What Causes Sensory Processing Disorder? Can DIR help treat children with SPD?

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Sensory processing disorder occurs when signals from our senses are either not detected or not organized into appropriate responses by our nervous system.

As a result, children with SPD may frequently have motor and behavioral responses that may be inappropriate for the situation they’re in. “What causes sensory processing disorder?” is typically the first question among parents who discover their child has this disorder, and in this post we will help to answer that question for you.

Sensory processing disorder has been largely overlooked by medical professionals because it’s not recognized as being its own disease. A possible reason for this is because sensory processing disorder is frequently seen in children afflicted with ADHD or autism. Since the disorder often occurs alongside other neurological disorders it doesn’t get the specialized treatment or attention that it deserves.

Despite not being listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), sensory processing disorder is said to be more common in children than either autism or ADHD. The disorder affects roughly 5% to 16% of school-aged children. Researchers have been studying what causes sensory processing disorder for years, and it wasn’t until recently that a possible cause has been established.

What Causes Sensory Processing Disorder: What the Research Tells Us

When researching what causes sensory processing disorder, a study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found that children with sensory processing disorder have measurable differences in brain structure. The study from UCSF is the first time that a biological basis for sensory processing disorder has been found, which makes it unique compared to other neurodevelopmental disorders.

The study was conducted amongst young boys with and without sensory processing disorder. Comparing the test subjects using an advanced type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), it was observed that those with sensory processing disorder had abnormal white matter tracts in the brain. White matter is responsible for the brain’s ability to perceive, think, and learn. The abnormalities primarily occurred in the back of the brain, which is an area that serves as the connection for sensory processing.

Researchers describe how the findings of their study prove that there is a distinct difference between sensory processing disorder, and other neurological disorders such as ADHD and autism:\

“More frontal anterior white matter tracts are typically involved in children with only ADHD or autistic spectrum disorders. The abnormalities we found are focused in a different region of the brain, indicating SPD may be neuroanatomically distinct.”

It is said that the abnormalities in white matter tracts in the brains of children with sensory processing disorder can cause delays in the time it takes to process sensory information.

This study is just the beginning, say the researchers at UCSF. Further research needs to be done to examine the connection between children with sensory processing disorder who have also suffered a brain injury or have a known genetic disorder.


In just the past few years it has been discovered that what causes sensory processing disorder is a biological condition that causes abnormal white matter tract. It has also been discovered, without question, that sensory processing disorder is unique compared to other neurological conditions.

Learn why the DIR model is a good fit for treatment of sensory processing disorder in our comprehensive 1 hour video. You can also learn more about the ways to treat SPD in a relationship-based model by registering for DIR-FCD Certificate Level 1 in Social and Emotional Development. Learn more here https://profectum.org/training-programs/basic-course/

For additional information on Sensory Processing Disorder visit https://www.spdstar.org