Signs of sensory disability in children

Written by rex molder
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Signs of sensory disability in children
A child with a sensory disability may exhibit either hypersensitivity to a stimulus or barely notice it. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Sensory Processing Disorder, previously called Sensory Integration Dysfunction, is a condition where the body's sensory systems do not coordinate well with the brain. For example, a child with SPD might have perfect hearing, but still be unable to perceive sounds normally. SPD can affect any of the body's senses, including touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste. It can cause either hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity or both at the same time. The signs of SPD are numerous and range from mild and nearly unnoticeable quirks to extreme disruptive behaviour.

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Auditory hyper and hyposensitivity are the most common forms of SPD. Signs of hypersensitivity include behaviours such as avoiding loud noises. Some children are so sensitive that they will cover their ears and launch into a tantrum if you try to take them into an area with a mix of sounds, such as a crowded store. In contrast, the child might be easily distracted by sounds barely noticeable to others.

Hyposensitive children often need more stimulation than their environment provides so they will create their own noise. They will often be unresponsive when called, or say "What?" often during conversations. When watching television they will turn-up the volume to excessive levels.


Visual hypersensitivity shows itself in the form of light and colour avoidance. Children may develop headaches while watching TV or using a computer. They often avoid eye contact and frequently rub their eyes. Simple movements such as a leaf fluttering might distract them.

Visual hyposensitivity often is diagnosed as near or farsightedness. However, a child with SPD usually has trouble with both near and far vision since it is a cognitive problem rather than a structural problem of the eye. They easily confuse letters and shapes. They often show signs of dyslexia and tend to write and a sharp slant. When shown two pictures they have difficulty finding differences.


A child with tactile hypersensitivity can become extremely agitated over even a light pat. They usually prefer a certain clothing item of others, feeling that some clothes are painful. To avoid being touched they often keep themselves away from others. They may prefer baths to showers, since the sower stream may seem painful.

Hyposensitivity to touch can manifest itself in over affection, with the child seeking hugs from everyone he meets. Their tolerance for pain is high and they might not even notice when they are injured. Other children may complain that the child plays too rough. Often the child will seek out play environments that offer the most stimulation like mud and sand.


Overreaction to smells is a sign of olfactory hypersensitivity. This may manifest itself as picky eating. They may avoid certain places because of the way they smell, and may outright tell people they smell bad. Cologne and perfume is particularly bothersome to these children.

A child that is hyposensitive has difficulty discriminating among different odours. The child will not notice his own body odour. This condition can be dangerous if the child is unable to distinguish substances that are poisonous.


The most common sign of oral hypersensitivity is picky eating. The child may base her preference on taste or texture. She may prefer only hot or only cold food and drink. For children with this condition, going to the dentist is a truly frightening ordeal. They will also likely avoid brushing their teeth.

A child that tends to place objects in his mouth frequently is showing signs of oral hyposensitivity. They often drool as they are unable to feel the sensation of saliva. In contrast to hypersensitive children, these kids love the dentist. They may have no preference for any given food, but instead to use salt, sugar and hot sauce to excess.


Children hypersensitive to movement will avoid gym equipment on the playground such as teeter totters and swing sets. Even climbing stairs can frighten them. These children appear sedentary and prefer to remain seated, and tend to cling to objects when standing. They almost never like sports of any kind, even riding a bicycle.

The child with hyposensitivity is a risk taker. They seek out stimuli, which can manifest itself as hyperactivity. They often like to spin in office chairs, jump on furniture and crash into things, including other people. They never seem to tire of running and jumping and never seem to have a problem with dizziness, even after spinning for several minutes.


Parents should keep in mind that a child might show signs of both hyper and hypo sensitivity in the same sensory area. For example, the child that screams from a light touch may be oblivious to a puncture wound. They should also keep in mind that almost all children have a certain degree of sensory variance, and they should not necessarily consider such as abnormal. These behaviours only become a problem when they are excessive or place the child in danger. If you suspect your child has a problem you should refer them to a certified psychologist for diagnosis.

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