have any questions regarding SPD or ASD, please contact us to speak to an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration.  The occupational therapist will be able address  any concerns you may have.

Janna Hacker and Associates   901-328-2110