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Checklist and Guidance for Children with Sensory Needs

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Approximately five percent of the school age population has a disorder known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Some of the more typical behaviors to look for include:

  • Responds to being touched with aggression or withdrawal (hates to be kissed or hugged unless they initiate it)
  • Irritated by tags, seams or other variations in clothing
  • Socks must be on in a certain way; often hates to wear shoes
  • “Picky” eater; may get stuck on certain foods and/or avoid others
  • Over or under sensitive to smells (may sniff people, objects and/or food)
  • Uncomfortable in loud or busy environments (malls, sporting events,ect.); often may cover ears with hands; Or may seek out loud sounds (turn up the volume on radio or television)
  • Has significant difficulty with transitions and/or resists new situations
  • Displays problems with muscle tone, coordination, motor planning (figuring out how to make your body do what you want it to)
  • High or low tolerance for pain· Poor fine motor (small muscle movements- like handwriting, buttoning) and/or gross motor skills (i.e. jumping, skipping, throwing a ball)
  • Avoids schoolwork and/or group activities· Controlling behaviors especially around certain stimuli
  • Often hates variations in temperature or texture; hates taking a bath; washing and combing hair may seem “painful”; often refuses to wear a coat when it is cold outside or overdresses when it is warm outside

Often a child with SPD is seen as having significant behavior problems, low self-esteem, trouble concentrating, trouble making friends, having frequent tantrums, and./or having learning problems. Frequently these same children are labeled as being “aggressive”, “withdrawn”, “clumsy/awkward” or another negative label when SPD is not correctly diagnosed; and often symptoms of SPD overlap with symptoms of other diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, and fragile X.

Other behaviors might include impulsivity, decreased attention, increased distractibility, hypotonia, anxiety and/or depressive symptoms, high and/or low activity levels, low self esteem, selective hearing or a hard time listening, uncoordinated, ect… SPD is usually professionally identified with a thorough assessment and treated by certified Occupational Therapists (OT).

OT helps children with SPD develop the ability to understand how their body perceives different sensations so that they can better organize their sensory systems to be receptive to these stimuli and allow for new skills to be learned more easily. OT is conducted in a sensory rich environment (including opportunities for swinging, spinning, oral-motor activities, tactile activities, visual and auditory activities). The goal of OT for a child with SPD is to help that child manage their responses to sensations in order to behave in a more appropriate and functional manner and to enable him/her to better participate in “normal” activities of childhood and daily life.

Parents should be encouraged to participate in their child’s OT plan of treatment by communicating with their child’s Occupational Therapist often regarding their family’s priorities for treatment and what they can do at home and at school to help their child become more “regulated” and coordinated, as well as ways to advocate for their child’s unique needs.

Christopher R. Auer, MA is the author of Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide to Understanding and Supporting Your Sensory Sensitive Child (New Harbinger, 2006) Additional information at or email [email protected]

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  • Posted On January 10, 2007
  • Published articles 283513

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