Due to the enormous popularity of 10 Sensory Red Flags, I wanted to share with you a few more, because the truth is there are a lot. Part of my mission here at Your Kid’s Table is to demystify sensory processing, but the sheer volume of behaviors that seem odd, quirky, annoying, or frustrating and are a result of sensory processing is huge.
I suspect that you are here reading for one of two reasons. First, you are just beginning to suspect that sensory processing differences may be playing a role in your child’s life and you are wondering if anything else might be going on? Some of you are nodding your head. Or second, you KNOW sensory plays a role and you are trying to educate yourself as much as you can about sensory processing so that you can help your child. Am I right? Good, you are in the right place!
Because, I know this sensory stuff can be a little overwhelming, I have a totally FREE printable Sensory Red Flag Checklist for you that includes all of the red flags listed here and the ones in the first post. I’ll send you a copy of it, grab it right here.
11 Sensory Red Flags
Before we get into this list, I want to make sure you know that these red flags DO NOT mean that your child has Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, or any other diagnosis. Most of the behaviors on this list are pretty clear indicators that your child is seeking or avoiding a certain kind of sensory input, and all that means is that you need to support it. My hope is that when you see your child behaving in one of these ways, you have a new understanding about why, which really is a game changer. Let’s take a look at these 11 sensory red flags that you might be missing
1.Has a meltdown in the store. Every. Time. – Take a moment and ask or evaluate if the fluorescent lights in a store are uncomfortable for your child. It can be hard for us to imagine, but those lights can be strong input for a child that is sensitive to light. While this may seem obvious, many younger kids don’t have the words to describe the lights, once they are in meltdown mode, they can barely speak. Of course, it is normal for kids to sometimes have a meltdown in a store, but if it’s something more, you’ll know it. Sometimes kids react this way because of all the noise in a store, the buzzing of the lights, or a combination of all of the above.
2. Never seems to get dizzy – Some kids can spin sometimes endlessly and then get up and walk away, it can seem like some nifty side show act, but this is a 100% bonafide sensory red flag. There really is no other explanation. What’s happening here is that your child’s vestibular sense (read more here) is not really processing the information. If you are seeing this red flag, it is likely that other sensory behaviors and needs are lying under the surface.
3. Slouches all the time and seems sort of floppy – This goes along with number 2. Kids that are not processing vestibular and proprioceptive input well, often have poor core strength. They hang on everything and usually have a hard time sitting up straight.
4. Freaks out when laid on back for diaper changes or washing hair – Looking at the other end of the spectrum, when kids are over processing vestibular input, meaning they are sensitive to it, being tipped back is terrifying because they really don’t have a sense of where their body is going. It’s like they are tipping back off of a cliff.
5. Won’t walk barefoot outside – Parents unknowingly often tell me stories about their babies sitting on a blanket refusing to move because of the grass or sand. Some grow out of this as their sensory system becomes desensitized, some don’t. If your child is refusing to walk on grass or sand, or gets visibly upset, it is a clear indication that they are sensitive to textures and their tactile (or touch) system is over processing. They may actually perceive this as painful.
*Get a seat in the free 3 Expert Secrets to Calm and Focus Your Kid with Sensory Activities. What you learn can change everything, you’ll get a free workbook and checklist too!*
6. Particular about clothes – If your child cries at the seams of their socks, hates tags, and refuses to wear certain types of clothes (usually jeans and dressy clothes), then they are likely over processing tactile input. While this can be annoying, it is often so uncomfortable, it is painful.
7. Has to have everything a certain way – While this one may be linked to other behavior and psychological aspects, it can also very much be sensory. Kids that are sensitive to a particular kind or many forms of sensory input may try hard to control their environment so they aren’t put in any situations that are uncomfortable. They may keep their belongings organized in a certain way or have to put their clothes on in a specific order.
8. Pushes people and objects all the time – If your kid is always pushing on others or things, it is a clear sign they are looking for some proprioceptive (deep pressure) input. Sometimes kids like this will get labeled as aggressive or hyperactive. Head over to how to handle hyperactive kids to learn more.
9. Leans up against washer or stereo speakers – While there aren’t often a lot of opportunities for this, it’s another way that kids will seek proprioceptive input can get it. The shaking and vibration of these objects gives lots of proprioceptive input.
