Sensory Processing Disorder Red Flags

If you are reading this article I suspect it is for one of two reasons (or both): 1. Your child has been diagnosed as having a Sensory Processing Disorder and you are trying to equip yourself with knowledge to help your child or 2. You suspect your child’s behaviors are not “typical”, unusual even and maybe you have begun to wonder if Sensory Processing Disorder is the reason behind why your child behaves the way they do?

SPD Info Graph

I am a Mom of (4) and two of my children: Conor and Jack have various diagnosis, one of which is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). We have been through so much as a family as a result of: our boys Diagnosis.

My older son Conor (8) has severe SPD, as a result he did not sleep for the first 2.5years of his life at all, I really mean not at all, not in a bed or a cot. He could only sleep if I pushed him around our home all night long in a buggy or if I drove through the night with him. Somehow the motion of the pushchair (buggy) or car moving helped to sooth him and he would fall asleep. If the car stopped or I stopped pushing him in his buggy he would wake again almost straight away.

Sleep deprivation was just one of the signs he was showing from birth that his “sensory” system was not developing properly.

My son Jack also has SPD. I recognized the signs in Jack almost immediately as at the point Jack was born, Conor was 4 and so we had been living with Sensory Processing Disorder for over 4 years already.

If you come to our home you will always see Jack without shoes or socks on. I mean every time you will visit he will not have shoes or socks on. He has been that way since he was a baby, no amount of bribing or trying to tie the shoes on tighter would keep them on. I remember when he was about 6-9 months old I would wake to see his socks thrown outside his cot every morning! Literally even at that age he was taking off his little red socks! 

Sleep Deprivation and Jack’s feet sensitivities are just two of the signs of SPD the boys were individually displaying. There really is an endless list of Red Flags for SPD as it is such a personal disorder, affecting each child differently. Below you will find a list of some of the most common.

Disclaimer– I am NOT an Occupational Therapist, I am a Mother who has been raising children with (Moderate to Severe) Special Needs (SPD included) for upwards on 9 years.

Below you will find a non-exhaustive list of some of the most common red flags for Sensory Processing Disorder, the List should not be used as a Diagnostic Tool but as a Guide to help you understand why your child may be displaying the behaviors that they do. It is also possible the behaviors your child may be displaying may be indicative of other behavioral or physical challenges.

Ultimately you must consult your own GP (Family Doctor)/Public Health Nurse/Pediatric Consultant if your child is displaying concerning behaviors that you are worried about.

When reading the below list be mindful of the fact that these behaviors, in order to be considered even potentially indicative of SPD, would have to be repetitive, on-going and you would usually see a pattern of behaviors in certain situations (for example showering/baths led to such extreme reactions to Conor (projectile vomiting, head banging, self- harm, screaming for hours afterwards) we had to stop bathing him in the traditional manner and instead used Hospital grade bed-wipes (usually used for adults/children who were hospitalized and bed-bound.)

As noted above if you are concerned about your child you must contact your doctor with your concerns.


Sensory Red Flags

Remember just because your child is showing some of these behaviors, it will not automatically mean a Diagnosis is on the horizon for them.

This list will be helpful in your understanding of what behaviors you are seeing and why they may be occurring. Once you understand the what and the why, you will be able to understand  and obtain help for your child. 

Sensory Processing Disorder:

Ten Common Red Flags

  1. Clothing: Some children cannot abide certain types of clothing/footwear. Some will not keep their clothes or shoes on at all and prefer to be as naked as possible. Other children prefer tight clothing and will wear as many layers as possible no matter the weather outside.
  2. Water: Some children cannot tolerate water on their skin. Being submerged in water (such as in a bath) is a terrifying experience for them and can be quite a painful experience.
  3. Biting: Many children will have oral sensory issues and you will find them biting into non-food items to get some relief. Sometimes the child may bite another child/adult with no ill intent, they are looking for proprioceptive input/sensory relief.
  4. Lights/Bright: Some children with SPD need Visual Stimulation so they will obsessively stare at bright lights and TV Shows/You Tube Kids Videos that are fast paced, colorful and bright.
  5. Foods: Child may gag/vomit at the sight/taste/smell of certain food types (The Oral system becomes over whelmed and results in a physical reaction ie. gagging)

Sensory Red Flags

  1. Listening/Repeating: Child may appear to not hear you properly and you may need to repeat direction/instruction multiple times. It is a sign that the child’s auditory (hearing) system is not performing properly and is struggling to process the information it receives.
  2. Clumsy: Child may consistently fall over, bump into things constantly. It is often overlooked as a just a part of childhood (children get hurt playing etc) but in fact if it is repetitious it may in fact be a sign that the child’s proprioceptive/ vestibular system is struggling and as a result the child appears “clumsy”.
  3. Toe Walking: Child will walk on tip-toes repeatedly as they find the sensations “underfoot” too overwhelming. So they raise their foot to the point they walk around on tip toe. You have to remember to the child this is their “normal” so they may not articulate to you that this is painful as they will most likely have had these sensations for as long as they can remember.
  4. Avoids Social Outings: Child may try to avoid Social situations such as parties as the sights/sounds/smells would be too overwhelming for them.
  5. Meltdowns: Sensory system may become overwhelmed in certain situations and child becomes so overwhelmed they have a “meltdown”.


The above List is just a snapshot of what is a Spectrum of Sensory disorder.

So many children/adults live with Sensory Processing Disorder untreated. There are so many variances in the way in which it can present, each child/adult will display their own unique symptoms, the key point to look for is that it is repetitive, there is a pattern and it is on-going.

As advised above contact your Family Doctor/Health Care Professional about your child, if you are concerned about behaviors your child is presenting. 

If you live in Ireland, you can find out more in-depth information about Sensory Processing Disorder by clicking on the link attached to the below info-graph. 

Sensory Processing Red Flags

Do you have a child who struggles with Sensory Processing? I would love to hear from you and how you are helping your child. 

Sensory Red Flags

1 Comment

  1. Anna
    September 25, 2020 / 10:37 am

    Hi, I have a 12yr old boy and after years of struggling I only recently figured out that he most likely has SPD. His main thing is socks/shoes but on occasion also other clothing items. He’s also been walking on his toes for years, which let to his calf muscles being shorter. Since school is back on mornings have become a real struggle. We’ve had mornings trying to find a pair of socks he could tolerate spending 20+ mins on this. Most days he resigns and just goes with one that drives him crazy because otherwise we’d be late for school. We are seeing our GP today hoping he can refer us to an occupational therapist to get an official diagnose that I can present to our school. Being a preteen he has to cope with exterior pressure from his peers, too. After some comments he refuses to wear sandals in school now, despite causing him close to zero discomfort. Then again it is getting a bit cold for them. It is very hard to know your child is suffering and you don’t really know how to help him.

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