Distinguishing Sensory Processing Disorder from Autism

Hi everyone, 

I came across this article and I thought it was a good one to share! Although Autism awareness is on the rise, fewer people know about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If you would like some general information about SPD and Autism, check out the websites pasted below: 

Autism: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

SPD: http://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html

Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) and autism (ASD) are two conditions that can exist one without the other or they can be comorbid. Making a clear distinction between the two is important especially since SPD can look like autism. SPD is diagnosed by an occupational therapist that is trained in sensory integration. A child with SPD can easily be misdiagnosed for a child with ASD due to sensory processing problems/symptoms children with autism experience. As I have defined in previous blogs, ASD is a neurological disorder that affects normal brain function and significantly impacts development of the person’s communication and social interaction skills. SPD was formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction.” Our neurological system helps process signals received from our senses by turning them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Therefore, SPD affects how a person receives, integrates and makes sense of sensory information.

According to the Sensory Processing Disorders Organization, 1 in 20 children suffer from SPD. In addition, high rates of SPD are often found in children with autism. However, according to the SPD Foundation most children with SPD do not have autism. They are described as two separate conditions. Consequent to similarities, children with SPD run the risk of misdiagnosis.

Here are some ways to distinguish SPD in young children, as the characteristics below are unique to SPD. As always, feel free to post any questions. 🙂

  • Problems eating
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Extremely irritable when I dress him/her; seems to be uncomfortable in clothes.
  • Rarely plays with toys, especially those requiring dexterity
  • Difficulty shifting focus from one object/activity to another
  • Does not notice pain or is slow to respond when hurt
  • Resists cuddling, arches back away from the person holding him
  • Cannot calm self by sucking on a pacifier, looking at toys, or listening to my voice
  • Has a “floppy” body, bumps into things and has poor balance
  • Does little or no babbling, vocalizing
  • Is easily startled
  • Extremely active and is constantly moving body/limbs or runs endlessly
  • Seems to be delayed in crawling, standing, walking or running


Reference: Ospina, Darlida. “Distinguishing Sensory Processing Disorders and Autism.”Speaking of Autism: Across Contexts and Ages :. AdvanceWeb, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. http://community.advanceweb.com/blogs/sp_12/archive/2014/02/13/distinguishing-sensory-processing-disorders-and-autism.aspx?utm_campaign=964904&utm_content=9568532868&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Emailvision>.



2 thoughts on “Distinguishing Sensory Processing Disorder from Autism

  1. Great read. I have a son that is asd and spd and a daughter with spd. The differences are there but if you dont know that they are I can see why there could be misdiagnosis.

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