10. Squeezes in tight spots – Again, another way your child is trying to get proprioceptive input. The squeeze and pressure they feel from sitting or laying in tight spot can be very calming and just what they need.
11. Has a hard time transitioning in between activities – This, too, can have several different causes and can be a combination at any given time, but kids that are over or under processing various sensory input often have a hard time changing activities. They don’t know what is going to be in the next environment and the physical changes like the sound, lights, and smells can be a lot to handle.
Now that I’ve given you a lot of info, I really want to encourage you to think about how you can support your child. If they are avoiding a certain type of sensory input, what reasonable accommodation can you make? If they are seeking some input dangerously, what safe alternatives can you give them?
Don’t forget to grab your list of 21 Sensory Red Flags free Printable. Click here to get it in your inbox now!
To get inspired check out sensory activity ideas in:
Powerful Proprioceptive Activities that Calm, Focus, and Alert
100+ Awesome and Easy Sensory Diet Activities
Sensory Strategies for Wild Kids
The first step is simply identifying what sensory challenges they are facing. Remember that sensory processing is totally unique to each individual and that it can change quickly or over a longer period of time. You can read more about the basics of what sensory is and what a sensory diet is to help you start to put the pieces together.
And, if you’re worried that your child might need more help because of the sensory “issues” they’re having, then definitely head over to learn more about when and if sensory therapy could help.
AND, Don’t forget to get your Free Sensory Red Flags Checklist that you can print and download.
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 15 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.
Hi, I stumbled across both of your red flag posts while looking for some information about my grandsons.
6 year old: 1) everything has to be just right…in order, a certain pattern, no break in routines 2) likes to make patterns out of everything including the artificial sweeteners at a restaurant 3) doesn’t like walking barefoot outside and doesn’t like to touch grass or snow 4) doesn’t like to swing high and even asks us to stop the swing before he gets off 5) likes to rub his head and face in our bodies – chest, neck, lap, etc. and even does it to his younger brother…often shoving his face in his brother’s face 7) slowly getting used to being on his back for back floats in the pool, but went through a horrible stage of not wanting to lie down for diaper changes, hair washing etc. 8) used to want to only wear long pants and pajama tops for bed 9) when trying to initiate play he will grab at another child’s clothing, or push, or grab an arm, etc. 10) loud noises, including the flushing toilets in a public bathroom are difficult for him – he holds his hands over his ears or cries, depending on the situation, noise, noise level, etc.
5 year old: 1) likes to swing high and fast 2) spins himself around and around frequently 3) climbs as high as he can on the playground equipment, scales fences, and jumps off the top bunk to the floor – since he started walking. He’s the family daredevil and doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. 4) stands on his head ALL the time – since he was old enough to do it…about 6 months old. It’s become a family joke 5) clumsy 6) walks on tip toes
Both boys are extremely bright – they test in the 98th percentile.
Both were preemies and are still very small for their ages…they wear 2T and 3T clothing.
The six-year-old started walking at 13 months. He was able to do it before then and took his first steps much earlier, but didn’t want to walk. He was an early crawler.
The five-year-old started walking at 9 months old. I think he went straight to running.
I’ve only seen them 3x in the last 3 years because dad is military. They’re now staying with me for a few weeks. I think I’m seeing things that maybe my daughter and SIL haven’t or maybe have, but don’t realize the extent of it because they’re with them everyday whereas I can see that the early red flags have gotten worse and/or nee ones have popped up.
Thanks for the long read!
Thanks for reaching out! Some of the things you have mentioned could be sensory challenges. It sounds like the two boys have their own unique set of preferences. A great place to start is our free sensory workshop. You can save your seat HERE. Reach out if you have any questions at all!
Hi! I just signed up to get the full red flag list, but I was wondering, my 4 year old with cerebral palsy loves to flip through books, she asks to sit on the couch alone or with me, and she will just flip through them over and over and over sometimes asking me to read a page … does this sound like a problem to you that I need to have her OT take more seriously? Thanks!
Flipping through books and looking at pictures/reading pages is usually a great thing. We aren’t there with your child though. Your OT might have a specific concern in mind. Maybe have a chat with her and see if she can clarify for you. THat way you guys are both on the same page 🙂 We have a sensory page full of sensory articles that you might find helpful! Reach out if you have any questions.
