A child may demonstrate a few of the following behaviors without cause of concern. They may be suggestive of difficulty with sensory integration when they occur in meaningful clusters and interfere with daily activities and learning. Some of these signs may indicate problems in areas other than sensory integration.

General signs of sensory integration dysfunction:

  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, sounds, smells
  • Under-reactive to sensory stimulation
  • Activity level that is unusually high or low
  • Coordination problems
  • Speech, language, motor or academic delays despite normal intelligence
  • Poor organization of behavior (impulsive, lack of planning for a task such as a project, dressing, getting ready for dismissal)
  • Poor self-esteem (may appear lazy, unmotivated)

Specific signs of sensory integration dysfunction:

Gross Motor

  • Muscles feel stiff or floppy
  • Poor standing or sitting posture (e.g., rounded shoulders, slumps over table top, “melts” into the floor, people or other surfaces)
  • Delays in development skills such as one foot balance, jumping, hopping navigating stairs
  • Awkward gait; walks on toes, no arm swing
  • Clumsiness: falls easily; trips; bumps into things; drops things
  • Reluctant to participate in playground activities; difficulty learning new games or figuring out how to move body in relationship to new playground equipment
  • Seems weaker than others his/her age; fatigues easily

Fine Motor Difficulties

  • Delay in developing a hand preference
  • Immature, clumsy, or improper crayon grasp
  • Drops crayons and small pieces frequently
  • Difficulty coloring
  • Difficulty manipulating a scissors
  • Difficulty picking up small objects such as beads and pegs
  • May avoid difficult activities

Behavior Interfering With Function

  • Distractible
  • Short attention span
  • Restless
  • Impulsive
  • Accident prone
  • Hyperactive
  • Extremely slow worker
  • Forgetful
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Easily frustrated
  • Unable to cope with changes in routine
  • Frequent or unexplained outbursts or tantrums

Reacts to Tactile Input Differently (i.e., over or under responsive)

  • Tends to touch everything; craves self-initiated hugging and touching
  • Avoids touch from others, especially when unexpected (standing on line or near cubby, jostling in playground, circle time)
  • Dislikes water play, sand play, pasting, play dough or finger-painting
  • Tends to overdress (e.g., will not allow shirtsleeves pulled up)
  • Avoids crowds (e.g., story time, placement in the middle of a line, birthday party, unfamiliar multi-class activity)
  • Strong food preferences; avoids certain textures of food

Reacts to Vestibular (Movement) Input Differently

  • Craves movement activities such as swings and seesaws
  • Rocks back and forth more than other children, when seated
  • Jumps frequently; runs rather than walking calmly
  • May move around aimlessly
  • Difficulty staying seated at a table; constantly repositioning himself (falls off chair)
  • Fidgets constantly
  • Rejects movement activities; seems fearful of playground equipment
  • Fearful if feet are not on the ground

Reacts to Auditory Input Differently

  • Responds negatively to unexpected or loud noises (fire drill)
  • Difficulty paying attention when there is other noise; cannot ignore it
  • Fails to hear certain sounds
  • Hums constantly
  • Puts hands over ears, or asks you to do it for him/her