Sensory processing disorder is gaining in recognition.  Many people have not heard of sensory conditions.  Sensory problems affect millions of children.  Having sensory red flags does not mean your child has sensory processing disorder, is autistic, or has another medical condition. 

A sensory symptom is anything a child does that indicates the sensory system needs more sensory input or less.  Sometimes these sensory symptoms can cause odd, confusing, and frustrating behaviors.  They can even get in the way of achieving everyday activities. 

There are 8 different sensory systems

  • Visual, or what your eyes see. 
  • Auditory is hearing. 
  • Tactile, or what you touch. 
  • Olfactory system smells. 
  • Gustatory system is taste.
  • The vestibular system is balance or awareness of gravity. 
  • Proprioception system is the awareness of body movement. 
  • Interoception is the ability to answer the question “How do I feel?”.    


One of the things you might notice your child do, is gagging as soon as they see, smell, or taste certain foods.  This is usually a reaction to their oral system being overwhelmed.  Gagging doesn’t always have to be sensory.  This can happen if a child is sensitive to textures, or is overwhelmed by certain smells. 

Vestibular System

Avoids Movement

There are a few red flags that occur with the vestibular system, or the body’s awareness of gravity and balance.  A child who avoids movement may have a vestibular processing disorder and sometimes a proprioception disorder as well.   Avoiding movement such as riding swings, scared of climbing playground equipment, or refusing to ride a bike. 

Never Gets Dizzy

Another sign of vestibular processing disorder is if your child never seems to get dizzy.  When a child has this vestibular processing disorder the brain under responds to the rotary input of spinning which can cause them to never be dizzy and spin forever. 

Does Not Sit Still

An under-registration of vestibular input is a child who does not sit still.  They may be moving what seems like all the time from running, jumping, or roughhousing.  These children who are constantly on the move may also be looking for a proprioceptive response as well as a vestibular one. 


If a child appears clumsy they may have an underlying vestibular processing disorder.  Poor gross motor skills, decreased body awareness, muscle tone abnormalities, postural instability, and weight shifting difficulties are all signs of this.  

Proprioception System

Walk On Toes

The proprioception system is awareness of body movement.  Someone who is looking for more input from their proprioception system may walk on their toes all the time.  This will give them more pressure on their ankles. 

Small Spaces

Others who have decreased proprioception like to be in small spaces, squeeze themselves into tight places.  Or they may have no personal space and always be on top of someone else.  These are both signs of decreased body awareness.  Sometimes the feeling of being squeezed by a small space or being right next to someone can help calm the child’s nerves who has this sensory symptom. 


Another sign of a proprioception system symptom is chewing on everything.  The strongest muscle in the body is the jaw.  Using proprioception through the jaw can be calming and organizing to the nervous system.  

Avoids Crowds

Avoiding groups, hiding at parties, or disliking public places can also be a red flag for a sensory symptom.  All of these can cause overstimulation in noise, lights, or people.  Parties, and public places are sometimes unpredictable.  A child who doesn’t like to be touched may be one edge at the possibility of being touched in one of these places.  Public places and parties are multi sensory, and dynamic environments which is easy for a child to get overwhelmed in.  

Tactile System

The tactile system is another sensory system that has a few red flags to be on the lookout for. 

Particular about Clothing

One of which is if your child is very particular about their clothing.  Some children with tactile sensory issues may prefer tight clothing to give them more input of tactile senses.  While other children may prefer their clothing loose and not overly binding.  Children with tactile sensory issues may also be very particular in the material their clothes are.  Some may feel too scratchy, or too hot.  Tags may cause them to be extremely uncomfortable and cause an over-responding tactile input.  Sometimes the weight of the clothing can also be an issue, whether it isn’t heavy enough, or it is too heavy. 

Overreaction to Injury

Another overreaction to tactile input can be overreacting to minor cuts or scrapes.  A child who has extra tactile input may feel as though a small cut or scrape is bigger, they may feel pain worse with a tactile defense. 

Avoid Messes

Children with a tactile issue may also avoid being messy.  This may avoid messy play such as sand, finger painting, mud, or play dough.  Children who have an overworking tactile response may also refuse to walk barefoot on new surfaces, or surfaces such as grass or sand.  These may feel painful on their feet.  This can also cause some children to walk on their toes more frequently because they are getting a sensory overload from the floor they are walking on.  


Coming across on of these red flags in your child does not diagnose them with sensory processing disorder, autism, or any other condition.  If it becomes where it is disrupting your child’s normal daily activities you will want to speak with your pediatrician.  Working with different therapies, such as occupational therapy, or sensory integration therapy can help with these sensory symptoms.  




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