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Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder

Are you wondering whether your child could have Sensory Processing Disorder  or wondering what it even is? To help, we've rounded up some of the basics on the condition, as well as key signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in children of different ages. 

Sensory Processing Disorder Basics

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a condition resulting when sensory signals are received but not interpreted normally by the nervous system. As Circle of Moms member Athena Y. shares: "My 5-year-old daughter's problem focuses mainly with touch...Her brain misinterprets certain feelings and temperature as pain or she just does not feel the pain. When she was two [her] clothing hurt her, she could not be touched; even brushing up on her just walking by would frustrate her to the point of tears. She could not stand the feeling or temperature of the water at bath time."

Children with SPD may be hypersensitive (overresponsive to sensory stimulation) or hyposensitive (underresponsive to sensory experiences), or both. As Circle of Moms member Amy L. explains: "It varies a lot from one child to the next; most have mixed reactions, oversensitive to some things and undersensitive to others." 

How common is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Different studies have suggested that anywhere from 1 in 20 to 1 in 6 children experience sensory symptoms that could affect their everyday lives.

What is the treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder?

Occupational therapy is the main form of treatment for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Often, the disorder is not treated until a child has reached at least age 4 and a half (and some contend diagnosis and treatment should be held off until age 6 or 7).

 

Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder

The signs of Sensory Processing Disorder vary widely between different children. Still, there are common red flags to look for. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation lists the following signs of SPD by age.

In infants and toddlers

  • Has problems eating.
  • Refuses to go to anyone but the primary caretaker.
  • Has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Is extremely irritable when being dressed; seems to be uncomfortable in clothes.
  • Rarely plays with toys, especially those requiring dexterity.
  • Has difficulty shifting focus from one object/activity to another. 
  • Does not notice pain or is slow to respond when hurt. 
  • Resists cuddling, arches back away from the person holding him.
  • Cannot calm self by sucking on a pacifier, looking at toys, or listening to parent's voice.
  • Has a "floppy" body, bumps into things and has poor balance.
  • Does little or no babbling, vocalizing.
  • Is easily startled.
  • Is extremely active and is constantly moving body/limbs or runs endlessly.
  • Seems to be delayed in crawling, standing, walking, or running.

 

In preschool-aged children

  • Difficulty being toilet trained.
  • Is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc.
  • Is unaware of being touched/bumped unless done with extreme force/intensity.
  • Has difficulty learning and/or avoids performing fine motor tasks such as using crayons and fasteners on clothing.
  • Seems unsure how to move his/her body in space, is clumsy and awkward.
  • Has difficulty learning new motor tasks.
  • Is in constant motion.
  • Gets in everyone else's space and/or touches everything around him.
  • Has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/withdrawn).
  • Is intense, demanding, or hard to calm and has difficulty with transitions.
  • Has sudden mood changes and temper tantrums that are unexpected.
  • Seems weak, slumps when sitting/standing; prefers sedentary activities.
  • It is hard to understand child's speech.
  • Does not seem to understand verbal instructions.

 

School-aged children

  • Overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc.
  • Is easily distracted in the classroom, often out of his/her seat, fidgety.
  • Is easily overwhelmed at the playground, during recess, and in class.
  • Is slow to perform tasks.
  • Has difficulty performing or avoids fine motor tasks such as handwriting. 
  • Appears clumsy and stumbles often, slouches in chair. 
  • Craves rough housing, tackling/wrestling games. 
  • Is slow to learn new activities.
  • Is in constant motion.
  • Has difficulty learning new motor tasks and prefers sedentary activities. 
  • Has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/withdrawn).
  • "Gets stuck" on tasks and has difficulty changing to another task.
  • Confuses similar sounding words, misinterprets questions or requests.
  • Has difficulty reading, especially aloud.
  • Stumbles over words; speech lacks fluency, and rhythm is hesitant.

For more information, visit the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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