6 Signs of Sensory Processing Difficulties

Often when we think of signs of sensory processing challenges, we picture children distressed by clothing tags or covering their ears at birthday parties. While this is a very real possibility, in actuality, there are thousands of sensory processing profiles that may not always look overtly “sensory.” For instance, both poor coordination and picky eating are presentations of sensory processing challenges that may be harder to identify. For this reason, sensory processing difficulties can go undetected, be mistaken for quirks, or even be mislabeled as behavioral issues. 

With such a wide spectrum of presentations, how can you tell if your child has sensory processing challenges?  Well, there are some tell-tale markers. Here are 6 signs of sensory processing difficulties that are common across all sensory profiles: 

1. Tendency to fidget

person playing with a fidget
(Photo by Retha Ferguson)

Does it feel like your child can’t sit still? Do they frequently kick their legs against the chair, tap their hands on the table, or get up from their seat? Fidgeting can be a telltale sign of sensory processing challenges. 

Balance and body awareness are sensory functions. The vestibular system controls your balance and movement and your proprioceptive system is responsible for body scheme and awareness. When one or both of these systems are not working as they should, your child has to fidget in order to provide himself with more feedback about where his body is in space. 

2. Trouble focusing

group of kids playing an app on a tablet
(Photo by Harrison Haines)

Is your child in need of frequent redirection? Do they have difficulty tuning into your verbal cues or get visually distracted? Does your child rush through homework or skip over words when reading? Trouble focusing can often indicate sensory processing difficulties. 

Our vestibular system is linked to attention and alertness. It works in tandem with the proprioceptive, visual, and auditory systems, helping us tune into the task at hand and tune out distractors. When there is a breakdown in one or more of these systems, attention and focus will become more laborious. 

3. Resistant to change

time for change image
(Photo by Alexas Fotos)

Does your child respond strongly to even minor changes? Are they particular about food brands or clothing materials? Are they rigid in their routines and dislike to deviate from their norm? Discomfort with change can signal issues with sensory processing.

Humans are creatures of habit, but we should be able to adapt to changes in our routine without becoming overwhelmed. Children with sensory processing challenges tend to strongly prefer familiar experiences as they foster a sense of control. 

4. Cognitive drain

young girl resting her head on a post
(Photo by Matheus Bertelli)

Does your child appear on edge, overtired, or just mentally exhausted? Do they seem to tune you out or seem absent during dinner conversations? Does the quality of their schoolwork show a steep decline as the day goes on? Fatigue that comes on quickly or zoning out can be symptoms of a sensory processing disorder.

Sensory kids are often working extra hard to get through life’s daily demands as they are using more cognitive effort to perform tasks that come more automatically to others. Their brains frequently operate in overdrive to process their surroundings and make sense of the world around them. 

5. Meltdowns

young child resisting a meltdown
(Photo by Alexander Dummer)

Is your child prone to meltdowns or tantrums? Do you see a large response to a seemingly small problem? Does it sometimes feel as though they have to melt down in order to feel better? While this may often be viewed as negative behaviors, they can point to sensory processing issues.

Explosive behaviors like crashing, kicking, and hitting can be signals that your child is seeking more proprioceptive feedback. Children often find these types of behaviors give their body the release they are craving. 

6. Struggles with sleep

young kid struggling to sleep
(Photo by Tatiana Syrikova)

Is your child waking up frequently throughout the night or having trouble falling asleep? Do they seek heavy blankets or need to be wrapped tightly in order to fall asleep? Does your child experience hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom throughout the night to the degree it disturbs their rest? Frequent disruptions to a full night’s sleep may be due to struggles with sensory processing. 

Quieting our brains and bodies requires far more coordination of our sensory systems than most of us realize. Furthermore, poor quality sleep can impact your child’s mood and regulation, making them even more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by their sensory processing challenges throughout the day.

Do you spot any of these Signs of Sensory Processing difficulties in your child? Are any of these signs surprising to you? Let us know via hello@sascoriver.com, or in the comments below.

About Sasco River Center

A multidisciplinary practice offering a range of diagnostic and therapy services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families; specializing in Collaborative & Comprehensive Testing, Psychotherapy & Sensory Processing.

We are a merger of Sensory Kids & The Southfield Center for Development