Signs, Signals, And Symptoms Of SPD

The following signs, signals, and symptoms are the everyday words that you may hear describing behaviors of a child. The next time you hear some of these words, really listen. You may be hearing symptoms of SPD.

Write down or check off all that apply to the child. If there is more than a few, the child needs an evaluation.  

And take heart, there is help. There is hope. There is therapy!



___  extremely active or extremely quiet

___  does not like to be cuddled, or will not let you put her down

___  a baby who seems to never sleep, does not develop sleep patterns

___  takes an unusually long time to nurse or finish bottle

___  does not like baby swings, or riding in car/or...

___  may only sleep when swinging or riding in car!

___  difficulty lifting head when on tummy

___  cannot crawl "on all fours"

___  uses soldier crawl, or scoots rather than use arms to bear weight

___  screams hysterically when hungry, wet, cold, or hot

___  must have absolute quiet to settle down/or must have certain sounds

___  cannot hold self upright in walker, high chair for more than a few minutes,  when age appropriate

___  cries when bathed

___  struggles when changed

___  cannot latch on, or suckle to nurse

___  tenses, or cries when held in space

___  frequently make fists (after six months)

Remember what you are looking for at the infant stage are extremes. Too much one way, or too much the other. Every baby has likes and dislikes. You are looking for a multitude of symptoms.


Toddler or Preschool Child

Motor Planning:

___  difficulty going up or down stairs

___  falls off of chairs, couches, bed

___  walks into walls, corners, people

___  difficulty with push and pull toys

___  cannot pedal tricycles, bikes, scoot type toys

___  potty accidents that go on and on

___  strong preference for or against playground equipment

___  difficulty guiding utensils to mouth

___  cannot use scissors

___  cannot hold pencil or crayon in correct grip

___  trouble kicking ball, or catching balloons

___  difficulty doing puzzles, Leggos, stacking blocks

___  spins, spins, spins

___  jumps, jumps, jumps

___  crashes, crashes, crashes



___  likes certain clothes, usually cotton

___  does not like sleeves that hit wrist, or high collars

___  does not like belts, or anything snug around waist

___  seams in clothing or socks bothersome

___  acts claustrophobic when slightly stuck in clothes

___  cannot snap, zip, buckle, or tie

___  wants tags removed

___  likes to be totally covered, or is constantly removing clothing

___  overdresses in hot weather, or under dresses in cold weather



___  does not like certain textures; too crunchy, soft, grainy, or slimy

___  complains food too hot, or too cold

___  prefers unusually hot, or unusually cold food

___  food has no taste, or tastes too strong

___  likes very few foods, or will eat anything

___  has hard time with spoons and forks

___  spills food and drinks frequently

___  uses sippy cup long after most children have moved on

___  chews with mouth open

___  over stuffs mouth, chokes

___  bites fingers and tongue while eating

___  messy eater, dribbles food down chin, or can't stand mess on hands

___  drops food on floor, all over table, unintentionally

___  dislikes carbonated drinks

___  cannot sit through a meal

___  prefers picking/grazing through the day, instead of regular mealtimes


Self-Care Skills:

___  does not like to brush teeth

___  hates taste of toothpaste

___  does not like baths, washing or combing hair

___  likes cool or very warm baths

___  cries when fingernails and toenails clipped, or hair cut

___  has trouble dressing self

___  does not like feet touched

___  always has shoes on, or never leaves them on

___  does not recognize need to go potty


Muscle Tone:

___  falls out of chairs

___  legs hang, rather than wrap around someone's hips when carried

___  won't carry objects, seem too heavy

___  rests head on hands or arms frequently

___  poor posture

___  fidgets and moves around a lot while sitting

___  can't get comfortable


Emotions and Fears:

___  severe temper tantrums, sometimes many per day

___  meltdowns in stores, restaurants, public places

___  withdraws into self, zones out

___  hides under furniture

___  acts out aggressively when touched, provoked, or upset

___  seems not to listen

___  easily frustrated, quick to anger

___  when excited, over does it, can't calm down

___  severe separation anxiety

___  trouble playing with other children

___  grabby, hugs too hard, body slams while playing

___  flits from one activity to another

___  seems under/over sensitive to pain

___   head in frustration

___  vomits a mouthful when too upset

___  afraid of falling in toilet

___  afraid of drain in tub

___  afraid of dark

___  afraid of new places, people

___  afraid no matter what consolation you give


Older Child

(and these may also apply to some younger children)

___  easily distracted

___  difficulty hearing adult voices over background sounds

___  cannot follow directions without constant verbal reminders

___  cannot complete more than one direction at a time

___  does not complete tasks

___  dislikes changes in plans or routines

___  overly excited when people come to house/

___  hides when anyone comes over

___  poor speech, articulation

___  stubborn, uncooperative, defiant

___  erratic sleep patterns

___  does not like loud noises or commotion

___  craves/avoids touching

___  unusually low/high energy

___  "falls apart" frequently

___  has trouble making choices

___  immature, baby talk, cries over inconsequential things

___  short attention span

___  won't join the group

___  clumsy, spacey, lazy

___  impulsive

___  speaks unusually loud/ talks too soft to hear

___  misses when placing objects on table

___  bumps into people and things

___  acts wild when in a group

___  forgets shoes, socks, homework, assignments

___  leaves the table during meals

___  difficulty with handwriting

___  reading and math difficulties

___  inverting/reversing numbers and letters

___  cannot judge time

___  poor written work


 When there is a special needs child in the house, their behavior affects everyone in the family.  All the parenting methods that may have worked with other children seem not to apply. This is very frustrating for the parents and siblings. Once an evaluation is completed and treatment has begun, the family can learn new and better ways of coping, and understanding what they can do to help their child, and consequently help the entire family. The signs you see listed below are some of the symptoms you may see in the family that has a Sensory Dysfunctional child.



___  migraine headaches

___  guilt feelings

___  hopelessness

___  suicidal thoughts

___  depression

___  chronic fatigue

___  fibromyalgia

___  anxiety disorder

___  low stress tolerance

___  lack of coping skills

___  memory impairment



___  jealousy

___  anger

___  acting out

___  aggression

___  depression

___  withdrawal


Copyright © Michelle Morris. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:

Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children.  She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.  

NOTE:  Timing, duration, intensity, and frequency are key!  A child must not only show multiple signs of dysfunction, but also have it significantly impair normal functioning in one or more areas.  Also, other diagnoses must be ruled out that can mimic the symptoms of sensory dysfunction (or exist as a co-morbidity).  This is not an official diagnostic checklist...but it WILL get you started.  Take it to your doctor, OT, health professional and talk to them about pursuing a Sensory Evaluation if your child shows many indications of sensory dysfunction.

ALSO, some of these are developmental milestones and must be considered relative to how old the child is.   For more on age appropriate skills, see the following developmental checklists...

The Infant/Toddler SPD Symptoms Checklist

Child Developmental Checklist

Fine Motor Development Chart

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Related Resources

Behavior Problems In Children  A new perspective on causes and treatment for behavior problems; an SPD perspective.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction Symptoms  Hypo- vs. Hyper-Sensitive, what you must know.

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist  A comprehensive categorized checklist based on the various areas of dysfunction.

The Adolescent/Adult SPD Symptoms Checklist - Find out signs and symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder with the adolescent and adult SPD checklist.

The Sensory Processing Disorder Help Line - The SPD Q & A - Your Sensory Processing Disorder Questions... Answered. Submit a question or help answer someone else's.

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