Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Sensory Processing Disorder) Symptoms: What You Must Know!

Sensory Integration Dysfunction Symptoms are, by far, the most important factors we should identify and call attention to! They ARE the signs that something is not developing normally, and must not be ignored!

As a parent, it begins with the feeling and frustration of...

"Something is not right... Something is different... Why does he do that... I'm at a loss... How do I understand and help my child... Why is everyone telling me it is my fault and to stop letting him control me... I'm exhausted!"

Check Out My Story to see what I went through as a parent; the questions, the frustration, the blame, the dismissal of professionals!

As a teacher, it begins with the feeling and frustration of...

"Why is this child so disruptive in class... Why is he so different than the rest of the children... Why is learning so difficult for him... Why can't he write legibly... Why is he so fearful... Why won't he play with the other kids... How do I even begin to understand and help him?"

Well, perhaps I can help! First, we must understand some basics about sensory integration/sensory processing.

Sensory integration is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and continues throughout one’s life. Although, it is important to note, the most influential developmental time is in the first seven years of life. Sensory processing is the process by which our brain takes in sensory input and interprets this information for use.

When talking about typical sensory processing, a productive, normal and “adaptive response” happens as:

  • our neurological system takes in sensory information

  • the brain organizes and makes sense of it

  • which then enables us to use it and act accordingly within our environment to achieve “increasingly complex, goal-directed actions”.

  • ** It is this “adaptive response” which facilitates normal development.**

    We, therefore use our sensory processing abilities for:

  • social interaction

  • motor skill development

  • focusing and attending so we can learn

  • If this neurological process becomes disrupted somewhere in the loop of intake, organization or output, then normal development and adaptive responses will not be achieved.

    Learning, physical and emotional development, as well as behavior will therefore be impacted; sometimes severely!

    It is this disruption which yields a neurological dysfunction called Sensory Integration Dysfunction/Sensory Processing Disorder.

    Keep in mind, sensory processing functions on a continuum. Please understand that we all have difficulty processing certain sensory stimuli (a certain touch, smell, taste, sound, movement etc.) and we all have sensory preferences. **It only becomes a sensory processing disorder when we are on extreme ends of the continuum or experience “disruptive, unpredictable fluctuations which significantly impact our developmental skills or everyday functioning”.**

    That being said, it is important for us to break the sensory integration dysfunction symptoms down into categories based on each of the senses. These categories are:

  • Tactile: the sense of touch; input from the skin receptors about touch, pressure, temperature, pain and movement of the hairs on the skin.

  • Vestibular: the sense of movement; input from the inner ear about equilibrium, gravitational changes, movement experiences and position in space.

  • Proprioception: the sense of "position"; input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position.

  • Auditory: input relating to sounds; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to sounds

  • Oral: input relating to the mouth; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to input within the mouth

  • Olfactory: input relating to smell; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to different odors.

  • Visual: input relating to sight; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to what one sees.
  • Since we are talking about input into the senses, it is those senses which must be looked at carefully and which will be affected. It is a careful observer (the one I wish for in every child's life!) who will pay close attention to which senses are affected and the frequency, duration, and intensity of these sensory integration dysfunction symptoms.

    As I have said, we all have some types of sensory preferences and perhaps even a mild case of "dysfunction". However, it is the frequency, intensity, duration and functional impact of these symptoms which determines dysfunction.

    If you personally know, have a child, or observe a child with a sensory integration/sensory processing disorder, I guarantee you will observe particular "behavioral indicators" which will make the "diagnosis" a plausible, possible, and real consideration or explanation.

    As with any diagnosis, the key is finding the correct one so proper treatment can begin (by the way, this is about 80% of the reason I have chosen to dedicate my time and energy to this website!).

    A Sensory Processing/Sensory Integration Disorder is certainly not the easiest diagnosis for an "untrained eye" to make!

    Through no fault of their own, many pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and other professionals have not been properly educated on the causes, signs and symptoms of this disorder. Therefore, they may mistakenly dismiss parental concerns, give them the wrong advice, or misdiagnose the child. This, in turn, may cause professionals to put a child on unnecessary medication or into treatment (or lack of treatment) that will not help them deal with the real underlying issue! My wish is that this will stop!

    Since I can not magically and instantly educate everyone who needs to be, then it must begin here... just you and me! Together, we can spread the word, ok? Are you on board with me? (know that this would please me to no end!).

    Alright, no pressure, truly. You don't have to decide now and there is no guilt if you don't want to climb on board, trust me! But, how about a deal... you keep reading through my site, as well as other sites, and talk to professionals educated on this subject, THEN decide.

