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Home > Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory Processing Disorders

Red Flags and Definition of Sensory Issues

A great online resource for more info on sensory issues and sensory processing can be found at:

What is sensory integration (SI)?

      All human beings receive information from their internal and external environments through the senses: vision, hearing (auditory), touch (somatosensory or tactile), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), vestibular (movement), and proprioceptive (joint and muscle). We respond to these stimuli automatically. The term sensory integration refers to the process by which we receive this information, the central nervous system directs the information to the appropriate parts of the brain, and the information is "integrated" or synthesized so that we can respond to the stimuli in an adaptive manner.

      When there is a disturbance in this capacity to automatically integrate sensation and respond adaptively, the individual has a disorder of sensory integration. These disorders can have a negative impact on the child's capacity to learn, to function in socially appropriate ways, and perform the daily tasks of living.


What is the purpose of a sensory integration (SI) assessment?  

        The capacity to integrate information has an effect on the individual's learning, social participation, self-regulation and ultimately his/her self-confidence and self-esteem. When there are disturbances in SI these functional domains can be adversely affected. Examples of SI disorders include problems with tactile discrimination, touch acceptance or localization, filtering out extraneous stimuli, postural control, the perception of body position in space, bilateral motor coordination, fine motor, self-help, and social skills. SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder)  affects all aspects of a child's life. 

        There are a variety of assessments and clinical observations that can be utilized to identify and assess the degree of disturbance. This assessment, performed by a highly trained OT, is necessary prior to determine the appropriate intervention to assist in remediation of, or compensation for, the SI difficulties. The focus of the assessment and the intervention is to identify the underlying sensory disturbance (s) that may be adversely influencing the child's ability to function adaptively in his/her environments.

    All therapists at the Center of Development are highly trained in evaluation and treatment of Sensory Processing issues and disorder.  Please call today to schedule help asap for your child! 931-372-2567 and start the right treatment for your child!  

What is Sensory Processing Disorder and how can it be treated?

SPD is a complex neurological disorder, manifested by difficulty detecting, modulating, discriminating or integrating sensation adaptively. SPD causes children to process sensation from the environment or from their bodies in an inaccurate way, resulting in "sensory seeking" or "sensory avoiding" patterns or 'dyspraxia," a motor planning problem, or commonly a combination of these.

What does SPD look like?
Sensory Seeking

These children have nervous systems that do not always process that sensory input is "coming in" to the brain. They are under-responsive to the sensation. As a result, they seek out more intense or longer duration sensory experiences. They often have difficulty with sensory registration and integration which manifests as a sensory craver or seeker needing an excessive amount of sensory input to get a normal central nervous system response and brain chemical release.


Some behaviors that can be observed are:

  • Hyperactivity as they seek more and more movement input (under registering input) Unable to stay in seat, fidgety, difficulty with test taking, working alone or in a quiet room, needs hands-on learning techniques.

  • Unawareness of touch or pain, or touching others too often or too hard (may seem aggressive). Often touch everyone & everything. They are under registering the amount of pressure or proprioceptive input.

  • Engaging in unsafe behaviors, such as climbing too high (craving extremes), rough play, erratic swinging, running inside...

  • Enjoying sounds that are too loud, such as TV or radio volume (craving auditory input) or Nintendo or cartoons for visual.


SPD and Sensory Avoiding

     These children have nervous systems that feel sensation too easily or too much. They are overly responsive to a sensation. As a result, they may have "fight or flight" responses to sensation, a condition called "sensory defensiveness."  They can react aggressively to crowds, people, or affection or be very shy.


Some behaviors that can be observed are:

  • Responding to being touched with aggression or withdrawal (especially light touch from others, unexpected touch, messy activities, food aversions and picky eaters, bothered by tags in clothing, only wears cotton clothes, takes off shoes, or insists on leaving them on, gets upset in crowds or busy places such as gym or cafeteria)

  • Afraid of, or becomes sick with movement and heights (avoids vestibular input such as swings, stairs, moving toys, dislikes being picked up, doesn't play on playground)

  • Very cautious and unwilling to take risks or try new things, very clingy to parents, may play in a corner or away from peers...

  • Uncomfortable in loud or busy environments such as sports events, malls, stores, cafeteria, gym, and in large open rooms

  • Very picky eater and/or overly sensitive to food smells

  • Maybe visual or auditory defensiveness as well with aversions to bright lights, fluorescent lighting, or background noises as brain is unable to filter out background stimuli

  • Dislikes grooming, haircuts, sometimes baths, nail cutting, etc.

  • Complaints about clothing or bedding, may be itchy & red

  • Gets motion sick easily

  • Avoids crawling, weight bearing, or dislikes being on tummy


SPD and Dyspraxia

     These children are often clumsy and awkward in their movements. They have particular problems with new motor skills and activities. They display difficulties with the registration and integration of sensory input, but may also fall under defensiveness and modulation disorders.


