ADHD Vs SPD: Understanding the Differences

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are two neurodevelopmental disorders that can appear similar in symptoms. However, they have distinct characteristics and require different approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to regulate attention and impulsivity, and control hyperactivity. It is estimated that around 11% of children and 4% of adults have ADHD.

The diagnostic criteria of ADHD include:

  • Persistent inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

These symptoms can vary in intensity and may manifest differently in individuals. Some common behaviors associated with ADHD may include:

  • Difficulty focusing on a task
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Impulsiveness leading to trouble waiting their turn or interrupting others
  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Talking excessively
  • Making careless mistakes

What is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition where there is a difficulty in processing sensory information. It is estimated that around 5% of children have SPD, but it can be challenging to diagnose.

Symptoms of SPD can vary, but some common behaviors associated with the disorder include:

  • Oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory information such as light, sound, taste, and touch
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills such as holding a pencil, using scissors or tying shoelaces
  • Problems with balance, coordination and spatial awareness
  • Avoiding or seeking out certain textures, tastes, and smells

Individuals with SPD may also have difficulty coping with changes in their environment, unusual patterns of play, and difficulty with social interaction.

The Similarities and Differences between ADHD and SPD

ADHD and SPD can present similar symptoms such as impulsivity, inattention, and restlessness. However, they are different disorders with unique features, and it is important to differentiate them for effective treatment.

  • ADHD typically affects attention, memory, and executive function, while SPD primarily involves difficulties processing sensory information.
  • ADHD often results in emotional dysregulation, while SPD difficulties may result in anxiety or avoidance behavior in specific situations or sensory experiences.
  • Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty following instructions and completing tasks, while individuals with SPD may have difficulty with fine motor skills.
  • ADHD is usually diagnosed earlier and has more robust research behind it. In contrast, SPD is harder to diagnose, as there is no standard test for SPD, and symptoms overlap with other disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

How are ADHD and SPD Diagnosed?

ADHD is diagnosed based on a comprehensive evaluation including a clinical interview with the patient, their family and teacher, a medical examination and rating scales. The DSM-5 is the most commonly used diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

SPD diagnosis can be challenging, as there are no officially recognized diagnostic criteria as yet. Still, clinicians typically use assessments such as observation, clinical interview and questionnaires to reach a diagnosis. ASD is often ruled out.

Treatment for ADHD and SPD

Treatment plans for ADHD and SPD are individualized to the patient and their symptoms.

ADHD treatments commonly include:

  • Medication such as stimulants or non-stimulant drugs to control symptoms
  • Behavior therapy to help parents and caregivers manage behaviors
  • Psychotherapy to help with emotional regulation and problem-solving skills
  • Parent training and support.

SPD treatments may involve:

  • Occupational therapy designed to help with sensory integration and fine motor skills
  • Speech therapy to address oral motor difficulties, communication problems, and social interaction skills
  • Behavior therapy to help with emotional regulation and coping strategies
  • Parent training in sensory strategies.


Neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and SPD can be challenging to diagnose and treat. While the conditions may share some similarities, they are different and require different approaches to treatment. It’s crucial to understand the differences and seek professional assistance to ensure that individuals with these conditions receive the right care for their needs.


FAQ: What is ADHD vs SPD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) are two separate neurodevelopmental disorders. ADHD is characterised by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity while SPD is characterised by difficulties in processing sensory information, leading to over or under sensitivity to stimuli.

FAQ: Can ADHD and SPD co-exist?

Yes, ADHD and SPD may co-exist in an individual. It is estimated that up to 40% of individuals with ADHD also have SPD. The two disorders can share similar symptoms such as inattention and impulsivity, making it important to seek professional diagnosis and treatment for accurate management.

FAQ: What are the treatment options for ADHD and SPD?

While there is no cure for either ADHD or SPD, both disorders can be effectively managed with treatment. Treatment for ADHD may involve medication, behavioural therapy, and lifestyle changes. For SPD, a sensory diet, occupational therapy, and sensory integration therapy may be used. It is important to work with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best treatment plan for each individual.


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2. Karim, A. A., Chaudhry, U., Shafique, M., Umer, M., & Mirza, Y. (2013). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children with speech and language disorders. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan, 23(11), 799-802. (HTML format)

3. John, N. I. (2018). Sensory processing disorder in children with ADHD: A neurodevelopmental link between the disorders. Developmental Neuropsychology, 43(6), 385-396. doi: 10.1080/87565641.2018.1491146(HTML format)