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48 Signs of Sensory Processing Difficulties: A Simple Checklist

Do you suspect that your child has sensory processing difficulties? Is one of the children that you teach displaying behaviours that you think might be an indication of something more?

It’s not always easy to spot the signs, or even to understand what it means when we refer to a child as “sensory”, so in this guide I’d like to break it down in a simple way.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between under- and over-sensitivity.

Sensory Seeking vs Sensory Avoidant

There are two main ways that children with processing difficulties respond to sensory input – they either seek it or they avoid it.

Sensory seekers tend to need more sensory input to function (because they under-respond to sensory stimuli) while sensory avoiders may find sensory input overwhelming and therefore avoid it (because they over-respond to sensory stimuli). [source]

For example, a sensory-seeking child might enjoy tight hugs, whereas a sensory-avoidant (also called sensory-defendant) child might avoid physical touch.

According to The OT Butterfly, children can also display both sensory seeking and avoidant behaviours (they have a mixed threshold).

How Children Receive Sensory Input

Children receive sensory input from the five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch – as well as proprioception (sense of body awareness or body position) and the vestibular system (balance and coordination).

Common Signs of Sensory Processing Difficulties

Here are some common signs that a child has sensory processing difficulties and may need to be referred to an occupational or physical therapist.

These signs could apply to children from around ages 3 to 12.

Drawing of a child up in the air, running

Signs of a Sensory Seeker:

  • Constantly touches people, objects or surfaces
  • Enjoys rough play
  • Plays of fiddles with objects such as pencils or books
  • Hums or sings a lot
  • Likes tight squeezes and bear hugs
  • Makes lots of noises throughout the day
  • Crashes and bumps into people, furniture and walls
  • Rubs hands on various textures or materials
  • Fidgets and can’t sit still
  • Appears to be “on the go”
  • Enjoys carrying heavy objects
  • Often jumps on furniture, trampolines or the ground
  • Enjoys spinning in circles
  • Rocks back and forth
  • Enjoys swinging on playground equipment
  • Talks loudly or makes loud sounds
  • Listens to loud music
  • Enjoys making noise with musical instruments
  • Stares at bright lights or moving objects
  • Enjoys strong-tasting foods and flavours
  • Chews on clothing, pencils or toys
  • Has a high pain threshold
  • Doesn’t notice when hands or face are soiled
Drawing of a child blocking her ears from noise

Signs of a Sensory Avoider:

  • Struggles to concentrate in a noisy environment
  • Misses oral instructions in class
  • Becomes uncomfortable during large gatherings
  • Does not like loud noises such as food processors, school bells or lawnmowers
  • Avoids hugs and touches
  • Hears background noise that others aren’t aware of
  • Is easily distracted or startled by noise
  • Finds tags, certain clothing fabrics and tight-fitting clothes uncomfortable
  • Is reluctant to engage in activities with sand, mud or finger paint
  • Wipes hands often during messy tasks
  • Uses fingertips when working on a project that requires manipulation, such as mixing dough
  • Dislikes physical games and roughhousing
  • Withdraws from activities
  • Asks people to be quiet
  • Moves carefully to avoid bumping into things
  • Is easily upset by minor bumps, scrapes or cuts
  • Dislikes spinning, swinging or fast movements
  • Fears climbing or being on high playground equipment
  • Covers ears in response to loud noises or music
  • Squints or covers eyes on bright light
  • Refuses certain foods due to their texture or strong taste
  • Is sensitive to strong smells
  • Does not like going to noisy places like malls or loud shows
  • Gets distracted by activity in the room when working on a task
  • Doesn’t steady objects when working – such as holding down paper when drawing

I hope you’ve found this list helpful.

Have you been able to spot any patterns of sensory seeking or avoiding traits in your child? Or are they showing a mix of both? If you are concerned, it is a good idea to have an assessment done or speak to an occupational therapist.


Sensory seeking and sensory avoiding: What you need to know

Sensory Processing Disorder: Understanding Sensory Issues in Children

Pin image with pictures of a child blocking their ears and another running. Title overlay: 40 Obvious signs - sensory seeker vs sensory avoider

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