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What does SPD look like?

What does SPD (sensory processing disorder) look like? Well, I will tell you what. I have learned a LOT about this over the past 2 years and all I can really tell you is what it’s NOT!  It’s not a child purposely acting bad, it’s not a spoiled child not getting their way, it’s not a picky eater (well, kind of….), it’s not a bratty child…. I could go on and on, but I would rather go over and share what it is?  What is SPD? How does it make a child act? Why? and more!

First, I want to start by saying that we have learned a lot. I have done tons of online research, I have read books, I belong to facebook parent support groups, we are in OT (occupational therapy) and it definitely has not made anything “easier”, or changed the diagnosis. It’s there daily, just like it is if someone has diabetes, MS, or anything else. It’s there, and you just have to find different ways to cope, different ways to manage, different ways to run your life, and different ways to avoid triggers.

Let me talk about a recent example real quick, and then I will list out some facts about SPD. This just happened last night, before school open-house.


See this face? See this smile? When you see this picture, would you have guessed that for the previous hour before it was taken, we were dealing with a major sensory meltdown? A meltdown so severe that her eyes were bright red, she was kicking things, hyperventilating, and on the verge of hurting herself? NO? Yeah, me neither. But, it happened. She was so out of control, and could not control what she was feeling. All of this stemmed from a “touch” feeling of how her shoes felt at that moment, that set this off. She could not help it, nor stop it. It’s not a choice. It’s the only way her body knows how to react. That is the disorder! Her shoes were too tight, felt uncomfortable, and hurt. She could not put them on and when she knew the ones that did “feel great and comfortable” were not available to her, the meltdown was the only way her body knew to deal. You probably would think, really? over a pair of shoes? Well yes, REALLY! Why? Well, here is why. Let me give you some information about SPD.


What Does Sensory Processing Disorder Look Like in Children?

Children with SPD are remarkably over-responsive or under-responsive to their environment. That is, they avoid loud noises and stinky perfume at all costs, or they seem untouched and under-stimulated by the world sights, sounds, and odors. Here is what you need to know about the symptoms of SPD in children.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that interferes with the brain’s ability to process and act on information received from the senses. A child with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon the information received through his senses via sounds, sights, movement, touch, smell, and taste. It may cause difficulty with gross motor skills, creating a clumsy walking gait or frequent tripping. It can also impair fine motor skills – like coloring, cutting, and handwriting. Frequently, it causes tactile hypersensitivity to smell, taste, and textures.

The causes of SPD are unclear. While the condition may be genetic, several extrinsic factors may also put a child at risk, such as maternal deprivation, premature birth, prenatal malnutrition, and early institutional care. The signs of SPD in children include:

  • Feelings that a shade is pulled over the outside world
  • Experiencing muted sights, sounds, and touch
  • Frequent feelings of sensory overload

Common triggers of SPD include:

  • Hair brushing
  • Tight clothes or coarse fabric
  • Loud noises such as fireworks or thunder
  • Bright lights like camera flashes, sunshine, or strobes
  • Strong odors including perfume or scented detergent
  • Swimming in lakes
  • Sticky fingers
  • Tags on clothes
  • Being touched or hugged
  • Wearing shoes
  • Tart or bitter foods

Symptoms at Home

Symptoms of SPD may present in a variety of ways. To determine whether your hypersensitive child may be showing signs of SPD, look for the following signs at home:

  • Your little monkey is most calm when she is dangling upside down – whether it’s hanging off the side of her bed, or from the jungle gym in the back yard.
  • He loves to help you make cookies, except when it’s time to put the sticky dough on the cookie sheets.
  • After many complaints, you’ve switched to unscented laundry detergent and fabric softener.
  • You only buy tagless shirts and seamless socks.
  • Your child would rather swelter than wade in the pond. The feeling of mud between her toes is too much.
  • Detangler is the product you can’t live without. And even with that, your child won’t let you comb her hair for more than a minute.
  • At bedtime, your child resists a good night hug.
  • Your family has given up on 4th of July fireworks. The loud booms always trigger a meltdown.

Symptoms at School

Children with SPD may struggle at school because they are taught information in a way their sensory processing systems can’t absorb. However, SPD is not linked to IQ. Children with the condition are no more or less intelligent than their peers. The following signs may suggest that SPD is affecting learning:

  • The teacher complains your child has illegible handwriting or takes a long time to copy down instructions.
  • In art class, your child has trouble with assignments that involve cutting or coloring.
  • Your child refuses to buy lunch. The thought of having apple sauce for dessert gives her the heeby jeebies.
  • At recess, your child prefers to ride the swings or the merry-go-round. He can’t play catch to save his life.
  • Your child is covered in Band-Aids.
  • Your child is refusing to change for gym class. When you asked him why, he said the locker room was too smelly.
  • The teacher confiscated your child’s sunglasses because he was wearing them in class.
  • Even when your child knows the material, she does poorly on tests. She says the sounds in the classroom break her focus.
Updated on July 10, 2017


Here are a few of the books I have read, and they are also available in my Amazon Store, under the tab “Sensory Processing Items”. I have listed many things that we have incorporated in to our daily lives to share with you all.


Related blog: SPD at Disney!