Sensory Processing Issues Explained

Oversensitivity, tantrums, clumsiness: all could point to problems taking in the world

Sensory processing issues are often first recognized during the toddler years, when parents notice that a child has an unusual aversion to noise, light, shoes that are deemed too tight and clothes that are irritating. They may also notice clumsiness and trouble climbing stairs, and difficulty with fine motor skills like wielding a pencil and fastening buttons.

More baffling — and alarming — to parents are children who exhibit extreme behaviors:

  • Screaming if their faces get wet
  • Throwing tantrums when you try to get them dressed
  • Having an unusually high or low pain threshold
  • Crashing into walls and even people
  • Putting inedible things, including rocks and paint, into their mouths

These and other atypical behaviors may reflect sensory processing issues — difficulty integrating information from the senses, which may overwhelm children and result in confusing behavior. Parents of children with these issues often call it Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. Psychiatrists, however, are quick to note that SPD is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Sensory processing problems are now considered a symptom of autism because the majority of children and adults on the autism spectrum also have significant sensory issues. However, most children with sensory issues are not on the spectrum. They can also be found in those with ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays — or with no other diagnosis at all.

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