I think the answer to this question is very popular and yet very hard to answer. It can be very difficult to see a child for an hour session that includes observations as well as parent interview and then be able to determine if the child has Sensory Processing Disorder. Actually, I would say it’s almost impossible. Yet, what we can do is look to see if a set of behaviors are interfering enough with the child’s and family’s daily life such that we think intervention / further support is needed.
For example, if a child is showing sensitivities to playing in sand and requests a napkin right away when his hands get messy during eat, I’m not ready to say this boy has tactile processing delays. After more questions and observations, though, it is revealed this boy struggles with registering when his bath water is too hot, he likes to wear long sleeves at all times, he struggles with brushing teeth such that his parents have actually stopped working on the task because it was too stressful, and he does not seem to register pain. With this added information, it seems this boy is struggling with registering different tactile inputs correctly such that he is showing both over responsiveness (hypersensitivity) to some input AND showing under responsiveness (hyposensitivty) to other tactile input…remember pain and temperature are registered through tactile receptors.
So, how do we know if it’s a sensory processing delays or not? We continues to observe the child in a variety of settings and look for red flags for processing delays. We also need to examine the child’s mental, social, and emotional abilities to see if there are contributing factors. I saw a child who was in foster care and the foster mom was concerned that he resisted bath time. After lots of questions and observations, it didn’t seem he had any other signs for tactile processing delays. The foster mom then shared with me that there had been an incident at the previous foster home where the little boy had been left alone in the bath tub and eventually the police were at the home. In this example, it certainly seems safe to safe a traumatic emotional experience is at the root for why this boy was struggling with bath time, not tactile processing.