Sensory processing is among the first and most influential developments in your child’s life. From life in utero, to immediately after your child’s birth your child is discovering the world around them through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. This information provides the very framework through which they engage and interact. As your child grows, their sensory processing skills mature as well: from recognition and reactions (reflexes), to informing appropriate responses, and eventually forming unique preferences and skillsets.
When it all works together effectively, the sensory system is like a harmonious orchestra; however, when one instrument is out of tune, playing too loud, or hitting the wrong notes, the song isn’t quite the same. Similarly, differences in how your child processes sensory information drastically impact their ability to engage in daily life activities successfully.
We often see sensory processing impact a child’s ability to learn, self-regulate, make friends, feed and eat, dress themselves, and move appropriately. If you notice that your child did not meet these developmental milestones, or if the below characteristics of common sensory processing deficits appear to describe your child, seek the support of an occupational therapist to help identify ways to increase opportunities for success in everyday life.
How Sense and Feel Develops
These are the ranges for expected development. If your child developed these skills after the ranges listed, or differently than described, call us for an evaluation today.
- Sight—Attracted to high contrast colors, begins to make eye contact, loves faces.
- Sound—Hearing is fully developed. Baby reacts to familiar sounds, like the sound of mom and dad’s voice.
- Touch—Baby craves skin to skin contact, and deep pressure (proprioceptive input) through cuddling and swaddling.
- Smell—Smell is fully developed. The scent of mom helps soothe the baby and indicates for baby to turn towards the food source.
- Taste—Your baby is attracted to the sweet flavor of breast milk and formula. If breastfeeding, baby may respond to various changes mom’s diet.
- Sight—Baby begins to be able to see color and track objects.
- Sound—Sound begins to be associated with objects. Sound mimicking begins.
- Touch—Baby begins to use both sides of the body together, pushing and pulling.
- Smell—Interested in smells of food and stronger reactions to bad odors.
- Taste—Begins to show interest in others’ food, taste becomes more open.
- Sight—Hand-eye coordination and depth perception improve as they begin to see things up to 10 yards away.
- Sound—Baby begins to identify the direction of where sounds are coming for and recognizes familiar words.
- Touch—Baby begins to recognize textures and starts grabbing with pincer grasp (thumb and forefinger).
- Smell—Begins to associate smell with taste. Localizes smells.
- Taste—Starts reaching for nearby food.
- Sight—Depth perception and judgment of distances improve greatly which allows for baby to easily grab desired objects.
- Sound—Recognizes and reacts to songs and sounds.
- Touch—Crawling and grabbing develop which allows baby to grasp handheld toys. Like rattles and teethers.
- Smell—Increase in smell preference and reaction.
- Taste-Enjoys experimenting with a variety of textures and tastes.
- Sight—Child looks for an object that they watched fall out of sight.
- Sound—Child is able to follow simple one-step instructions.
- Touch—Child is likely bothered by soiled diapers but enjoys messy play.
- Taste—Child distinguishes between edible and inedible objects (though teething may continue).
- Sight—Child is able to make eye contact with others.
- Sound—Child turns head in response to name being called.
- Touch—Child is able to tolerate and stay calm during haircuts and teeth brushing.
Common Signs of Sensory Processing Differences
Read through the following checklist. If you find that your child identifies with multiple characteristics in one or more categories, they may benefit from occupational therapy services. Call us to schedule an evaluation today.
- Avoids casual touch from classmates or teachers
- Becomes “silly” or annoyed when touched
- Craves excessive physical contact with others
- Distressed by messy hands or face–glue, clay, paints, sand, food, etc.
- Dislikes or craves certain textures– materials, paper, toys, etc.
- Distracted by clothing or shoes
- Chews or sucks on clothing, hands, pencils, other objects
- Craves or avoids hot or cold items, water play, art supplies
- Disturbed by vibration– such as air conditioner or trucks
- Tactile stims–tapping, rubbing, squeezing, banging
- Squints, blinks, or rubs eyes frequently
- Makes poor eye contact
- Struggles with reading
- Has difficulty with eye-hand coordination–beading, writing, drawing
- Difficulty copying from the board
- Distracted by glare, bright light, fluorescent lighting
- Distressed when lights are dimmed or by the dark
- Struggles to follow moving objects or people
- Poor ball skills–catching and/or throwing
- Easily overloaded by crowded visual fields
- Visual stims–hand flaps, flick fingers in front of eyes, spins objects
- Avoids changes in head position
- Seems clumsy, moves awkwardly
- Excessively cautious on stairs
- Slumps in chair/sits in W-position on floor/needs support for floor sitting
- Touches furniture or walls when walking
- Rocks in chair; wraps legs around chair legs
- May fall out of a chair or onto another student during floor time
- Fidgets constantly
- Seems restless or always “on the go”
- Seems lethargic or hard to “wake up”
- Gets dizzy easily
- Avoids or craves moving playground equipment or riding on bus/in car
- Difficulty using playground equipment–slides, swings, ladders, sandbox
- Vestibular stims–spinning, rocking jumping
- Distressed by loud noises (fire drill, PA announcements, gym whistle).
- Disturbed by sounds such as singing and musical instruments.
- Complains that everything/everyone is too loud.
- Speaks with a very loud voice.
- Speaks with an unusually quiet voice.
- Doesn’t seem to hear you.
- Has difficulty filtering out noise and focusing on teacher’s voice.
- Frequent outbursts in gym and recess.
- Frequent outbursts in a cafeteria or assemblies.
- Seems to learn more easily in one-to-one situations than in a group.
- Auditory stims–hums, repeats, makes odd noises.
- Poor body awareness–doesn’t know where body parts are.
- Bumps into classmates, furniture, walls.
- Difficulty grading force– breaks crayons, pencil points, toys.
- Poor handwriting– difficulty forming letters, presses too hard or too soft.
- Accidentally spills when opening containers, pouring, or drinking.
- Drops items on floor; slams doors although not angry.
- Crashes and falls on purpose.
- Lies down on the floor at inappropriate times.
Smell and Taste
- Complaints about smells.
- Complaints about tastes.
- Doesn’t seem to notice strong odors–glue, markers, food.
- Picky eating or a very self-limited diet.
- Acts out at snack time or in a cafeteria.
- Mouths or licks objects and people.
- Smells objects and people.
Lindsey Biel, OTR/L. (2010). “Does Your Student Have Sensory Processing Challenges?”. Available at www.sensorysmarts.com. Reprinted by permission.