Sensory Disorder Symptoms

child with sensory disorder playing with pinwheel

The best guide to sensory disorder symptoms, including auditory dysfunction and oral defensiveness. Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) are becoming more recognizable as we are constantly learning new things about the nervous system and how it affects behavior.

When the nervous system perceives and interprets information through the senses we are able to respond in an appropriate manner. Children with this neurological disorder, may not be able to learn how to respond appropriately to stimuli in the environment, as a result of being unable to interpret the information.

Understanding how sensory processing can affect behavior is very important for being able to identify why your child might be behaving in a certain way. We discovered our son had SPD shortly after his third birthday and it has really helped us to understand him better.

Sensory modulation disorders usually affect children in multiple senses, but may be more noticeable in only one of the body’s senses, such as touch, sound, or sight. It can also cause different reactions in different people depending on how that person’s individual body is interpreting the information.

Some children may find certain sensory input to be over stimulating and therefore find it difficult to be around loud noises, bright lights, or to wear certain types of clothing material. Others with a sensory disorder may crave sensory stimulation and be found in the subtype of sensory seeking.

Sensory Modulation Disorder

For children that are experiencing difficulties with a particular sense you might see more specific sensory disorder symptoms related to one of the following sensory systems:

Tactile Defensiveness- Hypersensitivity to Touch

Tactile sensations include the sense of touch. When a child has tactile defensiveness, he or she is hypersensitive to tactile stimuli and sensations that are felt on the skin. This may cause a child to dislike certain types of clothing, tags, or other textures.

S/he may also have difficulties with hygiene related activities, such as showering, brushing teeth, and nail cutting. For symptoms related to this particular sense, an occupational therapist will develop a sensory diet with specific activities involving the sense of touch.

Tactile- Hyposensitivity to Touch

Also related to the sense of touch, a child with hyposensitivity will be under-responsive to tactile stimuli or sensory seeking tactile stimuli. If under-responsive, a child may not notice temperature changes or be affected by hot/spicy foods. Seekers will crave hugs and the feeling of objects with lots of textures or vibrations. They may also prefer messy types of play. Some children with the disorder may have a combination of all of these indicators with every day being different from the next.

Auditory Dysfunction

Sensory disorder symptoms associated with this sense involve difficulty processing auditory stimuli and responding appropriately with no known hearing loss. This has also been referred to as auditory processing disorder. However, this term implies that the only challenge is with the auditory sense and usually an individual with auditory processing problems also has other related sensory processing problems.

Our son primarily has vestibular dysfunction, but is also very sensitive to loud noises (despite loving his personal preference music to be loud). Fourth of July, usually includes ear plugs and we frequently have to warn him if we are going to use the blender or other loud appliances, so he can go into another room.

Olfactory Dysfunction

This relates to sensory disorder signs involving sensitivity to smells and difficulty processing smell sensory input. A child may also seek certain smells, especially in an unusual manner, such as trying to smell another person’s hair inappropriately or wanting to smell their food closely before eating. If hypersensitive a child may not be able to be around individuals wearing strong perfumes or in areas that have strong smells, such as a school cafeteria.

Vestibular Sense

: Many parents are unaware of this particular sense and how it can affect behavior. It involves sensitivity to input from the inner ear about equilibrium, gravitational changes, and movement. My son’s symptoms of SPD are primarily in the vestibular sense and he tends to be sensory seeking. Our first indication of this was how he loves to constantly move his body, whether it’s jumping, running (in circles at times), and/or rocking.

Proprioceptive Dysfunction

This type of sensory dysfunction includes the body’s inability to appropriately process and interpret input from the muscles and joints related to body position and the sense of weight, pressure, and position of neighboring parts of the body.

Related signs of this disorder include preferring tight clothing and bear hugs, difficulty using appropriate pencil pressure when writing and frequently breaking toys and other objects. One treatment that can help is a proprioceptive massage using the Wilbarger brushing protocol.

Oral Input Sensory Disorder

Signs of a sensory disorder related to oral sensory input are most often noticed when a child is identified as a picky eater. This oral defensiveness to certain food textures may even cause a child to gag and throw up, which should not be blamed on the child or forced, leading to food aversions. Hyposensitivity may cause a child to love strong spicy foods, vibrating tooth brushes and mouthing inedible objects.

Visual Input Dysfunction

Child holding magnifying glass to eye with visual input dysfunction

Indicators of a sensory disorder related to difficulty processing visual sensory input without any diagnosed visual impairment. Some symptoms of visual input dysfunction include<span style='font-size: 50%'>(1):

A. Hypersensitivity to visual input

• Overly sensitive to bright lights
• Easily distracted by visual stimuli throughout a room and unable to keep eyes focused on a task for a sufficient amount of time
• Struggles in bright rooms or rooms with too much visual stimulation, such as bold patterns on the wall
• Avoid eye contact
• Like to play in the dark
• May get headaches easily after reading, watching TV, or playing on the computer

B. Hyposensitive to visual input

• Struggles to differentiate between letters and numbers that appear similar or between different colors, shapes, and sizes
• Over focused on details with difficulties seeing the bigger picture
• Problems locating important items
• Easily loses place when copying from a book or a chalkboard in class
• Difficulty controlling eye movements to track moving objects
• May show symptoms of dyslexia by reversing words or letters when copying
• Makes statements about seeing double and confuses left and right
• Problems with spacing and size of letters when writing
• Struggles to put together jigsaw puzzles, copy shapes or cut/trace along a line
• Fatigues easily with schoolwork and tends to write at a slant on a page
• Difficulty judging spatial relationships in the environment

If you look at these signs and feel your child may have a sensory disorder, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible. Make a list of all the symptoms and ask for him or her to evaluate your child or refer you to a specialist that has experience with this particular disorder.

Click here to find more information on sensory disorder including other types of categories and different treatment options that are currently available. For more technical and thorough explanations about sensory processing disorder, I highly recommend the following books or products.


1. Sensory Processing Disorders. Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist. 1-16-10.

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