What are the warning signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?

Let me start by telling you that we all have 7 senses! Not just 5 which we all know includes sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. We also have 2 other senses which are the Vestibular sense and the Proprioceptive sense.

  • The vestibular sense, or movement and balance sense, gives us information about where our body and head is in space. It allows us to stay upright when sitting, standing or walking.
  • Proprioception also known as the “body awareness sense” tells us where our body parts are in relation to each other and space.

These two senses help us navigate our daily lives without us even knowing it. For example proprioception gives us information about how much force we need to use to open a bottle or crack an egg. It allows us to clap our hands together even when our eyes are closed.

Research has shown that the vast majority of adults and children with autism have Sensory Processing difficulties/disorder. But it is important for parents to understand that many normal developing children also have Sensory Processing difficulties and that you can have the one diagnosis without the other. Having and SDP does not mean that you are automatically Autistic and being Autistic also does not mean that you automatically struggle with sensory input.

Sensory integration focuses primarily on three basic senses, which are the sense of touch (tactile), vestibular sense and the Proprioceptive sense. How these three senses work together started forming before birth and they continue to develop as our children mature.

What each parent needs to know is that these three senses help us experience, interpret and respond to different stimuli in our environment and when they are over stimulated or under stimulated it can cause difficulties with everything from learning to the way we integrate into society.

While SPD can be extremely difficult to diagnose, there are a few very distinctive behaviours that you as the parent can lookout for and they are:

  • Flapping of hands
  • Spinning
  • Bites or chews objects
  • Banging of body parts such as hand together or hits his/her jaw with his hand
  • Holds objects with excessive pressure
  • Blocking of ears
  • Falling over object
  • Getting hurt by bumping into items
  • Battles with touch (touch aversion) – this can also include sensitivity to clothes and shoes
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Overly sensitive or under reactive to touch
  • Overly sensitive or under relative to movement, sight or sounds
  • Easily distracted (poor attention span)
  • No sense of boundaries
  • Excessively high tolerance for pain
  • Enjoys sitting with knees tucked under himself/herself
  • Throws self heavily onto the floor
  • Tiptoe walking
  • Seeks rough and tumble play activities with others
  • Appears to be disorganized most of the time
  • Difficulty calming self or self regulation difficulties

What to do should your child show signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?

SEEK HELP FROM THE PROFESSIONALS – The sooner you get help from a qualified Occupation Therapist with Sensory Integration experience the better your child’s chances are of overcoming these challenges.

SPD’s can make everyday tasks frustrating for sensory sensitive children because they process information so differently and an OT will be able to help you with a sensory diet tailored directly to the child.


Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.