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Telltale Signs of a Sensory Processing Disorder

Imagine this: You’re playing on the floor of your living room with your little one, and the child playing with blockssound of a leaf blower starts up outside. Everything is fine until your child hears the noise. Now the screaming tantrum begins, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. A few minutes later, the leaf blower stops running and everything is back as it was.

This experience could be a coincidence, but for some young ones, instances like the one described above are a telltale sign of a sensory processing disorder (SPD). SPDs cause an inability to process sensory stimuli from the outside world. This means it is difficult to interpret information from one or more senses. When sensory signals are received by a person’s nervous system but aren’t interpreted normally, an extreme emotional and/or physical reaction can occur.

Sensory processing disorders can be divided into two categories:

- Hypersensitivity
- Hyposensitivity

In children with hypersensitivity, you may see extreme responses to unexpected or unordinary auditory, tactile or visual stimuli. Hyposensitivity is the term used to explain behavior responses that yield little or no reaction.


- Extreme responses (vomiting, screaming, etc.) to sudden, loud noises like toilet flushing, clanking silverware, car horns etc. - Avoids touch/fearful of hugs - Distracted by background noises others don’t hear - Avoids standing close to others or being in large crowds Hyposensitivity:

- Constant need to touch others/things, even when not appropriate - Clumsy, uncoordinated - Slow response/indifference to pain - Seeks thrills, dangerous situations Many people affected by an SPD will experience one or the other; some show a combination of both.

There exists a wide range of sensory processing disorder symptoms, and these will vary by child. The most common symptoms infants experience are:

  • Difficulty eatingchild catching bubbles
  • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Little interest in toys that require dexterity
  • Irritability when being dressed
  • Slow response time to pain
  • Resisting cuddling
  • Difficulty shifting focus from one object to another
  • Constantly moving
  • Delay in crawling/standing/walking/etc.
  • Inability to soothe with pacifier, voice of Mom or Dad, etc.

For preschool-aged children, the most common signs are slightly different:

  • Overly sensitive to stimulation (overreacts to touch, smell, sight, etc.)
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Problems being toilet trained
  • Trouble being understood in speech and understanding others’ verbal instructions
  • Unsure of how to move their body
  • Difficulty learning things that require fine motor skills

Although many kids could face some of these issues some of the time, those with sensory disorders are so affected that normal, everyday functioning is impaired.
It is unclear just how common sensory processing disorders are, but we do know that SPDs aren’t rare. Being aware of your child’s behavior and its patterns will help to determine if you should reach out to your care provider for further guidance.
The list above is far from exhaustive and isn’t designed to diagnose a sensory processing disorder. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms or isn’t able to adjust to life at home or school, it’s important to speak to a professional about your concerns.