Is it possible to be over sensitive to vestibular but a sensory seeker for proprioceptive? My son absolutely hates laying on his back and fights it tough and nail, but he loves to climb. He’s not yet one and his favorite thing to do is climb over a foam rectangle over and over. He loves deep pressure, too! (My oldest has spd so I’m watching this guy, too.)
YES!! So happy that you are picking up on all these cues as it can be super hard. They can be over sensitive in one area and seeking in another!! I’d recommend our free sensory workshop to learn more about sensory 🙂 Save you seat here: http://www.yourkidstable.com/workshop
What if you’re an adult with these issues. You might have been told as a child that you have a learning disabilities. Now, that you’re a adult what should you do? If you have children that is having the same issues?
This happens all the time Jessica, can’t tell you how often I hear it! I’d definitely check out the free workshop, it will help you and your kids, because understanding what sensory is, helps you support and cope with it yourself. Sensory can also be changed and improved upon, especially in young kids!!
Hi,Alisha! Can you tell me what might be the diagnose if two and a half year boy does’t make eye contact,doesn’t speek and often looks like he doesn’t hear you when you talk to him? He doesn’t have non of the above symptoms.
It’s hard to say, but all of those symptoms are common with Autism. However, some kids have sensory issues, a speech delay, or sensory processing disorder. I’d get him evaluated if you’re concerned. Wishing you the best.
Look at a processing learning disability. Shuts down to take in data then returns when ready for more
Thanks for your response and input! This is something they can look into as well 🙂
I have a 14 yr old daughter who did the same thing when she was a baby. Everything seemed fine until she was about one years old. That’s when I really noticed these things. When I would pick her up and talk to her she would never make eye contact. If I moved in front of her face she would move to look some where else. That was my first red flag. So I started taking and putting my finger in front of her snapping or moving my finger around until I had her attention and she was looking at it, then slowly moved my finger so she would follow it to my face and look at me, once she did I moved my finger away, put on the most excited smile and proud expression and told her hi and how happy I was I to see her. In return I would get a happy smile. This process took a while and at first only lasted moments at a time, but she caught on quickly. She also showed signs of sensory issues like not being crazy about grass or she loved bath time but would cry any time she would get her hair washed even sitting up or a drop of water on her face. She also wasn’t talking much, it was clear she knew how, because we would get one word answers from her once In a great while. She was on time for crawling and walking but was clumsy and unbalanced often. It was like she was in her own little world. She preferred to be and play by herself. For example if it was a holiday and there were a bunch of people over, she would walk through them like they weren’t even there or didn’t even exist, not looking or even reacting if someone called her name like she didn’t even hear them. I thought for sure she had a hearing issue, I tested my theory out and while she was playing with some toys independently, in her room which was quite and with her back to me, making sure she could not see me, I stood in her door way and called her name, no response at all, so I grabbed a couple of pots to tap together, to see if I could get a response with a louder nosie, she didn’t even flinch, look, nothing she just sat there and played with her toys. So I made the appointment to have her hearing tested, which I repeated again when she got older to make sure. They told me her hearing was normal. Now, she is my second child, her older sister and her are 1 1/2 years apart and It was hard for me as a mom and crushed my heart everytime my baby girl would not even look at me. I talked with her Dr. and did some research and found a program for children who are delayed called Early Intervention. So I called them and they sent some one out to meet with me to talk and evaluate her for services. She qualified for a learning teacher, speech teacher and OT teacher that came to the house a couple time a week from the time she was 1 till she was 3-4 years old. They told me everything I was trying to do with her like, use my finger to draw her attention to me was right and that it would help her. After a few months of services and her taking to it amazingly. It was definitely clear she was holding back before because she was doing all of it. She was so smart and a fast learner. I seen such a big difference in her almost immediately. Although it took a long time for her to completely break out of her shell. She thrived after Early Intervention when she hit school. I can’t thank them enough for bringing my baby girl back to me. Since she started school till now at 14 she is nearly a straight A student with minimal effort, she has what they would call book smarts but is delayed in common sense and street or life learning. School comes so easy to her, but over the years she is still struggling with social, emotional and sensory things, was diagnosed with ADHA, Depression and sometimes severe anxiety disorders. She is a extremely hyper child now who is usually a happy, smiling, loud talking, smart and beautiful young lady who’s definitely had her struggles. I sometimes wondered if she may have a mild case of Autism, I did alot of research on it and know Autism is different for everyone who has it, it comes in many signs and symptoms, from severe to mild. Every doctor I have asked if it’s a possibility tells me no, because her symptoms are mild they don’t see what I see being with her nearly 24/7. She’s able to be successful with much ease and struggle. I feel help less watching her struggle and trying to figure out what will work for her, the Doctors and councilors seem to be stumped as well. At this point I am not even sure if her diagnosis is correct.
