[Self-Test] Sensory Processing Disorder in Children
Sensory processing disorder may manifest in various ways, including melting down from sensory overload, or acting up in a scramble for stimulation, or being confused, clumsy, and ineffectual while trying to perform everyday tasks. Could SPD be causing your child’s challenging behavior? Take this self-test and share the results with your doctor.
Reviewed by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.
It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by distracting noises or crowded spaces, 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.
SPD 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 ADHD. 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.