Boy holding his ears

Could my child have sensory processing disorder

Could my child have sensory processing disorder spd?

Symptoms of sensory processing disorder. highlighted by the drawing of a child with lines pointing to areas of the body and a description of the sensory issues for that part of the body

If you recognize some of the issues on this diagram in your child, it may be that they are struggling with a sensory processing disorder, also known as sensory integration disorder It is not known what causes some children to suffer from sensory processing difficulties but I do know as a parent that it can be hereditary.

I am writing this as a parent who has children with various sensory processing difficulties and an adult who has her own sensory issues. I do not have any expertise in sensory processing disorder other than living through it. I am writing this hoping that it may help someone who is going through similar issues as we have had.

I began to learn about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in 2014 when I was trying to make sense of my then six-year-old son’s many meltdowns. At this time there was very little information on the internet about it, and everything that I did find was from American websites. I discovered STAR Institute one of the biggest researchers and leading authorities on Sensory Processing Disorder in America.  America was and still is way ahead in its understanding of sensory processing disorder. In the UK, sensory processing problems are not recognized as an official disorder on their own and are often only picked up and dealt with as a symptom of another issue such as developmental delays, Autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and OCD, while SPD is common in Neurodiverse children it can occur without any other disorder being present STAR Institute’s research has found. see the articlehere  Latest Research Findings | STAR Institute 

If you feel you are struggling to be heard by your family doctor or NHS occupational therapy department (we had to be referred a couple of times before taken seriously), there are many good private occupational therapy companies that will assess your child and offer sensory integration therapy to address your child’s sensory difficulties for a price if you can afford it. Going through the NHS is free but be prepared for it to take some time.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for your child, and you can always video your child’s behaviour when they are having issues if you feel like it’s hard to describe or you are not being taken seriously. We are fortunate that our local private occupational therapists company runs a support group for parents of children with Sensory Processing Disorder. I was able to access free training on sensory processing that greatly helped us understand the reason for my son’s difficulties and how to create a sensory diet to help him. My son was later diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder, but it was his sensory processing challenges that caused him the most significant problems when he was younger.

girl covering ears and screaming

What is sensory processing?

Sensory processing is how our brain makes sense of the stimulus of our senses in our everyday life.

Sensory processing difficulties can be quite complex as we have eight senses that our brains need to be able to process. Problem’s processing one or multiple senses can lead to sensory overload, which can cause significant distress for our children. Someone could be overly sensitive to sensory stimuli or under sensitive, causing them to be a sensory seeker or a child could have a combination of the two.

1.            Visual.

Our ability to see colour, depth, shapes, light, and the ability to filter out visual information.

2.            Auditory.

How we hear, listen and filter out noises that are going on around us. A child with auditory issues might struggle with loud noises.

3.            Olfactory.

Our sense of smell, whether things smell good or bad, smells are strongly linked to our emotions.

4.            Tactile.

Our sense of touch. Children with sensory processing difficulties could be overly sensitive to touch. They may hate light touch or be tickled; this can also often cause issues with clothing, such as the seams in their socks or the tags in their clothes being scratchy or uncomfortable.

5.            Gustatory.

Our sense of taste, our ability to decide what foods and drinks are good or bad and what we should avoid. It can be common for children with an oversensitive gustatory system to have a minimal diet.

6.            Vestibular.

Located in the inner ear, this is our sense of movement. Our body’s ability to distinguish between sitting, standing, swinging, spinning, etc.

7.            Proprioception.

Our ability to know where our limbs are in space without looking at them. Children who struggle with proprioception may have poor balance, appear clumsy or struggle with their fine motor skills.

8.            Interoception.

This is the feedback from our internal organs and gives us the ability to know when we are hungry, thirsty, or need to go to the bathroom.

Signs of an oversensitive child. (Hypersensitivity).

Children who are hypersensitive often hate trying new things or being out of routine. Their routine makes them feel safe and in control.

An oversensitive child may struggle with loud noises more than other children or might be unable to filter out background noises, making it difficult to concentrate.

They may struggle with bright lights. Their eyes may be very light-sensitive.

They might hate to be touched. My son absolutely hates light touch but is ok with the deep pressure of a bear hug. Many children with sensory processing disorder may have issues with certain clothing being uncomfortable for them, such as the seams on their socks hurting them, tags on clothes being itchy, underwear being too tight, etc.

They may have issues with certain foods, food textures or, tastes. It Is not unusual for a hypersensitive child to have very limited food preferences and be reluctant to try different foods.

Signs of an under-sensitive child. (Hyposensitive).

These children are often called sensory seekers as they constantly seek sensory input.

A hyposensitive child may;

·  Have no sense of personal space; get right into people’s faces.

·  Fidget or squirm a lot.

·  Be constantly sensory seeking and touching things.

·  Play rough, take risks, be seen as a thrill seeker.

·  May be easily distracted.

· They May seem clumsy, have poor body awareness, they may have trouble climbing stairs, or not be aware of their own strength. This may not always be picked up as a sensory issue without the help of an occupational therapist but can certainly have a huge effect on your child’s self-esteem.

What can we do to help?

picture of a little girl , sitting cross legged on a round chair suspended from the ceiling by ropes. a lady therapist is crouched down next to the child and is holding the chair

Talk to your family doctor or Paediatrician about the issues that your child is struggling with and ask to be referred to a children’s occupational therapist. An occupational therapist will identify your child’s problems and develop a sensory diet that, if followed over time, will help your child cope with their sensory difficulties. A sensory diet is a set of sensory activities to be followed at specific parts of the day to help your child process their sensory input. The activities will be designed to either calm or arouse the senses.

