Sensory processing is the mechanism by which we receive sensory messages and turn them into responses. Sensory Processing Disorder occurs when the child either under-responds to sensory stimuli or over-responds.

Many children with ADHD are also suffering from a disturbance in their ability to process all of the information and impressions which come in via their senses. In addition there is often difficulty processing the sensory information which travels to the brain from their own body including proprioception (muscles and ligaments) and vestibular or balance system located in the inner ear. The vestibular system tells them where they are in space, in relation to gravity. Proprioception is the sense which tells us where our body parts are in relation to each other and tells us how much movement of muscle and ligament is needed to achieve a movement task.

Many ADHD children do not receive enough information from either outside (via vision, hearing) or inside (via vestibular and proprioception) to feel comfortable and at ease. They do not know where they are. They then feel the need to constantly move to find out where they are in space. The vestibular system in the inner ear in this case can be said to be under-active and the child engages in vestibular seeking activities to gain more and more input.

Dr Lucy Jan Miller PhD, OTR is a prominent Occupational Therapist specialising in sensory processing disorders (SPD). She was intrigued by the similarities of many children who presented at her clinic with ADHD and APD diagnosis. Some came with both and sometimes other overlapping diagnosis. Her research showed that many children do have both disorders together, and that there is considerable overlapping of symptoms and treatments.

For further information see “Sensational Kids” by Lucy Jane Miller, 2006: Penguin, New York.

Sensory Processing Therapy

This can be most helpful for children for whom this is a major factor. It is available from a small number of Occupational Therapists who have received addition training in this area. Enquire at your local Early Childhood Development Unit or Google “sensory integration therapy” for an occupational therapist in private practice.


In my practice I have also noticed that most children with ADHD and ADD have poor listening skills or auditory processing. Testing using the SCAN C Test for Auditory Processing Disorders in children reveals that they frequently do not understand or mishear what is being said to them. This is particularly difficult for many when there is background noise or where there is more than one person talking at a time. It is difficult to pay attention for long when what is being heard does not make sense. After a short while fatigue sets in and it is easier to tune out and do your own thing.

Many of these children have auditory sensitivity and over-respond to sound (such as the sound of other people humming, their little sister singing , the sound of the vacuum cleaner or the noise at the mall), while others have auditory under-sensitivity and seek more auditory input than others, enjoying loud music and loud voices (especially their own!).

Auditory Retraining Therapy

Dr Alfred Tomatis was an ear, nose and throat specialist who discovered the importance of sound therapy for assisting children and adults with auditory processing difficulties. He also discovered that auditory retraining therapy using filtered music could greatly assist children with sensory processing disorders and autism to recover their capacity to process all sensory input more effectively.

Recent work in this field over the past 20 years by Dr Ron Minson, MD, neurologist and psychiatrist, Denver, Colorado, has shown that Tomatis based sound therapy is greatly enhanced when performed together with integrated movement therapy. This approach is most suitable for children with ADHD, as they get to move around while they are listening.

Auditory retraining or sound therapy based on the work of Dr Tomatis is available from a number of trained practitioners throughout New Zealand. For a list of those trained in this type of integrated listening and movement therapy see www.integratedlistening.co.au or contact info@developlearning.co.nz for a referral to a practitioner near you.


Remember, each child is unique and precious, just the way he is. He may not be able to be his true self when overrun by a disability such as ADHD but he is there, just the same, waiting to be discovered. The unconditional love and acceptance of loving parents, within the framework of firm, consistent boundaries, can go a long way towards healing the pain of being so different.

Many ADHD individuals have in fact survived their rocky childhoods and gone on into adulthood where have succeeded in their chosen field. They often have abounding energy and enthusiasm, are creative in their approach to problem solving and can inspire others.

However if the underlying causes of ADHD as described above are treated and these underlying obstacles removed, individuals with this disorder can learn to their full potential. Many more opportunities will then be available for them to explore as adults.

Our goal as parents and educators is to see our children growing and learning their full potential.

For information on how you can access a developmental assessment, neuro developmental movement therapy, integrated listening therapy and dietary advice please email info@developlearning.co.nz

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Rosemary Murphy is a trained teacher with a particular passion for helping children overcome learning difficulties. She is a graduate of the Extra Lesson™ post graduate training programme and is a Registered Extra Lesson Practitioner. She is also an Integrated Listening System Professional, a certified provider for The Listening Program®. Rosemary runs the Developmental Learning Centre

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