Symptom Tests

[Self-Test] Sensory Processing Disorder in Children

Sensory processing disorder makes it difficult for the brain to receive messages from the senses. It may manifest as meltdowns from sensory overload, or stimulation-seeking behavior, or confusion and clumsiness in everyday tasks. Could SPD be causing your child’s challenging behavior? Take this symptom test and share the results with your doctor.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) — formerly referred to as sensory integration dysfunction — is a neurological condition that interferes with the body’s ability to interpret sensory messages from the brain and convert those messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. It's not uncommon to feel occasional sensory overload — that is, to feel overwhelmed by distracting noises or crowded spaces or strong odors once in a while — but for children with SPD, these sensations disrupt and overwhelm everyday life.

Sensory Processing Disorder may make it difficult to filter out unimportant sensory information, like the background noise of a busy school hallway, and causes children to feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated in certain environments. Or SPD may make it difficult to take in important sensory information; a child who has tripped may not react quickly enough to soften her fall, for example. In addition, SPD may make it difficult to pinpoint the source of bodily pain or gauge the appropriate pressure to use when writing with a pencil. SPD may make children feel that their bodies are uncooperative, that they always disappoint others, and that they are failures.

What Are the Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Children?

These emotions may manifest as anxiety or temper tantrums or meltdowns — all reactions that may understandably be mistaken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But if your child gets upset consistently in the same noisy or smelly environment, or when asked to eat the same specific foods as other kids, or when bothered by itchy tags in his clothing, or when frustrated figuring out how to orient his body to get dressed, he may be dealing with SPD.

Other children with SPD crave activities that will stimulate their senses. This could entail riding a bicycle too fast down a steep hill or performing flips on the monkey bars — daredevil acts that could, likewise, look a lot like ADHD hyperactivity. Another difficulty is poor discrimination of sensations. Is the water hot or cold? Is this the right buttonhole? Has the steak been chewed sufficiently before swallowing? Did someone say "Go" or "No?" Is that word "bug" or "dug?" These kids may have sensory processing challenges, not attentional issues.

In the self-test below, select the statement that most accurately describes your child's behavior and share the results with your child’s physician.

Adapted from the SPD checklist from the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. This is not a diagnostic tool. An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration is the best professional to make an accurate diagnosis through clinical evaluation.

My child spits out foods like cooked peas or bananas pieces if they’re the slightest bit mushy.

My child has poor balance and coordination, and tends to trip over their own feet. Keeping up with other kids in games like jumping rope and climbing trees can be difficult.

My child has too much trouble fastening buttons and tying laces, and prefers to wear "easier" items like zip-up sweatshirts and Velcro sneakers.

I have to buy tagless, itchless clothes for my child – the looser the better.

I have to use unscented detergent. Washing my child's sheets with any scent leads to a meltdown.

Thunderstorms terrify my child. The loud booms and cracks send them cowering under the blankets.

My child complains about being barefoot in the sand when at the beach.

School picture day sends my child home in tears every year. The camera flashes hurt their sensitive eyes.

My child is bothered by anything slimy or sticky on his fingers, like paint.

My child prefers to go on one ride at the carnival, like the merry-go-round, over and over.

Bath time can be difficult. My child hates being sprayed with water and having their hair combed before bed, which leads to tantrums.

My child loves amusement park rides, but can’t tolerate the long lines and crowds.

My child loves salsa (the hotter the better) and drinks pickle juice right out of the jar.

My child gets in trouble in gym class for tackling during flag football.

My child refuses to change for gym class, saying the locker room is too stinky.

My child dislikes buying lunch at school and complains about being grossed out. Even seeing apple sauce on their tray as dessert gives them the heeby jeebies.

My child gags when trying to swallow a pill. They prefer liquid antibiotics and chewable vitamins.

(Optional) Receive your Sensory Processing Disorder Symptom Test results — plus more helpful resources — via email from ADDitude.

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Sensory Processing Disorder in Children: Next Steps

1. Take This Test: Does My Child Have ADHD?
2. Take This Test: Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children
3. Take This Test: Executive Function Disorder in Children
4. Research Treatments for Sensory Processing Disorder
5. Read “I’m Overloaded!” Responding to Sensory Dysfunction
6. Find: Specialists or Clinics Near You