How do I know if my child has sensory processing challenges?

What is Sensory Processing? 

Sensory processing is how our brain processes and makes sense of sensory information coming into our body. All of the sensory information comes together to build our conscious reality.  This includes sight, sound, movement, internal sensation, body position and touch input. 

The way our body experiences the world is critical to our feelings of safety, moving our bodies, making friends and completing tasks.  Making sense of the world is how we achieve success.  

Kids who have “behavior problems”

As a pediatric occupational therapist for the last 18 years I have seen challenges with sensory processing come in many forms.  Children can be over reactive, under reactive, or a combination of both.  This leads to difficulties with motor coordination, academic skills, feeding delays, difficulty calming, poor attention and much more.  Children are often labeled as having “behavior problems” or “sensitive kiddos”.  What I have found through working with many children is that these “behaviors” are actually a child’s nervous system making a response..  It can’t make sense of the world around them, and so the child is constantly in “fight or flight” or appears to be “tuned out”.

Imagine a child who is overwhelmed by touch.  They struggle to make friends on the playground because anytime they are touched unexpectedly their body goes into fight or flight and they lash out.  To most other children this appears like a “mean kid” who gets upset quickly; but to this child they dread recess every day.  They can’t seem to organize their body for success and none of the kids want to play with them.

How do I know if challenges in sensory processing are impacting my child?

  • Over reactive or heightened sensitivity to light, sound or touch
  • Uncoordinated and seem weaker than others
  • Difficulty with change
  • Challenges with focus and attention
  • Frequently “on the move” running, jumping, crashing
  • Inability to calm when upset
  • Have trouble judging force using utensils or markers/crayons/pencils
  • Having difficulty in sports – kicking, catching, throwing – or when riding a bike
  • Bothered by seams in clothing, socks and generally has a hard time getting dressed
  • Resistant to teeth and/or hair brushing
  • Refusing finger painting, playing in the sand, or other messy play
  • Pulling away when touched by you or others
  • Having meltdowns in noisy places – restaurants, movies, classroom
  • Overwhelmed in busy environments
  • Hesitant to participate on the playground on swings or jungle gyms
  • Poor awareness of being hurt or being dirty
  • Slow to respond to his name being called
  • “In his own world” most of the time and hard to engage
  • In constant motion or constantly touching or mouthing objects or people
  • Seems to need to control all environments
  • Fidgety, wiggly and restless to the point that it interferes with daily routines
  • Moving without regard to safety

My child has a lot of those symptoms.  What should I do?

The next step is to contact an occupational therapist to do an evaluation.  I have extensive training in working with children with sensory processing and regulation difficulties.  This is a specialized field, so it’s important to find a therapist that is a good match with knowledge of how to recognize sensory processing difficulties, and help families establish a sensory lifestyle.  A sensory lifestyle consists of the combination of knowledge and tools that make every day activities go much smoother.

Intensives=quicker progress in shorter time

Ongoing treatment sessions are often recommended after the OT evaluation.  This can be done weekly, but I often recommend to families that we do intensive treatment.  This involves working intensively several times a week for a short burst of time, and then the family can get onto living with new tools to help their child be successful across all environments.  Compare when you are training to run a race.  You will improve quicker running 3 days a week vs training one day a week.  My role as the occupational therapist is to empower families to take control and quit letting sensory processing challenges rule their lives.  


You can schedule a free consult or reach out to Connect Pediatric Therapy for more information at 402-413-1356.




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