What is sensory processing disorder?

Sensory Processing DisorderHave you ever seen a child who appears to be “out of sync” with how they interact with their environment? Children with sensory processing issues have great difficulty processing and acting upon information received through their senses. It may be that somehow the sensory signals in the brain are not available or they just don’t get organized enough to respond appropriately. The result is children develop sensory- seeking or sensory- avoiding patterns because their nervous systems do not process the sensory input coming into the brain. Consequently, they manifest over-sensitivity (hyper) and/or under-sensitivity (hypo) reactions or both.

There are seven senses involved in a child’s development which are necessary for processing information: hearing or auditory processing which is connected to language and communication; touch or somatosensory or tactile which is touching the skin; taste (gustatory) and smell (olefactory) having difficulty with food textures and are picky eaters; vision (lens and prisms) which supports hand/eye coordination; vestibular which is the system that gives a sense of balance and spatial orientation; and proprioception which is the muscle and joint movement and sense of self. On a daily basis, sensory processing can create many significant challenges, behaviors and disruptions for these children.

What your doctor will tell you about sensory processing?

Your child’s pediatrician may suggest sensory-based therapies such as Occupational Therapy with Sensory Integration (SI) as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for your child. However, your pediatrician will inform you that the amount of research regarding the effectiveness of SI therapy is limited and inconclusive. He or she may also discuss the limitations of the treatment, suggest a doing a trial period of SI therapy, teach you how to evaluate the effectiveness of this therapy and discuss whether the therapy is actually working to achieve your child’s goals in the treatment plan. It is not very clear to pediatricians whether children who present with sensory-based problems actually have a “disorder” of the sensory pathways of the brain or whether these deficits are characteristics of other developmental or behavioral disorders. In fact, your child’s pediatrician will probably make you aware that processing difficulties and issues with tolerating sensory information are characteristics also seen in autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood anxiety disorders and developmental coordination disorders. Therefore, most likely your child’s pediatrician will request further testing as well as a thorough evaluation to be more conclusive.

Another way to think about sensory processing:

When something as routine as a haircut, brushing your teeth, hearing the vacuum, a crowded store, drawing blood, or eating food is an excruciating experience for a child, it is more than likely because they are in pain trying to communicate that their body feels as though it is being attacked by their external environment. A healthy microbiome is fundamental to all brain functioning and the Gut/Brain connection needs to be functioning in order to for sensory information to be processed appropriately. In the brain are chemical messengers that transmit signals from one neuron to another telling the brain and body what to do. These messengers are called “neurotransmitters” (NT) and they are also located in our gastrointestinal tract which allows for communication with the brain. Amino acids, which come from protein, feed the NTs and the NTs in turn tell the brain cells how to motor plan, process sensory information, have appropriate behavior, formulate normal muscle tone and so on. Therefore, implementing a nutritional and dietary supplement regime (probiotics, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes), removing all grains, adding fermented foods, going organic, cleaning up the artificial additives and chemical food preservatives, addressing any food and environmental allergies, using homeopathy and not drug medications, doing a multitude of sensory processing therapies (see below)and removing all stressors likely to affect your child’s immune system will dramatically change over time how your child navigates their world.

Sensory processing checklist to start:

