Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms


So, what is Sensory Integration Disorder? Sensory Integration Disorder (also referred as Sensory Integration Dysfunction or SID) is a condition in which sensory input is not organized properly in the brain. The problem with integrating sensory input is magnified in information processing and behavior.

It is important for parents to keep an eye out for any Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms in their little ones. As parents, you may have the perception that your child is acting out because they don’t want to do something or they are simply ignoring you. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Common Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms?

  • Sensory integration focuses on the senses which we take for granted. Does your toddler or child show any of the following symptoms?
  • Finds it hard to stand or walk
  • Tends to swing, at times vehemently
  • Walks off a curb, often unknowingly
  • Complains at the sound of dishwasher or vacuum cleaner
  • Gets annoyed by the doorbell ringing
  • When the Television resolution is bright
  • Twirls or Spins around in whims
  • Not responsive to conventional teaching methods
Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms
Fig 1: Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms- The Complete List

Sensory integration disorder is often associated with autism and can be treated with therapy at home or by a specialist with good results. Often children with SID describe the feeling they have as “bad feelings” when they are actually experiencing panic attacks.

The Components of Sensory Integration

There are three subconscious senses that are of concern with SID – Tactile, Vestibular, and Proprioceptive. These three senses are all connected and govern the other senses in the brain. While they are less familiar to us than the common five (touch, taste, smell, feel and vision), these particular senses allow us to experience, interpret and respond to various stimuli.

*Tactile is very closely related to touch but with a subtle difference (see below)

Tactile - Vestibular and Proprioceptive
Fig 2: Level 1- Tactile, Vestibular and Proprioceptive
Sensory Integration Components
Fig 3: Sensory Integration Components


Let’s look at each of these three senses to give you a better understanding:

Tactile Sensory System

This is the system where nerves under the skin send information to the brain. Touch, pain, pressure, and temperature are all part of what is sent to the brain for interpretation. This information is extremely essential in perceiving your environment and putting into use your protective instincts for survival.

Vestibular System

This system involves sensations in inner ear to detect movements and changes in position of the head and overall body posture.

Proprioceptive System

This system provides you with a subconscious awareness of your muscles and joints. (awareness while sitting, standing, walking etc)

Sensory Integration Disorder & Autism Spectrum

As you can see these senses are ones that we assume are working involuntarily as part of our normal body functions. Till date, you may not have noticed, BUT the Dysfunction of Sensory Integration has a strong correlation with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Take a look at these common signs of Autism and you will realise what I am talking about.

Symptoms of Sensory Integration Disorder
Fig 4: Signs of Autism and its direct link to Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms

Monitoring Your Child for SID Symptoms (and possible Autism)

The picture below demonstrates how the Sensory Integration Disorder symptoms vary between boys and girls.

Problems with Sensory Integration - How Boys and Girls Differ
Fig 5: Problems with Sensory Integration – How Boys and Girls Differ

I am going to take a moment to give you some examples of each of these Sense Systems and what you should look for.

Typical Child’s Behavior on Tactile Dysfunction

Tactile system dysfunctions can be seen in your child when they withdraw upon being touched. Your child may not want to eat a certain food as it “feels funny”; it truly does feel odd to them! It is, at this point, not about liking green beans or not, it is about the texture, not the taste.

Struggles with your child to wear certain clothes are not about what they prefer to wear; it is again about the texture of the clothes. Their nerves under the skin are extremely sensitive and the fabric material sends an immediate rejection response to the brain. Let your child pick out the clothes for the day.

Watch, touch and learn what feels good to your child. Children with tactile problems tend to send missed signals to the brain on a regular basis – what works for them one day may not suit them on another day. This causes the child’s brain to be overstimulated and stimulate a negative response as a reaction to this overload.

Problems with Vestibular Dysfunction

The vestibular system, which relates to the inner ear systems and detects movement of the head, posses some unique issues. You may be thinking your child is just “slow” in learning to go up and down the stairs, or a little “clumsy” trying to walk in their new shoes.

Children who have problems with their vestibular system genuinely struggle with stairs, walking, swinging, twirling, sliding and a host of other toddle type plays.

Mary Alexa, Behavior Therapist for Autistic Children explains, “Think about the time you had a middle ear infection, you would stand up and the room would spin, this is how your child feels all the time.”

On the more severe side, your child may exhibit the opposite. They will twirl, rock, and climb in order to stimulate their vestibular system.

Typical Child’s Behavior on Tactile Dysfunction

In order to have an awareness of your body’s position, such as standing or sitting, the proprioceptive system of muscles and joints is in place to send messages to your brain to assist in organizing the motor functions. Children who are not able to hold a crayon or pencil correctly are experiencing this system. Their brain is not receiving the correct information to organize the motor skills needed. You may first notice this problem as your child is learning to feed them as they will prefer their fingers to using a spoon or fork.

Early Intervention to SID

The Cycle of Sensory Functions
Fig 6: Understanding the Cycle of Sensory Functions

These three sensory systems manifest themselves in ways that YOU, the parent, will be the first to notice. Having that “bad feeling” (as one child explained to me prior to taking her first turns on a swing) is an everyday reality in the life child impacted with sensory integration disorder. Fear of the doorbell ringing or a sudden thud is ever-present in the back of their mind. You as a parent would be the first to have the awareness to see these sensory systems at work in your child.

Sensory integration disorder symptoms are closely linked to early signs of autism and could be identified by a parent so that the therapist can choose the most appropriate intervention strategies for autism. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Start a notebook and jot down some of the reactions your child has to different situations that you may have ignored prior to understanding sensory integration dysfunction.
  • Cross out with a red pen, the activities that don’t seem normal and try to match them against this list
  • Go to our Autism Test Online section and try out one of the following tests based on your child’s age
  • If all the results tend to indicate that your child is prone to Autism, please arrange for a medical examination. Be prepared, read the article on does my child have autism to get an overview of what to expect during your visit to the practitioner.
Autism Test for Children
For Children 5 to 12 Years
Autism Test for Toddlers
For Toddlers 2.5 to 5 Years

If all the results tend to indicate that your child is prone to Autism, please arrange for a medical examination. Be prepared, read the article on does my child have autism to get an overview of what to expect during your visit to the practitioner.

Hopefully, this post gives you a better idea of the common Sensory Integration Disorder symptoms. Remember, most of the initial therapies can be done at home (for example, check out the article on Sensory Activities for Autism) with inputs from a therapist as a monitoring guide.

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