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The 3 Primary Patterns and Subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder

The 3 Primary Patterns and Subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorder

How Occupational Therapy Can Help Kids With SPD

  • It’s essential that we understand which type of sensory “short circuit” we’re dealing with in order to be able to provide the best interventions and to recommend the most effective tools and equipment.
  • It’s equally important for kids to learn about how their own bodies and brains work.
  • Once kids and adults better understand how their brains are wired, they can become more aware of their sensory triggers and learn what types of sensory tools help them to feel better while calming the body and mind.
  • The goal is to help kids go from feeling helpless and out of control to feeling empowered and confident in how they manage their own sensory challenges throughout the day.

Based upon current research we know the following to be true:

  • Current research indicates there are 6 primary subtypes that fall under the 3  primary patterns.
  • A person may have anywhere from 1 to 8 of the sensory systems affected (Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive systems).
  • Typically, there will be a predominant cluster of symptoms to be able to identify which subtype of SPD is expressed the most strongly. However, it is not uncommon for a child to have a combination or some overlap between the patterns.
  • Occupational therapists who have had advanced training in clinical observations for sensory integrative dysfunction along with standardized testing and parent, teacher and child report, can assess which sub-type of SPD is the predominant pattern, based upon how it is expressed both clinically and behaviorally.
  • Other factors such as home life and school environment may influence the severity of the symptoms.
    • Example: if bright lights are a trigger and a child’s home has natural or dim lighting, then the child’s problem with processing visual input may not be noticeable at home.  However, this same child, when working under the fluorescent lights of the classroom, one might observe an over-responsive reaction in response to the visual input (that’s not normally a problem at home).

Pattern 1:  Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

The child has difficulty regulating responses to sensory input.

The 3 Sub-types

1.  Sensory Over Responsivity (SOR)

2.  Sensory Under Responsivity (SUR)

3.  Sensory Craving (SC)



Pattern 2:  Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

The child has difficulty with balance, motor coordination, and the performance of skilled, non-habitual and/or habitual motor tasks.

The 3 Sub-types

1.  Somatodyspraxia

2.  Bilateral Integration and Sequencing Deficits (BIS)

3.  Postural Ocular Disorder (PO)

Somatodyspraxia and Bilateral Integration and Sequencing Deficits commonly co-occur.  Also known as Dyspraxia.


Pattern 3:  Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

The child has difficulty interpreting subtle qualities of objects, places, people or other environments.  One or more of the sensory systems may be impacted:  Vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular, proprioceptive and/or the interoceptive sense.

Note: The chart and pattern descriptions are based upon the research of Dr. Lucy Jane Miller (STAR Institute of Research)

Click Here to learn more about The 8 sensory systems

What Every Parent Should Know About Sensory Processing Disorder

What Every Parent Should Know About Sensory Processing Disorder

15 Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder


This blog post is especially for parents! 

First off, thank you for visiting Play It Forward, it shows that you are invested in your child’s development and learning more about “what makes your child tick?”

Often kids with Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD spend large amounts of energy just trying to get through the day.  It takes an in ordinate amount of energy just to “hold it together” between the demands of school and your child’s brain and body working hard to make sense of sensations that others may not seem to notice or find bothersome.

I believe that kids want to do well and will perform well if they can.  If they can’t, then it’s our job to find out why and figure out ways that we can support them.

If your child is struggling to participate in typical activities and daily routines, take a closer look at what may be triggering the behaviors (e.g. melt downs, anxiety, stress, shutting down or not participating).

Granted, there are times when kids can be little stinkers, but for the most part, it’s worth taking some time to reflect on how sensory processing challenges are impacting your child’s behavior.

It’s not only important for parents to seek knowledge on behalf of their child’s well being and development, but it is equally important for kids to better understand how their brain and body works.

Once kids have a better understanding and can learn tools for how to cope with SPD, it’s an empowering feeling for them to be able to know that they have the tools to cope with their sensory processing differences.

But the first step is in recognizing how sensory processing is affecting them in their daily lives.  There are several formal standardized assessments and caregiver questionnaire such as the Sensory Profile or Sensory Processing Measure that you can access when evaluated by an OT.

This list highlights the major or most noticeable areas of sensory integration dysfunction.  It’s not a comprehensive list but rather to be used as a tool to get you thinking about the reasons why your child responds the way he or she does in certain situations.

Questions to Ponder…

  • What are your sensory preferences?
  • Are they the same or different from your child?
  • Think about when you were a child, what was your sensory learning preference or style?
  • What types of activities did you gravitate towards and what types of activities did you avoid?


You may also like The 8 Sensory Systems  Click here

The 3 Primary Patterns of Sensory Processing Disorder  Click here

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