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Learn to recognize Sensory Processing Disorder symptoms

Maria Mora is a freelance writer and single mom fueled by coffee, questionable time management skills, toaster oven waffles and the color orange. She lives in Florida with her two young sons. If you see her on Twitter, tell her to stop p...

When it isn’t acting out

Sensory Processing Disorder can cause a huge variety of symptoms in children. Those symptoms vary in severity. So how do you know what to look for when it comes to your child’s behavior? Learn to recognize key symptoms and behaviors associated with SPD so you can quickly act on any red flags you notice.

Thanks to increased recognition and diagnosis, more and more kids are receiving treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder. If you have a child in preschool or kindergarten, he might have classmates with SPD. Chances are, you'd never know by casually observing a child with SPD. Oftentimes, those closest to a child, such as parents and teachers, slowly become aware of a child's sensory issues through various telling behaviors. If you see some of these behaviors, stay calm and bring your concerns to your family doctor.

Learn how to talk to your pediatrician about Sensory Processing Disorder >>

Problematic behaviors

It's easy to confuse Sensory Processing Disorder for bad behavior. It's important to understand that SPD meltdowns and sensitivities aren't about a child being spoiled or being bad. Children with SPD experience the world in a unique way that can be distressing under the wrong circumstances. What you might perceive as a noisy grocery store crowd might make a child with SPD feel truly overwhelmed and unable to function and reason. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation advises parents to look out for difficulties that are chronic and disrupt everyday life. Pay attention to reactions to sounds, visual stimuli, smells, textures and temperatures, especially if those reactions interfere with everyday tasks like eating and playing.

Big emotional responses

SPD kids are often referred to as sensory seekers or sensory avoiders, but it's common for kids to experience a spectrum of avoidance and sensory seeking. This can make life feel like an obstacle course, and not the fun kind.

One of the first things you might notice in a child with Sensory Processing Disorder is low frustration tolerance. Issues with sensory integration can lead to kids feeling emotionally frayed. Imagine how you feel after a long, over-stimulating day. Picture how you'd react to frustrations if you felt that way constantly.

When observing your child, pay attention to the things that set her off, and how big those reactions are. If she becomes easily frustrated and is quick to give up on tasks she can't handle, talk to your pediatrician.

Learn 6 ways to advocate for your special needs child >>

Difficulties with play

Kids with SPD often have trouble with motor skills and difficulties with basic tasks like getting dressed and potty training. Even skills that kids use for play, such as catching a ball or jumping, may be impaired.

Observe your child around other children at the playground. Does he navigate playground equipment the way other kids do? How are his skills with balance? Do you notice repetitive behaviors, such as spinning or crashing into things? Does he have trouble interacting with other children? These types of behaviors can be red flags for Sensory Processing Disorder. In infants and young toddlers, these symptoms can come across as extreme fussiness or difficulties eating and sleeping.

More on special needs

Gift ideas for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder
Answering questions about your special needs child
How routines help special needs kids thrive

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