Really hoping you see this…Autism is grossly under-diagnosed in girls and women. There are countless women (including myself) who are now in the process of being evaluated because autism in girls was considered very rare back then, and education around masking was minimal. Masking is the act of learning and executing social behaviors manually. You don’t really know what you’re doing but you do research and mimic others well enough to come across as “normal”. Masking is seen far more often in autistic females than in autistic males. Once she hits 18 it will be INCREDIBLY difficult to find a specialist that sees adults. I’ve been trying for months.
Masking doesn’t mean she functions “well enough”. It’s an incredibly exhausting facade that “high-functioning” autistic people put on around everyone, even their families. There is no rest unless you are alone. Diagnosis is necessary for self understanding and self acceptance. It’s better to label someone as autistic than for them to label their self as broken, which MANY undiagnosed women have done, including me.
Also, anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all disorders with very high co-morbidity rates. The overarching theme among late diagnosed autistic women is that they were given some correct diagnoses and then the clinician stopped there. Then every autistic trait is attributed to those other diagnoses.
Getting her evaluated by an autism specialist, not a general psychiatrist or psychologist, will provide a much more accurate outcome. If you want to do some research first, I would start with masking.
My daughter is 5 she definitely has sensory issues. Like meltdowns in certain places and has a hard time transitioning into different activities and the biggest is eating her hair and chewing on straws. We have (I felt) tried everything to help her. Fidget spiner she dances with (she says it’s dancing and she has to dance with it) fidget cube she gets board, a stress ball she took apart to see what was inside…. and stuff animals work pretty well but she chews on the ear, nose or tail. I am open to what has worked for others. I’m afraid to send a waighted lap blanket to school to calm her she tends to wrap and play with blankets at home. (And yes I know school is different and kids act different with out mom but I don’t want her getting in trouble)
Those are great thoughts! I know it can be really overwhelming. The one thing about sensory activities and tools are that they aren’t one size fits all. What works for one kid can make another kids behavior worse. I’d highly recommend you watch this free workshop, it’s about discovering what your child’s needs are and then matching the appropriate activities.
Aubrianna my grandaugher has sensory issues and she does a lot of the very same thing she has a blanket that she has chewed on since she was around a year old shes six now at one point she was pulling her hair out i started reading everything on autism try to educate yourself on as much as you can even talking to your childs dr and other people going through the same thing
I have felt my child has sensory issues for a long time.
but I feel they are too mild to be sensory. Because my child doesn’t have tantrum or melt downs.
My child will not wear jeans.
hates brushing her hair.
Chews on her hair clothes water bottles.
I have found some things to help.
like the wet brush not wearing jeans Leggings and sweat pants, gum chew able water bottles. stress balls.
Yes, that’s right Kendra! My son’s the same, he doesn’t need a diagnosis, but his sensory needs are a big part of his life. I love the strategies you’ve already discovered! You’ll find a lot more on here! I also have a free workshop that I co-teach, it’s free and teaches you how to support their needs! You can find it at: yourkidstable.com/workshop
Son is 7, rocks aggressively in rocking chair and even on couch aand in car. Now he has not been ddiagnosed with autism and does have issues going to store and havingbreakdowns cconstantly. Now we have been told he fits what is described as a “sensitive” child. But still no one has explained the rocking, he’s done it since he was 2 and the doctors said he would grow out of it. He hasn’t and the therapist said that it could be a calm down method but since he does it randomly and not when he gets upset i was worried he was on a spectrum for autism. Should i continue to see it as a calm down method or be worried that I’m not seeing autism
Not necessarily Kati! We all have unique sensory needs and this is strongly related to the vestibular system. When he does a lot of rocking he’s giving it a lot of input! It feels good to him. I bet he likes swinging a lot too. I have a lot on here about understanding sensory better. I think these two articles will be really helpful for you and will really put your mind to rest. First check out what is sensory then read does my child need with sensory need more help. Let me know if you have more questions!
