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11 Early Signs Of Sensory Processing Disorder

Many parents are becoming more aware of the prevalence of sensory processing disorders. So if your kid is extremely upset by slight environmental changes, such as the noise of silverware being placed in a drawer, then you may wonder if it's an appropriate time to check in with the physician. After all, spotting the early signs of sensory processing disorder can help your kid get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

According to WebMD, a sensory processing disorder is a condition that makes it difficult for a person's brain to receive sensory information. In some cases, people are overly sensitive to stimuli, so much so that minor background noise feels deafening. On the other hand, some people are under-sensitive to sensory stimuli, making it tricky to, say, accurately gauge the temperature outside and dress appropriately.

That said, it can be difficult to spot the symptoms of a sensory processing disorder (SPD). After all, plenty of children will play too rough, refuse to eat certain foods, and go without jackets on a chilly day. With that in mind, it's a good idea to check with your pediatrician or an occupational therapist if you suspect your kid shows these symptoms. Professionals will be able to help you discover whether your kid's dislike for crowds is a symptom of SPD, or just a sign that your little one is developing at his own rate.

1. They Appear Clumsy

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Granted, most children take a while to master the basics of mobility. But according to Brain Balance Centers, children with sensory processing disorder may have exceptional problems with coordination or balance. For instance, these children may seem to run into walls constantly, despite their best efforts to maintain bodily control.

2. They Hate Touching Messy Objects

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Mud, modeling clay, and other squishy materials make up the landscape of childhood for many kids. But for those with  sensory processing disorder, touching such messy things may bother them tremendously, as noted by Sensory Processing Disorder.com. What's more, this avoidance may limit the kid's ability to learn about tactile input.

3. They Dislike Certain Foods

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Plenty of kids are picky eaters, but for those affected by SPD, food problems exist on a whole other level. According to Food & Nutrition Magazine, children with sensory processing disorder may only eat a few types of foods, and they likely have a lot of trouble trying anything new. On a more concerning note, this type of restrictive eating could potentially leave a child with nutritional deficiencies.

4. They Spin Constantly

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It's important to remember that SPD can also make children less sensitive to stimulation. In this case, kids with sensory processing disorder may spin or move around excessively while playing, often to the point of recklessness, as explained in Parents. In some ways, it may look like they have to overcompensate in order to experience much sensation.  

5. They Use Inappropriate Force

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Does your little one accidentally rip the page while coloring, or otherwise not seem to know her own strength? As noted in Kid Sense, children with SPD may attempt to carry out tasks with inappropriate force or movement. The condition may make it difficult for affected children to judge the real amount of force needed to write or tap on a shoulder appropriately.

6. They Seem Unaffected By Temperature

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Again, this is one of the signs that may be difficult to spot, because plenty of children are more than happy to dash out the door without their coat. But children who are under-sensitive to stimulation may not seem to be bothered at all by temperature extremes, according to What To Expect. This could open the door for burns and other injuries.

7. They Fail To Respond To Touch

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Can you tap on your child's shoulder and get zero response? It may be a symptom of the condition. According to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder, children with sensory processing disorder may fail to acknowledge a touch unless you use what seems like a lot of force. It could be a sign of sensory under-stimulation.

8. They Hate Change

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Most children would get a little unraveled by moving to a new neighborhood or starting a new school. But for kids with SPD, any change in the environment could trigger a strong response, as explained in Understood.org. Venturing into a new grocery store, for instance, could lead to an absolute meltdown.

9. They Avoid Crowds & Social Gatherings

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For children who are hyper-sensitive to stimuli, simply going to a friend's birthday party could feel like an exercise in torture. According to a 2005 case report in the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the noise and chaos presented by a crowd is often disturbing for children with sensory processing disorder. What looks like normal play to adults may feel completely overwhelming to kids who cope with SPD.  

10. They Fear Playground Equipment

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Swings and monkey bars are a blast for most kids, but they can be too overwhelming for some children with sensory processing disorder. In fact, playground equipment can be frightening for children with sensory processing disorder. This does make a lot of sense; if you're already overstimulated by everyday movement, then going for a spin on the merry-go-round could feel downright terrifying.  

11. They Touch Things Constantly

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Whereas kids who are over-stimulated may shrink away from touching certain things, those who happen to be under-stimulated may feel the need to touch everything. In fact, according to Brain Balance Centers, kids who have sensory processing disorder may touch textures and surfaces wherever they go. This may be OK on a playground, but not so great when your kid is grabbing at a stranger's clothes.