Symptom Tests

[Self-Test] Sensory Processing Disorder: Symptoms in Children

Sensory processing disorder makes it difficult for the brain to receive messages from the senses. It may manifest as meltdowns from sensory overload, or stimulation-seeking behavior, or confusion and clumsiness in everyday tasks. Could SPD be causing your child’s challenging behavior? Take this symptom test and share the results with your doctor.

It’s not uncommon to feel occasional sensory overload — that is, to feel overwhelmed by distracting noises or crowded spaces or strong odors once in a while — but for children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), these sensations disrupt and overwhelm everyday life. SPD is a neurological condition that interferes with the body’s ability to interpret sensory messages from the brain and convert those messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.

Sensory Processing Disorder may make it difficult to filter out unimportant sensory information, like the background noise of a busy school hallway, and causes children to feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated in certain environments. Or SPD may make it difficult to take in important sensory information; a child who has tripped may not react quickly enough to soften her fall, for example. In addition, SPD may make it difficult to pinpoint the source of bodily pain or gauge the appropriate pressure to use when writing with a pencil. SPD may make children feel that their bodies are uncooperative, that they always disappoint others, and that they are failures.

These emotions may manifest as anxiety or temper tantrums or meltdowns — all reactions that may understandably be mistaken for attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). But if your child gets upset consistently in the same noisy or smelly environment, or when asked to eat the same specific foods as other kids, or when bothered by itchy tags in his clothing, or when frustrated figuring out how to orient his body to get dressed, he may be dealing with SPD.

Other children with SPD crave activities that will stimulate their senses. This could entail riding a bicycle too fast down a steep hill or performing flips on the monkey bars — daredevil acts that could, likewise, look a lot like ADHD hyperactivity.

Sometimes the issue is not over- or under-stimulation. Another difficulty is poor discrimination of sensations. Is the water hot or cold? Is this the right buttonhole? Has the steak been chewed sufficiently before swallowing? Did someone say “Go” or “No?” Is that word “bug” or “dug?” These kids may have sensory processing challenges, not attentional issues.

Difficulties with posture and carrying out unfamiliar, multi-step tasks are another common issue for kids with SPD. They may have poor balance, slump at the table, fatigue easily, stick out their tongue when writing, and fall off the swing. They may have problems with tying shoes, slinging on their backpack, or putting on a seatbelt. The underlying condition may be not ADHD but SPD.

In the self-test below, select ‘Agree’ for statements that accurately describe your child and share the results with your child’s physician.

Adapted from the SPD checklist from the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. This is not a diagnostic tool. An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration is the best professional to make an accurate diagnosis through clinical evaluation.

Can’t see the Sensory Processing Disorder symptoms test above? Click here to open this test in a new window.

What To Do Next:

1. Take This Test: Does My Child Have ADHD / ADD?
2. Take This Test: Executive Function Disorder in Children
3. Take This Test: Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children
4. Download Are Your Senses in Overdrive?
5. Research Treatments for Sensory Processing Disorder
6. Listen to “Sensory Processing Disorder in Kids” – an Expert Webinar with Carol Kranowitz, M.A.
7. Read “I’m Overloaded!” Responding to Sensory Dysfunction

Updated on September 25, 2019

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  1. My son has SPD. My problem with your questions is that my son can frequently be the opposite of the questions asked. I realize that you have the issues of attention span and interest, but I’d hate for a person to take your test and think SPD may not be an issue. The problem with SPD is the kids (and adults) with it can be a seeker, an avoider, or unresponsive depending on the sense involved and the person’s reaction to that sense. For example, my son seeks large body movement and avoids loud sounds. Maybe more options than agree and disagree would help if you need to keep your questions limited.

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