Diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder

If you're like me, you're looking for concrete answers to your questions about your child’s challenges. You want to get a solid understanding of what your child is struggling with and why. That’s why, as parents, we feel a sense of relief once our child gets an official diagnosis. Even if it is something we're scared of, at least we know what we are dealing with and can take the appropriate action.


The challenging thing about SPD (and one of the reasons it is difficult to explain to others) is that, unlike disorders such as ADHD and Autism, SPD is not yet recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a valid disorder and therefore is not accepted by the psychological or medical communities. As a result, many children are either misdiagnosed or completely overlooked.

If you suspect something is “off” with your child and that he or she may possibly have sensory challenges, find an occupational therapist in your area who is “SI Certified (sensory integration).” Not all OTs have this certification and it is imperative for proper diagnosis and treatment of sensory processing challenges.

If, after an initial screening, it is determined that there are sufficient developmental red flags to warrant a full evaluation, the OT will use a combination of standardized tests, clinical observations, and parent-report measures to determine your child’s sensory profile and come up with a treatment plan to address his specific sensory needs.

Comorbid Diagnosis:

Comorbidity is when two disorders exist in one person. Research has shown that SPD has a strong comorbidity with the following disorders:

  • ADHD
  • Autism (Note: most children with SPD do not have Autism, but most children with Autism do have SPD)
  • Misophonia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • OCD
  • Developmental Delay
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Speech Disorders
  • Learning Disabilities

10 Sensory Red Flags:

The following is a list (adapted from Your Kid's Table) of commonly overlooked sensory red flags. It is meant to be used as a guide, NOT a diagnostic tool.

Many of these red flags can be attributed to other behavioral or physical challenges, but the ones that are highlighted tend to be solely attributed to sensory processing challenges:

  • Avoids movement (swinging, climbing or any fast movement)
  • Gags at the sight, taste and smell of food
  • Frequently walks on toes
  • Is described as clumsy
  • Hides at parties and/or avoids them
  • Prefers tight clothing
  • Is described as a "wild child" (extremely active, has no fear, constanty moving)
  • Likes bright, fast-paced TV shows
  • Bites toys or people when unprovoked
  • Won't walk outside barefoot
  • Doesn't seem to get dizzy
  • Doesnt seem to notice when being talked to or need directions repeated
  • Squeezes into tight spots(under or behind furniture)
  • Freaks out when laid on back for diaper changes or when head is tilted for washing hair
  • Has difficulty transitioning between activites

Again, this is not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool. But, if you see a pattern of multiple behaviors on this list, it would be a good idea to schedule an evaluation with an occupational therapist certified in Sensory Integration (SI certified).

To find a SI certified occupational therapist in your area, CLICK HERE.