  • Make dietary changes. Eat whole foods; buy organic. Remove all GMO, fast and processed foods and those with colors, artificial ingredients, preservatives, phenols, salicylates and inflammatory foods such as casein, gluten, soy. Strictly limit sugars, salt, and white refined carbohydrates. Join the Feingold Association www.Feingold.org to learn more.
  • Include plenty of good quality fats, such as coconut and olive oil, avocados, wild salmon, organic chicken and turkey, ghee, eggs, etc. and take essential fatty acids and MCT (coconut) Oil.
  • Heal the gut with GAPS, PALEO, or (GF/CF) Gluten Free/Casein Free, Body Ecology Diet, Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic Diet) are all possible diets depending on the needs of the child.
  • Clean up your environment. Remove animals (both live and stuffed!), carpets. Use non-toxic cleaners, building materials. Green your home!
  • Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests that give information about possible food sensitivities and allergies, Test for Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG,IgA,IgE and IgM. Other testing could show deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, bacterial overgrowth and gluten and casein sensitivities.
  • Use homeopathy specific for sensory processing issues (Belladonna, Stramonium, Nux Vomica, Tarantula Hispana) Consider using Schueller’s cell tissue salts which can be effective as well. Sequential homeopathy can also be specific for sensory processing symptoms if needed.
  • Add fermented foods and probiotics daily to keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong. Eat keifer yogurts and fermented vegetables, umeboshi plums (very alkalizing) and miso soup. Some good probiotics are VSL#3, Gut Pro, Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics, Garden of Life, and Culturelle.
  • Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements such as zinc picolinate, omega fatty acids, chlorophyll, herbal iron, methylcobalamin B12, DHA neuromins, folinic acid, melatonin, trace minerals, fat soluable antioxidants (vit. E), Vit. B6 or P5P, Vit. A, B vitamins, Alpha Lipoic Acid, calendula flower essence, bergamot, geranium , neroli, lavender and wintergreen essential oils skullcap, golden rod, gingko baloba, and lemon balm herbs.
  • Digestive Enzymes such as betaine hydrochloric acid, Vitalzyme Complete with DPPIV for gluten and casein intolerances, proteolytic enzyme, BiCarb, bromelain and papaya,
  • Take Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and sulphur – N’acetylcysteine (NAC) (sulphur) helps with detoxification process and healing of the G.I. tract, MSM transdermal cream and Epsom Salt Bath.
  • See an OT doing Occupational Therapy with Sensory Integration who addresses a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands on equipment and calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses. Empowers parents to problem solve with their children in the moment.
  • See a CranioSacral practitioner who uses approaches rich in vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input; and also does oral motor therapy.
  • See a Chiropractor for spinal cord adjustments, treatment of subluxations and improvement of neurological flow.
  • Do Auditory Integration Therapy (Berard) or Sound Stimulation (Tomatis) to retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system, reduce sound sensitivities.
  • See a well-trained acupuncturist to help treat many of the conditions associated with sensory processing.
  • See a NAET or Bioset practitioner for an allergy elimination treatment to eliminate food allergies.
  • See a Behavioral Optometrist for Vision Therapy and lens and prisms to treat developmental vision problems, hand/eye coordination, and behaviors

If you’ve addressed these issues and are still dealing with sensory processing:

  • Test OAT (Organic Acid Test) by Great Plains Laboratory for yeast overgrowth and Candida, oxalates, and other microbial infections
  • NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas: malabsorption & dysbiosis; cellular energy & mitochondrial metabolism; neurotransmitter metabolism; vitamin deficiencies; and toxin exposure & detoxification need.
  • Homeopathic or Naturopathic physicians can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.
  • Sensory Therapies and Tools: super brain yoga, rock climbing, gymnastics, weighted vests, blanket or belts, HANDLE therapy, Sensory Learning, Tool Chest, the Squeeze Machine, Music Therapy, sensory gym, Deep Pressure Brushing Therapy and sensory tactile toys. 

Still looking for answers? 

Visit the Epidemic Answers Provider Directory to find a practitioner near you.

For further references:

Aguilera M, Cerda-Cuellar M, Martinez V. Antibiotic-induced dysbiosis alters host-bacterial interactions and leads to colonic sensory and motor changes in mice. Gut Microbes. 2015;6(1):10-23  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25531553


Biel, Lindsey.  Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, Revised Edition, 2009  https://www.amazon.com/Raising-Sensory-Smart-Child-Definitive/dp/0143115340

Kranowitz, Carol.  The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder Revised edition. 2006 https://www.amazon.com/Out-Sync-Child-Recognizing-Processing/dp/0399531653