This post defines and describes Sensory Issues Symptoms. It provides 3 checklists:
SPD – Signs and symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Issues Symptoms of Sensory Modulation Challenges
Sensory Issues Symptoms of Sensory Motor Challenges
If you haven’t read our ‘What is Sensory Processing Disorder?’ page we recommend that you do before continuing.
Many children and adults suffer from sensory issues. The term commonly used to describe these issues is ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’ (SPD). People with SPD process sensory information differently to those who do not have the condition. Their brains do not connect the sensory messages they receive from their body in the same way as others. This causes them challenges and is why their response to sensory information is not always what you expect. This post explores the signs and symptoms of sensory issues in more depth and provides three useful checklists.
What are typical sensory issues symptoms?
Sensory issues symptoms for children and adults may include:
Being sensitive to sensory information (over-responding)
Being slow to notice or being oblivious to sensory information (under-responding)
Looking for more sensory information (seeking or craving)
Finding it difficult to plan and organise their movement (dyspraxia)
Having poor balance and being clumsy (poor postural control)
Having poor awareness of the qualities of sensory information (discrimination)
Lucy Miller (2014) describes these symptoms under the headings of modulation, sensory-based movement and discrimination.
Children (and adults) with Sensory Processing Disorder could experience a combination of sensory processing challenges or may also only have sensory processing issues in one area.
How do sensory issues symptoms present?
Sensory issues symptoms vary depending on which sensory system is affected. This is why Sensory Processing Disorder can look different from one child (or adult) to the next. Each child’s (or adult’s) brain is connecting the sensory messages differently, which results in different reactions and behaviours.
Kayla’s story – sensory sensitivity
Brushing her hair; cutting her hair and nails; wearing socks: Kayla hates them all! Even dressing causes distress. Many fabrics are itchy. The collar on her school shirt irritates her.
When she was younger, loud sounds felt overwhelming too. Unexpected touch also alarms her. Once, she hit a child who brushed past her in the playground. Now she always tries to go to the sick room at lunch to avoid feeling overwhelmed by noise and touch.
Another thing Kayla hates is swimming. Putting her head under water is scary. Jumping in is just terrifying! In fact, learning any new activity is tough for Kayla because planning and organising herself is difficult.
Kayla’s brain is interpreting the touch input from brushing her hair and cutting her nails more intensely (and potentially more painfully) than other people do.
She finds certain noises unbearable. This stops her from being able to participate at lunchtime. It seems that Kayla’s brain is interpreting sound more intensely than others too.
Kayla presents as having difficulty with modulating touch and noise sensory inputs. Therefore, it is likely she has over-responsivity (sensitivity) in both touch and hearing. There may also be some sensitivity with her vestibular system.
She finds learning new activities hard and struggles to plan and organise. Some sensory messages from her body aren’t connecting smoothly to allow her to join in. This could mean she also has dyspraxia.
Harry’s story – sensory sensitive and sensory slow
Like Kayla, Harry dislikes loud sounds. If the projector is on in his classroom, it’s all he can focus on. The humming sound it makes means it’s impossible for him to concentrate on his work.
Sluggish to get going during PE, he often trips up and loses balance. Tiring really, he always comes last.
Breaking things accidentally at school and home is normal for Harry. When he plays with his younger sister, his mother is always telling him to ‘be more gentle’.
Harry also processes sensory information differently to others. These sensory processing issues suggest that he also has difficulty with sensory modulation.
Harry finds noises, including background noises, harder to ignore. His brain just seems to keep focusing on them rather than what he should be thinking about. For this reason it seems likely that he has sound sensitivity.
Harry frequently gets in trouble for being too rough in play and breaking things. Losing balance is common. His vestibular and proprioceptive senses need more sensory input for him to understand what’s going on with his body. This suggests that, unlike Kayla, his vestibular and proprioceptive senses are under-responsive and that he has difficulties discriminating proprioceptive input.
Furthermore, Harry appears to have poor postural control too. It is really common for children to have challenges in more than one section of their sensory processing.
Sensory Issues Symptoms and Checklists
To see a general outline of the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder, download this checklist:
To better understand sensory issues symptoms for children (and adults) with sensory modulation challenges, download this checklist:
To better understand sensory issues symptoms for children (and adults) with sensory-motor challenges, download this checklist:
How can I get help if I think myself or my child has Sensory Processing Disorder?
The best placed professional to help identify if your child has sensory processing challenges is an occupational therapist who has additional training in sensory integration.
Where can I find more information about sensory issues symptoms and signs?
Websites and books with useful information
Please see the bottom of our page ‘What is Sensory Processing?’ for a list of additional resources you may find helpful.
Online Sensory Processing Disorder training
GriffinOT’s online course, ‘Sensory Processing: What’s the Fuss’, explores in further depth the sensory systems, sensory responses and strategies to help. You can find out more information on our course page here.
Miller, L.J. (2014) Sensational Kids Hope and Help for Children with SPD–Revised
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