We took our 1 year old to Chuck E. Cheese and every so often he would stop and grab his head. I’m wondering if maybe it was just sensory overload, maybe the combination of lights and noise was too much for him.
Absolutely, that environment can be really a lot of sensory overwhelm for a lot of kids, especially toddlers! If you need to go back you can try taking a hat or headphones.
my daughter 2yrs old .doesnt lie on her back for changing diapers, cries that she doesn’t want to sleep, bumps on me during sleep time.keeps rounding at me but not feel dizzy.she is not obessed of rounding.may be once or twice a day.she wants to brush herself but refuses me doing it.is thought she wants to be independent. would these be a sensory defect?
These all sound like sensory needs to me, but the great thing about sensory processing is that it can be changed and improved! Its just the way her brain is processing sensory input now:) Its great that you’re connecting the dots. Use the links in the post to read more about sensory or let me know if you need more help!
thank you for the reply.can u give me few tips to overcome it?she makes her doll sleep, brushes her toys teeth…..pretend play is perfect. wat other things I can do? please help
I’d actually start by looking into this sensory basics page so you can understand what sensory is a little better, its real easy to read and not too long. There are some sensory ideas there to get started. You can also check out what is a sensory diet and over 100 sensory diet activities.
thanks a lot
Is there anything that can be done to help with vestibular over processing? My little guy freaks out over diaper changes, nursing and just generally being laid on his back, most of the time, not always though.
Is there anything that can be done to help with vestibular over processing? My little guy freaks out over diaper changes, nursing and just generally being laid on his back, most of the time, not always though.
Oh yes Alyshia! Definitely, this is best done with help from an OT, if you are in the states you can qualify for a free in home eval from your state’s early intervention program. Also, I’ll be offering a free sensory workshop later this month that might be really helpful for you- make sure you stay up to date on that by getting on my newsletter (see the sidebar or scroll to the bottom if on mobile). Let me know if you need more help!
My grandson dislikes when we clap for him. He goes into meltdown, flaps his hands, screams and covers his ears. It’s not the usual response from children when family claps over something great and the child reacts this way. Any information?
That’s exactly right, Betty. He is probably overwhelmed from all the noise and possibly the attention as well- this is actually more common than you would think. I would recommend being respectful of his dislike and use gentler ways to give him praise 🙂
My son would do this also when he was younger (pre OT therapy) My son has Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. I would have him evaluated by getting a referral from his pediatrician. My son will be 6yrs old in March and we’ve been in therapy (OT & Speech) for almost two years and he’s made huge improvements!❤️
You might try jazz hands. I have central auditory processing , and noises become overwhelming. I am 43 and had no idea of my processing disorder until I was 25. So I had to figure things out myself. The deaf community use jazz hands no sounds visual only.
My 7 year old son displays some of the symptoms that are described here. He was diagnosed a year ago with mild cerebral palsy. We are not convinced this is the correct diagnosis. He receives all sorts of therapy but none of it is showing any progress. In fact, hi balance seems to be getting worse. Any thoughts or suggestions? He is such a happy boy with a great (joking) sense of humor, but these balance and walkig difficulties are becoming increasingly frustrating. We just want to get him the right kind of help.
Of course Paula, that makes total sense! It certainly is possible that some of these red flags could fit under CP, as well. If you’re gut is telling you something else is going on, I would ask some specific questions to the therapists if sensory might play a bigger role. I’d also consider getting a second opinion… I hope that helps, a little:)
Hi Paula, Find a physical therapist that specializes in vestibular therapy. He may not be visually oriented due to vestibular issues. It can be corrected with eye exercises. It helped my son and has helped many of my students.
How about those 4-5 year olds who constantly have to touch the wall as they walk by it?
That could definitely be a sensory seeking behavior! Your child probably loves to feel different textures!