While sensory processing is not a learning difficulty, it can cause problems for your child’s daily functioning in certain environments and their ability to concentrate in school and can be especially difficult at busy times.

Work with the  SENCO teacher at your child’s school to develop some strategies to help your child cope in their own way with their sensory processing problems during the school day. They will likely have come across these issues before, and they are there to help. If they are unsure ask your occupational therapist to come up with a sensory diet.  Parents often worry about other kids making fun of their child but adding a sensory diet into the school day can be done very discreetly and if it helps your child stay focused then it will be well worth it. Children learn very quickly that following a sensory diet can help prevent sensory overload so it will make them feel better.

A picture of a child attempting to pick up bright coloured pom poms from a plastic container using a pair of plastic tweezers

Sensory aids.

Your OT may be able to suggest some sensory toys or aids that may help your child with their sensory diet, depending on their sensory challenges.

I have listed a few that we have used that may be of help to your child to cope with loud noises and background noises. I would definitely recommend Edz for small children as they are very sturdy and cancel out the background noise very well while allowing your child to be still able to have a conversation. They are very reasonable to buy on Amazon at around £9.99.

·   Ear defenders.

A picture of a pair of green and black ear defenders

You can buy some very good ear defenders from Screwfix for an older child. I suggest you don’t go for the cheapest as they are easy to pull apart, but you can certainly buy a good pair for under £10.

·  For something less conspicuous, your child could try earplugs; my son didn’t mind wearing the  wax ones that you get for swimming or try Flare Audio Calmer at Calmer® | An Alternative To Traditional Earplugs – Flare Audio Ltd

A picture of "Calmer" ear plugs, sold by the company "Flare Audio"

·           Weighted blankets.

Weighted blankets offer deep pressure which has a calming effect and can help to settle a child for sleep.

When my son was little, weighted blankets were very difficult to find for a child, and our best options were handmade and very expensive. They have now halved in price as they have become more popular as a calming aid for all sorts of people and you can buy them in the shops for around £20 – £30.

 You will need to make sure you are getting the correct weight blanket for your child’s weight.


a picture of a weighted blanket

 See the guide below.

How heavy should my weighted blanket be? (Chart Included!)


If your child constantly chews their clothes or nails, they may benefit from chewlery. This can be a necklace, pencil top, or chew toy made out of food-grade silicone, a bit like a teether, and is designed to withstand big teeth.

A picture of necklaces made out of silicon which you can chew to sooth you.

·       Weighted vest.

This is a waistcoat with weights inside that create deep pressure which can have a calming and grounding effect on your child just like a bear hug. A cheaper alternative is to put something heavy in a rucksack and get your child to wear it. My son used to wear a backpack with some books and a big bottle of water on his way to school; this used to help ground him, so his senses were ready for the school day.

Weighted lap pad.

In the same way that a weighted blanket can be calming by providing deep pressure when a child is feeling on edge or overwhelmed.

A picture of a girl with a weighted lap pad over her legs whilst she sits and draws

Weighted teddy.

a weighted teddy can offer a calming weight on the child’s lap as a weighted lap pad with the added benefit of being a cuddly friend.

A picture of a weighted teddy bear

 Wobble cushion.

This cushion that your child can sit on will give them some movement and feedback while they are sitting at their desk.

picture of a wobble cushion made out of blue silicon and inflated, it has small nobbles on the surface to provide sensory feedback.

·           Fidget toys.

There are many fidget toys available in the shops now for all sensory preferences that can help your child concentrate on their learning or act as a distraction when your child is having a hard time.

A picture of a bunch of brightly coloured fidget toys

An exercise ball.

These are often used in occupational therapy, your OT might recommend some exercises with an exercise ball for your child; these can be calming and help with the vestibular system.

A picture of a green inflated exercise ball

A trampoline.

This can be both calming or awakening depending on how your child is feeling, but a trampoline can be perfect for grounding your child’s senses when struggling or as part of their sensory diet. You don’t need to have a large trampoline in the garden to get the effect; a small foldable trampette will do the same job.

A picture of a small trampoline that you can step directly onto.

Recommended resources.

read my article on Heavy work activities for my sensory child

I would also like to recommend The out of sync child by Carol Stock Kranowitz. If you only

read one book on Sensory processing Disorder, read this one! This book changed

my life! Not only did it make sense of my son’s struggles, but I also realized

that both myself and my oldest daughter were challenged with sensory processing difficulties. I wish that I had known more when my daughter was younger, as I could have helped make her life a little easier.

A picture of a book "The Out-of-Sync Child" By Carol Kranowitz"

Check out  Sensory Processing – STAR Institute ( This site offers a great deal of information and a checklist that you can fill in if you are unsure whether or not your child may have a Sensory Processing Disorder.

Try looking at Lemon Lime Adventures- Out of the Box Parenting Made Simple. This site was created by Dayna Abraham, author of Superkids Activity Guide and Sensory Processing 101. This website offers

masterclasses tailored to your child to cope with their behaviour, all done in a helpful and easy-to-understand way. You can also follow Dayna on Facebook on Lemon Lime Adventures.

Another helpful website is The Sensory Spectrum – For Sensory Processing Disorder Kiddos and Their Parents. There is lots of valuable information there, and you can follow them on Facebook for some handy tips.

Children with SPD often get labelled as badly behaved, spoilt, over-emotional, or highly anxious because not enough is known about sensory processing disorder in everyday life. They will usually display their worst behaviour at home, and school might not even notice anything different about their behaviour this is because they have bottled it all up until they get home, you get to see the aftermath because you are their safe place. Listen to your instincts; they are almost always right. I hope that you have found this article helpful. We would love to hear about your experiences with SPD and are happy to answer any questions you might have or you’d like to share your story with us just fill in the comments form below.

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