From the later half of the 19th Century on, the solution to the "problem" of the disabled or mentally ill was to isolate them from society (L'arche, 2014), so we can infer that this was a possible fate for those with SPD. Those exhibiting typical symptoms of the disorder, such as violent reactions to certain smells or loud noises, spinning in circles on the floor, or putting random objects in the mouth, could have been perceived as mentally ill and placed in an institution. At the time, caregivers thought they were doing what was best for those they labeled as disabled- a reflection of limited understanding and low expectations (L'arche, 2014). Thankfully, attitudes have changed, and society has come a long way in its treatment of our most vulnerable, with the current goal of parents, caregivers, teachers, and occupational therapists being that children with SPD and other disabilities, become contributing members of society who reach their full potential (Anderson and Emmons, 2005).
Much of our understanding of SPD today, is credited to the work of Dr. A. Jean Ayres, a dedicated occupational therapist and psychologist who was the first to investigate the way the brain processes sensory information, and how that affects learning, emotions and behavior (Sensory Integration Global Network, 2016). In the 1950's and 60's Ayres developed what is known as Sensory Integration Theory, and taught her systematic method of assessment, and treatment to others in her field (Kranowitz, 1998). Since then, many brilliant minds have continued to build on her research and find ways to understand and treat this common, yet misunderstood disorder.
Building on Ayres' work, research shows that those with SPD can improve the brain's ability to process information through treatment which consists of Occupational Therapy, in a sensory rich environment.
This therapy includes activities that provide stimulation to the proprioceptive, vestibular, auditory, and tactile senses. A carefully selected assortment of brushes, swings, scooter boards, balance beams and other specially designed equipment is often used (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016).
According to Kranowitz, author of "The Out of Sync Child" (1998),
Treatment helps the child process all of the senses, so they can work together. When a child actively engages in meaningful activities that provide the intensity, duration, and quality of sensation his central nervous system craves, his adaptive behaviour improves. Adaptive behaviour leads to better sensory processing (p. 48).
Kranowitz goes on to point out that children will not simply grow out of SPD. In fact, the condition and symptoms may become more severe if untreated, as the child is faced with the increasing demands of daily life (1998).
Temple Grandin addresses sensory issues as well, and suggests a "sensory diet", including types of therapy such as heavy work activities, weighted blankets, chewing, brushing and swinging. According to Grandin, if a type of therapy is working, the child will want to do it and it will produce a positive behavioural outcome, such as fewer meltdowns and better focus (Grandin, 2012).
Figure 4: A. Jean Ayres. Retrieved from
Figure 3: Woodlands Institution New Westminster. BC Retrieved from:
Figure 5: Senses Image
Figure 6: Temple Grandin: Sensory Issues and Sensitivity
Temple Grandin, on Sensory Sensitivity