Did you know that being highly sensitive is also referred to as sensory processing sensitivity? SPS is the clinical term used to describe this trait, which involves being more perceptive and responsive to the world around you. In today’s blog, we will explore the distinction between sensory processing sensitivity and autism spectrum disorder. SPS is a trait that makes individuals more sensitive and responsive to their environment, while ASD is a complex neurodevelopmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior. It is important to understand the differences between these two traits to promote a better understanding of individuals who possess them.

What is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS)?

SPS is a stable trait found in some individuals, making them more empathetic, aware, and responsive to the stimuli around them. Think of it as having a heightened sensitivity to the world. People with SPS often notice subtle details, experience intense emotions, and have a deep processing style. It is not a disorder but rather a natural characteristic that can have its own benefits.

How is SPS different from ASD?

While SPS and ASD share some similarities, it’s crucial to recognize their distinct characteristics. When researchers studied the brain activity of individuals with SPS and ASD, they found notable differences in the areas of the brain involved. Let’s delve into these differences:

  1. Brain Activity: For individuals with SPS, brain regions associated with reward processing, memory, empathy, and self-awareness showed increased activity. This suggests that those with SPS have a heightened ability to recognize and respond to emotional cues from others, as well as a deep integration of information from their environment.

On the other hand, individuals with ASD often display differences in brain activity related to social interaction and communication. The regions involved in emotional processing, empathy, and self-reflection may show reduced activity or atypical patterns. This can contribute to challenges in understanding and responding to social cues.

  1. Social Interaction and Communication: SPS and ASD also differ in their impact on social interaction and communication. Individuals with SPS generally have well-developed social skills and a strong capacity for empathy. They may excel at understanding others’ emotions and perspectives, and they often exhibit caring and supportive behaviors.

In contrast, ASD is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction. Individuals with ASD may struggle with making eye contact, understanding non-verbal cues, and engaging in reciprocal conversations. This can result in challenges in building and maintaining social relationships.

  1. Sensory Sensitivity: Both SPS and ASD involve sensitivity to sensory stimuli, but their experiences differ. People with SPS may find certain sensory inputs overwhelming, such as loud noises or bright lights. They may seek to manage their environment to reduce overstimulation and maintain a sense of calm.

Individuals with ASD may also experience sensory sensitivities, but their responses can vary. Some individuals may be hypersensitive, finding certain sensory inputs highly distressing. Others may be hyposensitive, showing reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli. These differences can impact how individuals with ASD engage with their environment.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that everything in life falls on a spectrum. Whether it’s personality, temperament, or mental health diagnoses, each individual is unique and multifaceted. While there are distinct differences between Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it’s essential to understand that these traits are not mutually exclusive.

To gain a fuller understanding of a person, we need to consider the whole picture— their history, environment, and individual experiences. It’s crucial to move beyond a mere checklist of symptoms and embrace a holistic approach that recognizes the complexity of each individual.

By recognizing the differences and similarities between SPS and ASD, we can provide appropriate support and foster acceptance for individuals with these traits. Appreciating these traits allows us to honor and validate the unique experiences of individuals with SPS and ASD.

At Constellations Counselling, we are committed to providing a supportive and understanding environment for individuals with diverse traits and experiences. Our Vancouver counsellors are skilled in working with highly sensitive people, and we strive to create a safe space where individuals can explore their challenges and strengths. While our expertise lies in providing compassionate and supportive counselling for highly sensitive people, it’s important to note that at this time we do not have counsellors who specialize in working with people who have ASD. However, our Vancouver counsellors are always prepared to offer emotional support and guidance as part of an enhanced care team. We believe in promoting understanding, acceptance, and overall well-being for everyone. If you or someone you know is seeking support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Constellations Counselling. Remember, each person’s journey is unique, and by embracing the similarities and understanding the differences among individuals, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive world.


Acevedo, B. P., Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (2018). Sensory processing sensitivity: Factors of differential susceptibility and relation to psychopathology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 373(1744), 20170161.

(Note: The research mentioned above supports the understanding of SPS as a natural trait distinct from ASD.)

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