Special Learning Logo Light
What Is SPD? Can ABA Be Used For SPD?

Can ABA be used for SPD?

Can ABA be used for SPD? What is SPD? Sensory processing refers to how the brain receives sensations from the world. When an individual’s sensory processing functions inefficiently, it leads to disorganization in the brain, affecting their ability to stay synchronized with their surroundings. Estimations from literature suggest that as many as 40 – 88% of children diagnosed with other disorders may also have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) (Adrien et al., 1993; Dahlgren & Gillberg, 1989; Kientz & Dunn, 1997; Ornitz, Guthrie, & Farley, 1977; Talay-Ongan & Wood, 2000).

Individuals with SPD need to regulate their internal states in order to stay synchronized and appropriately respond to various environmental activities.

Doctors, therapists, and parents have been giving a lot of attention to the recent diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. As this is a new diagnosis, it is not yet included in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and the medical field and funding agencies, such as insurance companies, often do not recognize it. Although Occupational Therapists (OTs) are best suited for diagnosing sensory-related issues, professionals in other disciplines, such as ABA and Speech, can also successfully address sensory-related issues.

What are the causes?

Sensory processing is how the brain receives sensations. When sensory processing is inefficient, it disorganizes the brain, affecting synchronization with surroundings. Estimates suggest that 40 – 88% of children diagnosed with other disorders also have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) (Adrien et al., 1993; Dahlgren & Gillberg, 1989; Kientz & Dunn, 1997; Ornitz, Guthrie, & Farley, 1977; Talay-Ongan & Wood, 2000).

Although it is not yet included in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), often unrecognized by the medical field and funding agencies. Occupational Therapists (OTs) diagnose sensory-related issues, but other professionals, like ABA and Speech experts, can address them too. According to Bonnie Hanschu, disordered brain chemicals in the limbic system and brainstem cause sensory processing difficulties. Lack of circuitry for proper sensation processing is another factor. SPD affects individuals regardless of ability or disability, like Autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, Anxiety, etc. It presents a spectrum of issues.

Signs of SPD, although not limited to, may include the following:

  • Auditory: Individuals may have hypersensitivity to everyday noises.
  • Tactile: They may experience hypersensitivity to touch.
  • Oral: Hypersensitivity to foods, textures, tastes, etc., may be present.
  • Visual: They may exhibit hypersensitivity to lights.

Individuals with SPD engage in maladaptive behaviors, such as tantrums when startled. They may struggle to sit still, follow directions, or experience sensory overload. When an individual with sensory-related issues receives therapy from multiple professionals, it is beneficial for the entire treatment team (BCBAs, SLPs, OTs, Psychologists) to collaborate and collectively address this condition across therapy settings. Since SPD is often associated with behaviors resulting from over or under-reaction to stimulation, such as taste, smell, sound, or touch, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) strategies can effectively treat these resulting behaviors using desensitization protocols.

BCBAs view SPD as a target behavior addressed using the ABCs of ABA. Antecedent manipulation is a least restrictive strategy. Collaboration among BCBAs, SLPs, OTs, and Psychologists is crucial for individuals receiving therapy from multiple professionals. ABA strategies, like desensitization protocols, effectively treat SPD-related behaviors.

Special Learning’s online Basic Applied Behavior Analysis Training Course provides comprehensive learning on various ABA strategies that can be used to address sensory-related issues.

Copyright © by Special Learning Inc. All right reserved.

No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, contact Special Learning Inc., at: contact@special-learning.com

Leave A Comment


Parent Waitlist Program


November 02, 2023 | 12pm-1pm PDT

Journey to Independence

Community-based program designed to support families on waitlist

Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
Special Learning’s Free Hotline

This is an independent SL Hotline that is part of our VCAT service. This hotline has no connection with any other association or membership group.

Got a question you want a BCBA or other ABA expert to answer?
Fill in this form and one of our professionals will handle your question quickly and confidently. You can expect a response in 24-hours or less.