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.
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?
To get inspired check out sensory activity ideas in:
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.