Some behaviors that can be observed are:

  • Very poor fine motor skills such as handwriting, cutting, motor planning skills

  • Very poor gross motor skills such as kicking, catching, throwing ball, sports are difficult

  • Difficulty imitating movements such as "Simon Says"

  • Trouble with balance, sequences of movements and bilateral coordination


Children with SPD often display very specific sensory difficulties as follows:






_ Responds negatively to unexpected or loud noises

_ Holds hands over ears

_ Cannot filter out background noise

_ Seems oblivious within an active environment




_ Prefers to be in the dark

_ Hesitates going up and down steps

_ Avoids bright lights

_ Stares intensely at people or objects

_ Avoids eye contact




_ Avoids certain tastes/smells that are typically part of children's diets

_ Routinely smells nonfood objects

_ Seeks out certain tastes or smells

_ Does not seem to smell strong odors


Body Position


_ Continually seeks out all kinds of movement activities

_ Hangs on other people, furniture, objects, even in familiar situations

_ Seems to have weak muscles, tires easily, has poor endurance

_ Walks on toes




_ Becomes anxious or distressed when feet leave the ground

_ Avoids climbing or jumping

_ Avoids playground equipment

_ Seeks all kinds of movement and this interferes with daily life

_ Takes excessive risks while playing, has no safety awareness




_ Avoids getting messy in glue, sand, finger paint, tape

_ Is sensitive to certain fabrics (clothing, bedding)

_ Touches people and objects at an irritating level

_ Avoids going barefoot, especially in grass or sand

_ Has decreased awareness of pain or temperature


Attention, Behavior

And Social


_ Jumps from one activity to another frequently and it interferes with play

_ Has difficulty paying attention

_ Is overly affectionate with others

_ Seems anxious

_ Is accident prone

_ Has difficulty making friends, does not express emotions





Characteristics of Tactile Dysfunction

Hypersensitivity: heightened response to touch resulting in a flight or fright.

  • React negatively and emotionally to light touch, unexpected touch, or certain textures. May act out, hit, rub spot touched, scratch skin, reject cuddling.

  • May be fearful or act out in lines, when approached suddenly, or when touched when not seeing it coming.

  • Reject all touch from others, especially if not mother or father.

  • Rejects hand over hand assistance

  • Prefers hugs over kisses, needs the deep pressure of the hug.

  • Overreacts to bumps or bruises, or may be "hypochondriac"

  • Avoids touching certain textures, pulls away from touch to items, rubs, and scratches when wearing tags, or certain fabrics (wools, polyester, non 100% cotton)

  • Fusses about stiff clothes, appliques in clothes, tags, collars, elastic, turtlenecks, hats, gloves, scarfs, shoes and socks, prefer long or short sleeves.

  • Dislikes grooming touch such as washing and cutting

  • Avoids messy play in paints, sand, glue, mud, etc.

  • Hurries to wash off hands, rubs hands on clothing when touched with mess

  • Avoids going barefoot

  • Walks on tiptoes and does not crawl

  • Resists oral touch: toothbrushing or food textures

  • Temperature preferences


Hyposensitivity: under responsive to touched

  • Touches others very hard and firm and is rough with objects and people

  • Unaware of messiness on face or hands and may crave messy activities

  • High pain tolerance

  • Unable to identify body parts touched without looking

  • Unable to perform some fine motor tasks such as fasteners

  • Difficulty holding tools, writing utensils, eating utensils


For stimulation (either calming or alerting) they may:

  • Touch objects repeatedly such as stroking hair, favorite blanket or toy

  • Bumps into others, bumps into walls, and touching others excessively

  • Rub or even bite self

  • Prefer strong tastes in foods (salty, sweet, spicy)

  • Use mouth to explore more than hands (more intense sensation from the mouth)


May cause difficulties with body perception, body awareness, motor planning:

  • Unable to coordinate body movements (stand on one foot, balance beam, crawl)

  • Difficulty with bike riding, cutting, handwritingPoor eye-hand coordination and visual perception


Characteristics of Vestibular Dysfunction


  • Dislike playground activities that move: swinging, spinning, sliding

  • Gets carsick easily

  • Hesitates to take risks, doesn't like to try new movement activities


Gravitational Insecurity:

  • Primal Terror to falling off something above ground

  • Avoids walking on curbs, steps and "holds on for dear life" when above ground

  • Feel threatened when head is inverted, tilted, or spun

  • Fearful when moved, sliding chair from someone else



  • Needs to move all the time to function, trouble sitting still or staying in seat with feet on the floor

  • Shakes head, spins, runs, jumps, moves all the time

  • Craves intense movement: jumping, climbing, spinning, head upside down

  • Does not have post rotary nystagmus after spinning, does not get dizzy


Muscle tone is affected by vestibular input:

Low tone:

  • Loose and floppy body, poor posture, slumps in a chair, humped when standing

  • Prefers to lie down, slump over a desk, lean on hands or head

  • W sits, hard to wheelbarrow walk on hands

  • A difficulty with tools, utensils, loose grasp, too light of pressure or too hard to compensate, tires easily with handwriting or cutting

  • Difficulty catching self when falling


High Tone:

  • Too tight of muscle and seems tense and hyper

  • Tight grasp, white knuckles, breaks pencil lead or crayons easily

Related Topics:

SID Sensory Difficulties

Incoordination Disorder


Sensory Processing

Sensory Integration Therapy

Vestibular Integration Strategies

Ready Approach for Sensory Issues

Spinning Board Recommendations

Research shows brain differences in children with sensory processing disorder!

Research shows brain differences in children with sensory processing disorder!

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