How To Help a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder Succeed in Speech Therapy

As SLPs, comprehending the sensory needs of children with sensory processing disorder allows us to better understand, help, and have more effective speech therapy sessions.

It is not uncommon for a child with sensory processing disorder (SPD) to also receive speech services. SPD is especially common in those diagnosed with autism – research shows 78% of autistic children present with sensory difficulties! [1] Often times children with SPD are viewed as lazy or as having behavioral issues, when in reality the sensory problems are the cause. This is why it is crucial that, as SLPs, we gain an understanding of SPD and how to help a child with their sensory needs. In doing so, we can understand the root of the behavior, avoid meltdowns, and make progress in intervention.


Children with SPD do not have adequate sensory processing skills to receive, organize, interpret and respond to sensory information efficiently. This negatively affects their attention, behavior, and development.


sensory processing disorder

Indicators that a child may have sensory processing disorder:

  • Unusually high activity level
  • Unusually low activity level
  • Displays poor body awareness – clumsy, difficulty with balance and motor skills
  • Unpredictable and/or unsafe behaviors
  • Behavior issues – short attention span, impulsivity, excessive tantrums
  • Takes a long time to learn a new skill
  • Display low muscle tone – floppy, leans on others for support
  • Difficulty with academic areas despite normal intelligence
  • Difficulty with gross and fine motor skills – handwriting, using scissors, tying shoes, buttoning, etc.
  • Avoids certain textures while eating or playing

You may know that a child on your caseload has SPD because they have a diagnosis and are seeing an occupational therapist (OT). If you suspect a child has SPD, recommend them for an OT evaluation.
*Speech-language pathologists do not diagnose or treat SPD.


Little stimulation overloads the sensory system. High-alert.

  • Hyper-Responsive Type: high level of arousal, distracted (eye darting and fidgety), irritable, impulsive
  • Avoidant Type: high level of arousal, fearful, anxious, avoids engagement and stimulation

Requires a lot of stimulation to register sensory information. Lethargic.

  • Hypo-Responsive Type: low level of arousal, lack of interest, passive engagement
  • Sensory-Seeking Type: low level of arousal, seeks excessive movements, takes risks


hands in sand.jpg


Overall, try to decrease sensory experiences. A quiet, dim, enclosed space is ideal. If the child starts to get over-stimulated, use calming sensory strategies such as firm squeezes, rocking, or white noise. Avoid any toys or games with unexpected movements, loud sounds, or that are scented (markers, play dough). Using a visual schedule can help them anticipate future sensory experiences.

Overall, try to increase sensory experiences. Create a sensory-rich environment for the child to explore and engage with. Use alerting sensory strategies to help the child engage. For example, jumping, swinging, tickling, loud noises, crashing on a pad, and using sensory bins can help with the child’s attention. Try using novel and motivating toys and activities to increase engagement and sensory reactivity. The use of a visual schedule is also helpful.

If the child is older and aware of their sensory difficulties, encourage them to communicate when they are feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Discuss their sensory strategies with them and help him or her with them. If the student is seeing an OT, talk with them to get their suggestions of how to help that particular student with their sensory needs.

Websites for more information regarding SPD:

[1] Miller, L.J., S. Schoen, J.Coll, B. Brett-Green, and M. Reale. Final report: Quantitative psychophysiologic evaluation of Sensory Processing in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Los Angeles, CA: Cure Autism Now, February 2005.

[2] Miller, L.J., Nielsen, D.M., Schoen, S.A. (2012). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sensory modulation disorder: A comparison of behavior and physiology. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(3), 804-818. 

Allison Fors has primarily worked with diagnoses of autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. My journey began when I realized most materials I was using weren’t engaging enough and weren’t targeted to effectively teach these populations. I realized I need to adjust my teaching to each child’s learning style and that the best learning happened when it didn’t feel like work!
That’s when I began making my own resources  –  especially for my non-verbal, low attention kids. I found that interactive and engaging resources were an effective way to make progress with my students. You can find her resources and tip art on TPT   You can read more on her blog here.