Sensory Processing

What does Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) look like?

Children with SPD have symptoms in one or more areas, making it difficult for them to function at their maximal potential.

Despite average or above average intelligence, they may be easily distracted, be impulsive or demonstrate an inability to plan and execute an efficient approach to various tasks.

They may become aggressive, withdrawn or frustrated when they have difficulty with or fail at everyday tasks. Children with SPD usually have problems in one or more of the occupations of childhood including self care skills, play skills, school skills and social skills.

Children with SPD may have medical diagnoses and/or educational labels including but not limited to Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD/ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Speech and Language Disorder, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Developmental Coordination Disorder.

A child does not have to exhibit all of the signs below to have SPD. For example, although typically most children with SPD will be uncoordinated, there are some children who demonstrate adequate coordination skills.

Typical signs of SPD include:

Difficulty modulating sensory input – distracted by or overly sensitive to sounds; dislikes certain types of clothing; lights are too bright; picky eater; difficulty falling or staying asleep; avoids messy or textured materials such as glue, lotion, grass, sand; withdraws from light and/or unexpected touch

Difficulty recognizing or interpreting (discriminating) sensory input – difficulty knowing how much force to use when coloring, writing, playing ball; jumps a lot; craves movement such as spinning; is afraid of heights; dislikes swings or slides; has poor balance; touches, bumps or pushes others; mouths, sucks, chews, licks non-food objects difficulty with directions

Difficulty with postural-ocular control– fatigues easily; difficulty maintaining a seated position; seems weaker than other children; slumped posture when sitting; difficulty with eye contact; difficulty tracking, for e.g., reading; poor crossing midline or establishment of hand dominance; joint instability/hypo or hypertonic muscle tone

Difficulty with praxis – awkward, clumsy, poor coordination; problems with sports, dressing, eating, handwriting; disorganized; easily frustrated; difficulty playing alone or coming up with ideas of what to do; takes longer than average to learn new tasks; resists trying new activities; poor articulation

Please click the following for specific signs of SPD in children of various ages: 

Most Importantly…

Many of these children seem unhappy, anxious and even depressed. Families often feel they are walking on eggshells with the child and often feel frustrated themselves. Parents, their extended families and even complete strangers will question their parenting approach. Parents are often blamed for their children’s sensory processing difficulties.

In reality, the child who does not perceive his world as other people and cannot control his actions often feels inadequate and like a failure. They are often disciplined for behaviors which are beyond their control. A bright child may know that something is not quite right but be unable to adequately express how they are feeling. Many children compensate for their differences by avoiding tasks or engaging in odd behaviors. Some children may be troublesome or stubborn. The end result is often anxiety and/or low self-esteem.