Sensory processing! We take in information and learn about the world around us through sensory based experiences. It is important to note that everybody, regardless of degree of ability, age, gender, etc., has what we call a unique sensory profile, or in other words the way that they respond and react (or not react) to the sensations around us, what sensory preferences they exhibit, and how this affects overall function. In this blog, I will go over specific symptoms to identify that may be indicative of your loved one’s difficulty processing within a specific sensory system, what’s known as a sensory processing disorder checklist.
With that said, it’s important to note that this blog is intended to help better understand your child’s unique sensory quirks and which sensory system it may be rooted from, rather than diagnosing your child, which should be carried out by a professional who has evidence based tools and standardized assessments to inform diagnosis. In addition, it’s important to note that sensory processing is NOT a formal diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).
As an OT, I receive a lot of questions about specific sensory quirks that a parent may be seeing in their child. “My child tends to frequently mouth and chew items.” “My child tends to bump into things a lot.” “My child tends to cover their ears whenever they hear the air conditioner.” “My child can spin and swing for hours without stopping.” These are concerns that I receive frequently with the families I work with.
Tactile: Tactile input is defined as information that we receive from skin receptors about touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.
Tactile defensiveness is an over responsiveness to tactile input. Children with tactile defensiveness may exhibit a low threshold for registering a tactile sense. Tactile defensiveness may look like the following with your loved one:
Tactile sensory seeking behaviors may occur for a child who is under responsive to touch and may exhibit a high threshold for registering a tactile sensation. These kids may exhibit tactile seeking behaviors in order to register the tactile sense. Your child may demonstrate the following behaviors if he/she is tactile seeking:
Proprioception: In each of our joints, we have receptors called proprioceptors that send us information about our body position, weight bearing, stretching, pulling/pushing/lifting against resistance, and movement.
Proprioceptive seeking behaviors consist of actions that a child may do in order to self-regulate or gain more information about their body position and can be related to a high threshold for proprioceptive input to register. Sensory seeking behaviors may look like the following with your loved one:
Proprioceptive difficulties with grading movements is indicative of a child who has trouble with body awareness in being able to recruit the appropriate amount of force to accomplish a functional task. This may look like the following with your child:
Auditory: our auditory system is responsible for hearing, and please bear in mind that the following indicators of a sensory processing challenge are with respect to no formal diagnosis of a hearing problem, or in other words hearing is intact.
Auditory defensiveness consists of a hypersensitivity to sound, and the child may demonstrate a low threshold for auditory input in order for the sensation to register. Auditory defensiveness may look like the following with your loved one:
Auditory hyposensitivity may be indicative of a child who may demonstrates a high threshold for sound in order for auditory input to register. This may look like the following with your loved one:
Olfactory – Our olfactory system is responsible for our sense of smell.
Olfactory hypersensitivity is indicative of a child who demonstrates a low threshold for smells and may demonstrate an over-responsiveness. This may look like the following with your loved one:
Olfactory hyposensitivity is indicative of a child who demonstrates a high threshold for smells and may demonstrate an under-responsiveness. This may look like the following with your child:
Visual – It is important that for visual processing challenges, just like an auditory processing difficulty, you must rule out a diagnosis of a visual deficit.
Hypersensitivity to visual input is indicative of a child who demonstrates an over-responsiveness to visual input or may demonstrate a low threshold for visual input. This may look like the following with your child:
Hyposensitivity to visual input is indicative of a child who demonstrates an under-responsiveness to visual input or may demonstrate a high threshold for visual input. This may look like the following with your child:
Vestibular – Our vestibular processing system stems from input that we receive from special receptors in our ear, that are triggered to tell us more about equilibrium, gravitational changes, position in space, and sense of movement.
Vestibular hypersensitivity is an over responsiveness to vestibular input and may be indicative of a child who demonstrates a low threshold for vestibular input. This may look like the following with your child:
Vestibular hyposensitivity is an under responsiveness to vestibular input and may be indicative of a child who demonstrates a high threshold for vestibular input. This may look like the following in your child:
Once again, I must reiterate that this sensory processing disorder checklist is by no means a diagnostic tool. This checklist is to help you better understand the different sensory processing systems, and accompanying responses that may be indicative of a sensory processing disorder. At the end of the day, you or your child may exhibit some of these sensory responses, but what it all comes down to is does it affect their function, development, and their ability to engage in meaningful activity? If you feel like it does, then it would be best to consult with a professional who can further explore your concerns, and provide diagnostic clarification through a standardized assessment and evidenced based tools/frames of reference.
Jonathan always knew that his life purpose was to help people. Jonathan is passionate about pediatric mental health, family centered practice, and learning more about innovative evidence-based therapies. Jonathan refers to himself as an “oversized child” and loves the process of families working together to maximize a child’s full potential. In his free time, Jonathan plays basketball and music, dances, travels, watches his teams play, and hangs out with his friends and family (most especially his dog!)