Recognising signs of SPD


We all have unique patterns of sensory processing, and our usual pattern is impacted on by many things including

  • How tired we are
  • Where we are eg is the room noisy or quiet
  • Are we stressed by other things?

As we mentioned on the What is sensory processing disorder page difficulties can occur with any of our senses. Below are some examples of what this might look like in a child (or adult).


  • I'm touching and feeling everything. I can get my hands on. I'm constantly fiddling (seeking)
  • I keep trying to put the wrong puzzle piece in the wrong hole. I can't feel the feedback that my choice is wrong (under responsive)
  • I hate wearing socks and jumpers.I can't stand walking on sand or grass with bear feet. (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).


  • I love spicy foods! (seeking)
  • I put too much food in my mouth when eating (under responsive)
  • I'm a really picky eater and don't like my textures mixed together (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).


  • I love flicking light switches on and off and watching shadows move (seeking).
  • I get lost on my homework or math page and don't know where to start and find it hard to keep on track (under responsive)
  • I hate bright lights and prefer to be inside in a room without the lights on. I find fluorescent lights too much (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).


  • I love making noise and experimenting with different sounds (seeking).
  • I find it hard to hear verbal cues and I'm better off if you get my attention visually first before you ask me to do something (under responsive).
  • I hate loud noises which might not seem loud to you. Or I might get distracted or anxious by small noises such as the air conditioner or a car driving past (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).

Olfactory (smell)

  • I love smelling everything! (seeking)
  • I don't pick up or recognise smells usually (under responsive)
  • I notice smells a lot and I find it difficult to be around people with a strong perfume on. It really bothers me. (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).

Other senses that may not be thought of commonly also include:

Muscle (proprioception)

  • I love lifting, pushing, pulling, moving things! (seeking)
  • I find it hard to get going in the morning. Adults sometimes label me as lazy as I can't get going. My OT says I have low muscle tone and this makes me tired sometimes. (under responsive)
  • I don't like climbing as I don't like the feeling in my joints when I pull against gravity (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).

Vestibular (movement)

  • I love big swings, big rides , running around a lot. I'll be the first one you notice in my classroom! (seeking)
  • I find it hard to get going in the morning sometimes. My OT says I should jump on the trampoline to wake up before school to help me get just right.
  • I prefer to stay still. I don't like swings or playgrounds. I like my feet on the ground. I often get car sick while travelling. (Over responsive/ sensory defensive).

A common question we receive is when should I refer my child/ a child in my class for further assessment?

If you are asking this question, then perhaps a referral is needed. You have a gut feeling when something is not quite right.

Here are a few questions to think about

1. Is the child or child's family having to change their routine or do they choose to limit social interactions and events with family and friends due to difficulties with behaviour?

2. Are there difficulties with motor skills  coordination, handwriting, copying from the board?

3. Is their food intake extremely limited due to fussy eating?

4. Are they getting into lots of trouble at school and being kept in at lunch time?

5. Is the child's behaviour impacting on the safety of other children or adults?

6. Is their handwriting extremely poor and difficult to read?

7. Is the child disruptive in class and having difficulty concentrating?

Often there are waiting lists for services, and research has shown that early intervention is the key!

Why use an OT