Processing disorders, like auditory processing disorder, visual processing disorder, and sensory processing disorder are caused by a deficiency in a person’s ability to effectively use the information gathered by the senses. The issue is not the result of impaired hearing, impaired vision, attention disorders, intellectual disability, or cognitive deficit.
If the brain cannot properly process the auditory, visual, and sensory information it receives, a child’s ability to learn and thrive in an academic setting is affected, often leading to low self-esteem and social withdrawal (1). While processing disorders are not featured in the DSM-IV as stand-alone disorders, they are widely recognized as co-morbid issues for children with developmental delays.
Types of Processing Disorders
- Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), also called central auditory processing disorder, is characterized by an inability to process, interpret, and retain what a person hears. Children with APD may struggle to understand speech in noisy environments, mix up similar speech sounds, fail to follow directions, and misunderstand verbal instruction in the classroom, all of which lead to difficulty in task completion, both at home and at school.
- Visual Processing Disorder is characterized by an abnormality in the brain’s ability to process and interpret what the eyes see. A child with visual processing issues may struggle to differentiate between size, shape, and colour of objects, confuse written symbols like those used in calculations, misjudge distance, and experience poor spatial awareness, often resulting in frequent falls or bumping into objects despite normal vision tests.
- Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), also called sensory integration dysfunction, is a neurological difference characterized by either a hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to one’s surroundings due to the brain’s inability to properly integrate multi-sensory input. While all children may be quirky or particular about their likes and dislikes, children with SPD are so severely affected by their sensory preferences that it interferes with normal, everyday functioning. Children with hypersensitivity to sensory input may exhibit extreme or fearful responses to touch, textures, noise, crowds, lights, and smells, even when these inputs seem benign to others. Children with hyposensitivity to sensory input may exhibit an under-reaction or high tolerance to pain, may constantly and inappropriately touch or bump into people and objects, be fidgety, and are often characterized as “thrill seekers,” leading to inadvertently putting themselves or others in danger.