What are the signs and symptoms of a sensory processing disorder?

Symptoms of sensory processing disorders are difficult to define.  The way in which a disorder presents itself varies greatly from person to person.  This is likely due to individual differences and the ability of sensory systems to adapt (or attempt to adapt) to deficits.  For example a person who is blind may develop a heightened sense of hearing, touch, smell, and movement to adapt to a lack of vision.  Other factors include genetics and environmental factors.  Since we have multiple sensory systems, have a diverse gene pool, and have a range of exposure to environments and experiences, numerous combinations in symptoms is not just possible but highly likely.  What is important in identifying sensory processing disorders is identifying the patterns of symptoms and how behaviors and observations relate to sensory systems.

This is not a comprehensive list.  However, these are some of the symptoms parents and/or teachers commonly report in children with sensory processing disorders:

  • Easily overwhelmed, over stimulated, and/or frustrated. Anxiety.
  • Problems with focus and attention.
  • Can’t sit still. Hyperactive or under active.
  • Fearful of heights or poor awareness of safety (impulsive).
  • Excessive sensitivity to touch and/or sounds. Pickiness with clothing and food.
  • Fearful of sounds (hair/bathroom dryers, vacuum, alarms, etc).
  • Feeding problems.
  • Poor coordination. Clumsy. Struggles with handwriting, buttoning, balance.
  • Limited or repetitive play skills.
  • Trouble following directions.
  • Frequent tantrums/meltdowns.  Difficulty with transitions.
  • Poor social skills.

Many diagnoses often have associated sensory processing difficulties.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Developmental Delay
  • Prematurity
  • Attention Deficit Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders/Asperger’s
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Stress Disorders
  • Coordination Disorders

A knowledgeable and skilled occupational therapist who has been extensively trained in sensory integration theory, treatment, and assessment can evaluate the level of sensory processing disorder and, by addressing the sensory processing disorder, help alleviate many of the symptoms of the aforementioned diagnoses.

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