SPD vs just being sensitive

I have found that there appears to be a bit of confusion as to what it means to be sensory sensitive.

This confusion comes in many forms.

One area of confusion is often with children. I have read about and seen several instances where children display very poor behavior and their parent(s) explains that they have a sensory processing disorder (or something of that nature). While I don’t doubt that children with sensory sensitivities are prone to tantrums, meltdowns, and strange behavior or movements, SPD is becoming the name given to out-of-control children as an excuse for their behavior.

For example, I was in a bookstore and there was a young boy running around, making too much noise, taking things off the shelves, and generally causing mayhem and not caring what his mother had to say about it. I overheard his mother tell someone, “Well, he has the sensory processing thing, so…”


Who knows. Maybe this four year old boy did have sensory issues, but that shouldn’t be the excuse for his unruly behavior. Unfortunately, I see this a lot. It is becoming a default diagnosis for badly behaved children who don’t fit into other categories. It sounds like this:

“Your child likes to throw and break stuff? SPD.”

“Your child doesn’t listen to you at all? SPD.”

“Your child screams and punches you? SPD.”

This is very scary, considering the fact that I know how real SPD is, and that there are many children and adults with it, yet, it is becoming very much like ADHD in that it is being overly-used to compensate for lack of decent parenting or other issues in children. Then what happens is that people who DO have sensory issues are not taken seriously by the medical community.


The second area of confusion I’ve noticed is that there are people who don’t understand the concept of SPD and claim that every little thing that bothers or annoys them is because of a sensory processing issue. This is not true.

So let me give you a little demonstration:

Person WITHOUT SPD (a generally sensitive person):

Picture 5


Picture 8


Person WITH SPD (a person with a sensory disorder):

Picture 9


Picture 11


Can you see the difference?

A person who is generally sensitive to things may be bothered by something, but they have the ability  to push that sensitivity into the back of their mind. It no longer bothers them, and maybe they notice it….but they have the ability to remain calm and focus on other things despite this sensory annoyance.

A person who has SPD cannot stop perceiving sensory input (unless you are a hypo-sensitive person who needs MORE sensory input, than this little bit doesn’t apply to you, but you get the gist). The jeans are more than uncomfortable – they are disturbing and nothing else matters (NOT EVEN CUPCAKES) because my brain cannot stop being upset with the sensation of denim jeans on my legs. I cannot focus on anything else, and I definitely do not feel calm.

The latter story ends something like this:

Picture 21


I hope this post has helped clarify the difference between being annoyed by a sensation, and having a sensory problem. As usual, comments or discussion is welcome!

Also, here’s me and a giant cupcake:

Picture 22


-xoxo kelly


  1. You’re funny. And educational. Bonus.
    I also couldn’t agree more. My son was recently diagnosed with ASD (he’s three), so I agree there’s the danger of using a label as an excuse. It is something I hope I am never guilty of!

    1. Thanks! And you know your son better than anyone else, so you will most likely know when he’s behaving due to a sensory/ASD reason versus when he’s just being cranky or tired, or a typical three year old.

  2. Oh God yes. The apologetic / enabler / brown, soggy bit of wet lettuce parent. “Oh well you see he / she has (insert whatever here)… it’s a curse with which we’re forced to live”

    Yeah? So if little Johnny is cursed with sensory problems, how come the little shit goes out of his way to create even more noise and chaos given that it’s something he has such a hard time coping with?

  3. I wish I could show this post the the neurologist I saw today. According to her, “70% of the population could be diagnosed with spd.” and I “don’t need a diagnosis for just being sensitive.” Uhhhhh…

      1. Yeah. It can also be hard to tell from a description. I could say “I’m sensitive to noise and light,” and she could interpret that as “I don’t like loud rock concerts,” when what I was actually trying to say was “I shut down crowded hallways and can’t go to movie theaters because they’re too stimulating.”

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