    It's ok, I'll wait for you... because I am that passionate about helping these children! I will give you the tools and education you need and you can choose whatever you want to do with them, it is up to you and you only. I certainly respect that!

    So, for now, let me get you started. There are three things that MUST be clear to you and I want to make sure you understand them...

  • First, a Sensory Integration Disorder is a neurological disorder; not a spoiled child, a product of bad parenting, ADD, ADHD, defiant child or a mental illness! Although, it is important to note, any of these could co-exist with a sensory processing disorder.

  • Second, we are talking about reactions to specific sensory input. It is about how this input is taken in, organized, and utilized to interpret one's environment and make the body ready to learn, move, regulate energy levels and emotions, interact, and develop properly.

  • And third, when sensory integration dysfunction symptoms appear, the must be taken seriously as early as possible and treated properly by a knowledgeable professional!

    I will briefly explain these sensory integration dysfunction symptoms below, but you should also check out an extensive, invaluable, printable SPD Symptom Checklist which can be found within this site. DON'T MISS IT!

    I promise it will truly be worth your time! If you are serious about identifying and understanding children with this disorder, the checklist will be an absolutely essential tool to get you started!

    A Summary Of Sensory Integration Dysfunction Symptoms:

    Signs Of Tactile Dysfunction:


    Refuses or resists messy play, resists cuddling and light touch, dislikes kisses, rough clothes or seams in socks, resists baths, showers, or going to the beach.


    Doesn't realize hands or face are dirty, touches everything and anything constantly, may be self-abusive, plays rough with peers, doesn't seem to feel pain (may even enjoy it!)

    Signs Of Vestibular Dysfunction:


    Avoids playground and moving equipment, fearful of heights, dislikes being tipped upside down, often afraid of falling, walking on uneven surfaces, and avoids rapid, sudden or rotating movements.

    Click Here To Find Out About Gravitational Insecurity: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Ideas!


    Craves any possible movement experience, especially fast or spinning, never seems to sit still, is a thrill seeker, shakes leg while sitting, loves being tossed in the air, never seems to get dizzy, full of excessive energy.

    Signs Of Proprioceptive Dysfunction:


    Constantly jumping, crashing, and stomping, loves to be squished and bear hugs, prefers tight clothing, loves rough-housing, and may be aggressive with other children.


    Difficulty understanding where body is in relation to other objects, appears clumsy, bumps into things often, moves in a stiff and/or uncoordinated way.

    Difficulty Regulating Input:

    Doesn't know how hard to push on an object, misjudges the weight of an object, breaks objects often and rips paper when erasing pencil marks.

    Signs Of Auditory Dysfunction:


    Covers ears and startled by loud sounds, distracted by sounds not noticed by others, fearful of toilets flushing, hairdryers and/or vacuums, resists going to loud public places (even cafeteria at school).


    May not respond to verbal cues, loves loud music and making noise, may appear confused about where a sound is coming from, may say "what?" frequently.

    Signs Of Oral Dysfunction:


    Picky eater with extreme food preferences and limited repertoire, may gag on textured food, difficulty with sucking, chewing, and swallowing, extremely fearful of the dentist, dislikes toothpaste and brushing teeth.


    May lick, taste or chew on inedible objects, loves intensely flavored foods, may drool excessively, frequently chews on pens, pencils, or shirt.

    Signs Of Olfactory  Dysfunction:


    Bothered or nauseated by cooking, bathroom and/or perfume smells, may refuse to go places because of the way it smells, chooses foods based on smell, notices smells not normally noticed by others.


    May not notice unpleasant or noxious odors, smells everything when first introduced to it, may not be able to identify smells from scratch 'n sniff stickers.

    Signs Of Visual  Dysfunction:


    Irritated by sunlight or bright lights, easily distracted by visual stimuli, avoids eye contact, may become over aroused in brightly colored rooms.


    Difficulty controlling eye movements and tracking objects, mixes up similar letters, focuses on little details in a picture and misses the whole, looses his place frequently when reading or copying from the blackboard.

    Again, you may want to check out My Printable Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist! ... I truly believe you will find it incredibly useful and thorough.

    In addition, you will find it useful to help understand these children and what they go through with my What Does It Feel Like article. It will give you an interesting perspective! Check it out.

    Sensory Integration Dysfunction symptoms must not be ignored! If you observe many of these signs in a child you know, please talk to a professional, such as an Occupational Therapist who can further evaluate and decide whether your child has a sensory processing disorder.

    Let's catch it early and set these children on the right path!

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    Related Resources

    SPD Symptom Checklist

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    Sensory Processing Disorders:Through The Eyes Of Dysfunction

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