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Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects of Sensory Processing Disorder

Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects of Sensory Processing Disorder

Posted: 19 Nov 2018

Sensory process is the way the central nervous system of the body receives messages from the senses of the body and uses that information to act in a suitable motor or behavioural response.


Developmental disorders are various conditions that lead to insufficiencies in cognitive, physical, behavioural, language, and learning abilities in children and teens. Usually these conditions emerge during certain stages in a child’s development and often lead to impaired daily functioning. While some of the developmental disorders improve as a child ages, many of the challenges of this group of disorders will continue into the teen years and adulthood. Developmental disorders may include intellectual disability (ranging from mild to profound), autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome. However, adolescents or teens with these disabilities can benefit from a structured setting in which they are able to learn adaptive behaviours and coping methods addressed in an individualised plan of care that contains strengths, goals, needs, and objectives. 

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has a problem receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. 

Some people with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to things in their environment. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming. Others with sensory processing disorder may:

  • Be uncoordinated
  • Bump into things
  • Be unable to tell where their limbs are in space
  • Be hard to engage in conversation or play


Sensory processing problems are usually identified in children. But they can also affect adults. Sensory processing problems are commonly seen in developmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder.

Sensory processing disorder is not recognised as a stand-alone disorder, but many experts think that should change.


Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder


Sensory processing disorder may affect one sense, like hearing, touch, or taste. Or it may affect multiple senses and people can be over- or under-responsive to the things they have difficulties with. Like many illnesses, the symptoms of sensory processing disorder exist on a spectrum.

In some children, for example, the sound of a leaf blower outside the window may cause them to vomit or dive under the table. They may scream when touched. They may recoil from the textures of certain foods. But others seem unresponsive to anything around them. They may fail to respond to extreme heat or cold or even pain.


Hypersensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware, or other noises that seem unoffensive to others
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing near others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn't like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Has poor balance, may fall often


Hyposensitivities to sensory input may include:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space even when same-age peers are old enough to understand it
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • An extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain
  • Often harms other children and/or pets when playing, i.e. doesn't understand his or her own strength
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a "thrill seeker" and can be dangerous at times


Many children with sensory processing disorder start out as fussy babies who become anxious as they grow older. These children often don't handle change well. They may frequently throw tantrums or have meltdowns. Many children have symptoms like these from time to time. But therapists consider a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder when the symptoms become severe enough to affect normal functioning and disrupt everyday life.

Here is a preliminary assessment to discover if your child shows evidence of developmental deficits. Answer the questions below to gain preliminary insight into your child’s functional strengths and weaknesses. This does not replace a personalised assessment, which should be done by a professional to test hundreds of functions and provide specific feedback on your child’s unique challenges.


  • My child has had difficulty learning things like riding a bike or skipping (trouble with gross motor skills).
  • My child has difficulty staying seated at meals.
  • My child doesn’t like to touch things with his/her hands.
  • My child does not find eating pleasurable, sometimes hates eating and is not particular to sweets.
  • My child has trouble expressing emotions.
  • My child is frequently tense and doesn’t appear to be happy very often.
  • My child is argumentative (oppositional behaviour) and tends to be uncooperative. A first tendency is to say no.
  • My child has difficulty forming friendships. Other kids do not call the house to play.
  • As a Student, my child is very analytical (processes ideas sequentially, step by step).
  • My child talks very close to someone’s face, seemingly invading personal space.
  • My child’s behaviour is very erratic: good one day, bad the next.
  • I notice that my child craves certain foods, especially dairy and wheat products.
  • My child has fine motor problems (poor or slow handwriting).
  • My child has difficulty getting dressed independently.
  • I’ve noticed my child displays poor auditory processing.
  • In school and during homework time, my child lacks motivation but not for things they enjoy.
  • My child is withdrawn and shy with people they don’t know.
  • Often my child feels as if he/she is stupid or has poor self-esteem.
  • My child does not enjoy doing homework.
  • When my child appears to be prepared for a test, he/she still tests poorly.
  • My child needs to hear or see concepts many times in order to learn them.
  • I’ve noticed my child has difficulty pronouncing words (poor with phonics).
  • My child tends to exhibit task avoidance especially with academics.
  • My child catches colds frequently.


Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder


The exact cause of sensory processing problems has not been identified. But a 2006 study of twins found that hypersensitivity to light and sound may have a strong genetic component.

Other experiments have shown that children with sensory processing problems have abnormal brain activity when they are simultaneously exposed to light and sound.

However, other experiments have shown that children with sensory processing problems will continue to respond strongly to a stroke on the hand or a loud sound, while other children quickly get used to the sensations.


Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder


Many families with an affected child find that it is hard to get help. That's because sensory processing disorder isn't currently a recognised medical diagnosis. Despite the lack of widely accepted diagnostic criteria, occupational therapists commonly see and treat children and adults with sensory processing problems. Treatment depends on a child's individual needs. But in general, it involves helping children do better at activities they're normally not good at and helping them get used to things they can't tolerate.


Article information obtained from: webmd.com and brainbalancecenters.com


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