Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms in Children

Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms in Children

When the brain doesn’t properly interpret sensory stimuli or input, the result is a disorganized picture of the environment. This can be both confusing and overwhelming to those experiencing it. Awareness of sensory processing disorder symptoms in children has grown, but it is important to be informed about the patterns, signs, difficulties, and support that exists for these individuals to better understand the world around them and be successful in meaningful occupations! 

What are the 3 patterns of sensory processing disorders?  

Sensory processing disorders typically present in 3 patterns. Signs and symptoms of these sensory difficulties in children vary based on which pattern they show. The three patterns of sensory processing disorders are sensory modulation disorder, sensory-based motor disorder, and sensory discrimination disorder.

1. Sensory modulation disorder

This relates to the ability of a child to regulate their response to their environment and the sensations it provides. Sensory modulation can be further broken down based on the type of reaction that they have to the sensory input. An overreaction indicates sensory hyper-responsivity. This means that the individual is feeling a sensation more intensely than someone else would, and they enter a “fight or flight” state, much like others would if they encountered something annoying, uncomfortable, or painful. An under-reaction indicates sensory hypo-responsivity. This means that the individual is not very sensitive to input from their environment, and more intense input is required to alert their body. 

2. Sensory-based motor disorder

This refers to trouble processing information the senses provide to understand an environment, the task demands, and to carry out motor action. Sensory-based motor disorder means that the child may have difficulty with developing ideas, creating a plan, and successfully carrying out that plan. 

3. Sensory discrimination disorder

This indicates that the child will have difficulty understanding the sensory stimuli and their qualities in order to interact with their environment. 

What is the main cause of sensory processing disorder?  

While children may experience sensory challenges, the main cause of sensory processing disorder is not known. Emerging research reveals sensory processing disorder may be impacted by genetics, prenatal complications, birth complications, and environmental components. 

What are examples of sensory issues? 

Generally, a child experiencing sensory processing disorder may have difficulty understanding their environment and where their body is in relation to space, and demonstrate decreased engagement in activities and limited performance in childhood occupations, such as play. Symptoms of a sensory processing disorder in children vary depending on the pattern that they present with, and the sensory system is impacted.  

Some sensory processing disorder symptoms that demonstrate difficulty with understanding qualities of the sensory stimuli or motor planning that you may recognize in your child can include: 

  • A desire to touch all objects around them or put objects in their mouth 
  • Difficulty grading pressure when playing with toys (Does your child frequently break crayons or crush juice boxes? Does your child often drop objects on the floor because they are not holding them tightly?) 
  • Decreased balance and falling over or slouching and unable to sit upright during an activity 
  • Seeking movement such as climbing on furniture, jumping up and down 
  • Avoiding movement, such as climbing on the playground with peers 

Some sensory processing disorder symptoms that indicate modulation difficulties include: 


  • The child does not recognize the urgency, and may appear “lazy”  
  • Your child may not run to keep up with friends or rush to take his/her turn on the playground 
  • The child may be slow to react
  • The child may seem to ignore you or be unphased by a fall 


  • The child may be bothered by a tag in their shirt, a wrinkle in a sock inside of a shoe, or other things touching them, at a level of being bothered or avoiding it entirely 
  • The child may dislike swinging, sliding, or going upside down, and become very upset by this motion or try to avoid it 
  • The child may gag or spit out foods  
  • The child may cover their ears or become upset and startle easily from sounds in their environment 
  • The child may seek other calming sensory input or sensory input which they can control when feeling dysregulated (jumping up and down, rocking, biting, pushing, laying on the ground) 

Can you have sensory processing disorder without autism?

Yes! A child can experience sensory processing issues without having autism. Although it’s difficult for some to understand sensory processing disorder vs autism, the two aren’t interchangeable. While many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses experience sensory processing disorder, not all children with symptoms of sensory processing difficulties have ASD. Children can also experience sensory differences on their own. 

Sensory processing disorder treatment

Sensory processing disorder treatment usually involves therapy. Different types of therapy for sensory difficulties can include sensory integration therapy and occupational therapy.

Pediatric Occupational Therapy Can Help

Pediatric occupational therapists are knowledgeable and skilled in identifying patterns of sensory processing disorder symptoms in children. If your child is experiencing symptoms of sensory processing disorder that interfere with their ability to complete meaningful activities, such as participation in school, play, sleep, or mealtime, occupational therapy may be able to help. During a session, our occupational therapists will utilize evidence-based practice activities to increase body awareness and regulation, which can help by positively impacting motor planning and behavioral concerns, as well as providing ideas for strategies that parents can use at home. Visit our website for location information or to request an appointment online.

Article By: Alexis Miller M.S., OTR/L  

Alexis began their occupational therapy career 4 years ago. Alexis loves working with the pediatric population and believes in the importance of providing client-centered care. She currently specializes in sensory process, pediatric pelvic floor and sensory-based feeding. Alexis enjoys working with children and their families to reach their full potential. She currently treats patients at Ivy Rehab for Kids in Midland Park, NJ 

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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