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Sensory Integration Dysfunction occurs when sensory signals are either not detected or don't get organized appropriately, thus causing a neurological "traffic jam" that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to process information correctly. A person with sensory processing difficulties is unable to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing everyday tasks. In typical sensory processing, our neurological system takes in sensory information, the brain organizes and makes sense of it, which then enables us to use it and act accordingly within our environment to achieve “increasingly complex, goal-directed actions”. It is this “adaptive response” which facilitates normal development. We use our sensory processing abilities for: social interaction, motor skill development and focusing and attending. Sensory processing difficulties can occur with any or all of the 7 senses listed below:

Tactile: the sense of touch; input from the skin receptors about touch, pressure, temperature, pain and movement of the hairs on the skin.

Vestibular: the sense of movement; input from the inner ear about equilibrium, gravitational changes, movement experiences and position in space.

Proprioception: the sense of "position"; input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position.

Auditory: input relating to sounds; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to sounds

Oral: input relating to the mouth; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to input within the mouth

Olfactory: input relating to smell; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to different odors.

Visual: input relating to sight; one's ability to correctly perceive, discriminate, process and respond to what one sees.

Sensory processing abnormalities can present in many different ways at different ages. Please view the information below as a general guide and be sure to discuss any concerns you have with your pediatrician.

Infants and toddlers

  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Refuses to go to anyone but primary caregiver for comfort

  • Irritable when being dressed or during diaper changes
  • Rarely plays with toys

  • Resists cuddling, arches away when held

  • Cannot calm self

  • Floppy or stiff body, motor delays


  • Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, other people

  • Difficulty making friends

  • Difficulty dressing and/or toilet training

  • Clumsy, weak

  • In constant motion; craves movement
  • Frequently invades other people’s “personal space”

  • Temper tantrums
  • Easily distracted, fidgety
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Social issues, hard time making friends


  • Poor self-esteem; afraid of failing at new tasks

  • Lethargic and slow

  • Easily distracted, difficulty staying focused

  • Leaves tasks uncompleted
  • Unmotivated; never seems to get joy from life

**Sensory Processing Disorder, is still in the process of becoming recognized as a medical diagnosis and is not currently listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In the United States, the DSM serves as the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses. Treatment recommendations, as well as payment by health care providers, are often determined by DSM classifications, so the appearance of a new version has significant practical importance.

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