What You Need to Know About Sensory Processing Disorder in Toddlers & Children

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) was originally associated with autism. In fact, for many years it was considered a “symptom” of Autism until a breakthrough study conducted in 2013 found that there was a biological basis to the study separating it from other types of neurological disorders. New research has found that your child can have this disorder even if they don’t have Autism.

Sensory Processing Disorder: What is It?

Formerly known as Sensory Integration Disorder, SPD is a condition in which your child’s brain has difficulty receiving and responding to the information sent to the brain by the senses. Sensory input, both from the body and the environment, is poorly interpreted or detected, and atypical responses may occur. For example, a sensory disorder in toddlers may make it difficult for the toddler to process the feelings of hunger, cold, hot, and tired. Sounds and lights may induce a sensory overload and be overwhelming and tough to deal with. Sensory processing disorder in children is on a spectrum and affects children’s awareness and sensory perception differently. It may only affect one of the senses, such as taste or hearing, or it could affect all of your child’s senses. As a parent, the big challenges that come with sensory issues in toddlers and children include trying to figure out if your child is hungry, hurt, cold, etc. when they may not know themselves.

Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in Toddlers & Older Children

A sensory disorder in toddlers and children may show up in several different ways. Some of the signs parents should watch for include:

  • Over-Responsive OR Under-Responsive to Stimulation– Sensory issues in toddlers and older children can show up in both over-responsive or under-responsive reactions to stimulation from touch, sound, sight, etc., and this may result in a child being sensory seeking or sensory avoiding. Some children may only be over-responsive, others may be under-responsive to stimulation, and yet others may have a mixture of both.
  • Intolerance to Loud Noises or Specific Noises– A child with SPD may not be able to handle the sound of a crying baby, sirens, or vacuums. Sometimes these noises can result in what feels like physical pain to children with SPD.
  • Intolerance to Textures– The feeling of textures may be difficult to handle for some children with SPD. They may only want to wear clothing with no labels and few seams. Certain fabrics, such as wool, may be irritants.
  • Problems with Transitions or Changes– While all kids need some transition time, kids with SPD may have more difficulty with moving from one activity to the next, changing classrooms, moving to a different home, or even with simple changes around the house. Transitions and changes may cause withdrawal or meltdowns.
  • Bumping into People or Things– Sensory issues in toddlers may show up as clumsiness. Sometimes children with SPD have a tough time knowing where their body is in space and they may bump into furniture or people who are around them.

Other potential symptoms of sensory issues in toddlers & children may include:

  • High pain tolerance
  • Constantly touching things
  • Playing rough
  • Constantly moving, fidgeting, or squirming
  • Problems with coordination
  • Easily distracted
  • Bothered by bright lights
  • Easily overwhelmed by places and people
  • Startled by sudden noises
  • Avoids touching people
  • Strong reaction to certain smells
  • Refusing to try new foods

Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment in Toddlers & Children

Since every child with SPD has unique sensory difficulties and needs, treatment must be tailored to every individual. Occupational therapy proves helpful for many children with SPD, and an occupational therapist will work with your child using activities that can help to retrain their senses. A sensory integration approach is often used and focuses on making it easier for you and your child to manage SPD in day-to-day life. Fun, stimulating activities are used to challenge the senses of the child without overwhelming them, and over time to goal is to extend these newly learned responses to life at home and school. Depending upon the senses affected, pediatric therapy may also include:

  • Language and speech therapy
  • Physical therapy with a sensory integration approach
  • Listening therapy for those with auditory issues
  • Vision therapy to work on eye-motor skills for those who have difficulty writing or reading


  • Sensory processing disorder in children may manifest as over-responsive to stimulation, under-responsive to stimulation, or both.
  • Occupational therapists can work with your child to help them learn to manage sensory challenges.
  • Understanding your child’s unique challenges, reactions, and triggers is essential in helping your child learn to cope with SPD.

At Infinite Therapy Solutions, our therapists are experienced in working with toddlers and children with SPD. We understand that sensory processing disorder in children manifests in many different ways, so we tailor our treatment plans to fit the individual needs and abilities of every child. Our therapists will work with your child on activities they have difficulty with while helping them learn to tolerate things they currently find intolerable in an effort to help them learn how to cope with sensory processing disorder. Our goals – improve your child’s everyday life skills to manage SPD successfully. If your child has SPD and the symptoms are making life difficult for both of you, contact us today to learn more sensory processing disorder facts or to set up an appointment with one of our skilled therapists.