Research News: Biological Markers Found for Sensory Processing Disorder

Elaine Tsang MS, OTR/L
June 27, 2023

Sensory processing disorders (SPD) are more prevalent in children than autism and as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, yet the condition receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease. Now research has shown that children with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure.

What did the study find?
Researchers at UC San Francisco found that children with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure. The braining imaging technology was used to look at the white matter in the brains of children diagnosed with SPD and compare those images to the images of white matter in the brains of children without SPD. They found abnormal microstructure of sensory white matter tracts in children with SPD. This abnormality likely changes the timing of transmitting sensory information so that processing sensory stimuli and integrating that information across multiple senses can be difficult or impossible.

What does that mean?
Knowing that there are differences in the brain structure of children with SPD shows a biological basis for SPD that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders. SPD is frequently overlooked because it so often occurs in children who also have ADD or autism.

How can this help my child?
Having a biological basis for SPD means that it can be more easily measured and, therefore diagnosed. This biological distinction can also lead to medical professionals and therapists better-supporting children with SPD. Eventually, it may also lead to greater funding for services for children with SPD.


Owens, J.P., Marco, E.J., Desai, S., Fourie, E., Harris, J., Hill, S.S., . . . Mukherjee, P. (2013). Abnormal white matter microstructure in children with sensory processing disorders.
NeuroImage: Clinical, 2, 844-853.

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