What is Sensory Processing Disorder and how can OTs help?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder? and what is all this talk about how OT's work with Sensory Integration with children?

As an occupational therapist I see children every day that have been diagnosed somewhere on the autism spectrum, or with sensory issues as well as Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, developmental delays and many other disabilities as well.

Let me paint a picture of what my daily work life looks like for you so you can understand how a neuromuscular outpatient Occupational Therapists (OT) treats kids day in and day out. Now you must understand that every therapists approaches things differently and every child is different, but here are some examples of what I do every day.

An outpatient/clinic based OT my focus is to address any issue that a child has related to his or her “occupation” Occupations of a child are; eating, dressing, brushing their teeth, sleeping, going to school, playing, coloring, cutting, playing on the playground, throwing and catching a ball and more. Anything that you do that has a functional purpose is your occupation. If an infant comes to me with a feeding disorder or low tone or decreased motor skills; I can treat them on a weekly basis for any and all of these issues. If a toddler comes to me with a new diagnosis of autism and is non-verbal, has behavior and sensory issues, is unable to tolerate having her teeth brushed because she hates the feel of it etc.; I can treat her using Sensory Integration and behavioral strategies. We may work on things like transitioning from an activity that she likes to an activity that she may not like quite as much. I would work on helping her be less tactile defensive and learn to tolerate having her teeth brushed. We would play games and swing and jump on the trampoline and crash down to the crash pad for sensory input to help organize the sensory system.

Most children that I see that have an ASD diagnosis also have sensory issues but just because someone has sensory processing disorder or sensory issues, does not mean they have autism. We treat the symptoms of the child not the diagnosis, though having a diagnosis can be helpful in knowing what to look for or expect from the child, though again every child is different and responds differently to OT treatment.

Another example of a child I may treat is a child going into 1st grade who needs help with his fine and visual motor skills. Maybe he is unable to form letters correctly or cut out simple shapes. We would work on various activities that help strengthen these skills.

OT can be a very complex profession as we see so many various types of patients and can treat from birth to older adults so sometimes it is hard to understand when your child may need OT.

If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, SPD, ADHD or any other developmental disability, they probably need outpatient/clinic based OT. The school and early intervention can also provide services but they can only address what is educationally relevant and most of these children really need weekly ongoing more intensive therapy from a medically based model in addition to what the education model can provide. Many times your insurance will cover outpatient services for your child.

More to come on what OT can provide for your child on the autism spectrum or with sensory issues in future blogs.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me via our website at or

Thanks for reading,

Britt Collins M.S. OTR/L