#241 - Does Everybody Have Sensory Quirks?

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC February 01, 2023

#241 - Does Everybody Have Sensory Quirks?

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Does Everybody Have Sensory Quirks?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) occurs when the brain and the body cannot properly process and modulate the sensory input coming in. This causes a negative, adverse reaction to the incoming sensory input. This in turn negatively affects the individual’s life, on a DAILY basis.

Sensory quirks are the smaller, less significant sensory things you seek out or avoid throughout the day. For example: chewing gum to stay focused, or fidgeting with your pen while listening to a lecture, or disliking loud noises. The difference between a sensory quirk and SPD is that a sensory quirk does not negatively impact daily function.

Listen to this episode to learn more about SPD and sensory quirks, plus a few tips and tricks.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder

Everything You Need to Know About Each Sensory System

What is SPD? Plus 5 Activities!

Sensory Checklists from Sensational Brain


What is the difference between Sensory Quirks and SPD and when should you get help?

Are you aware of the two conditions individuals can experience related to sensory processing - Sensory Processing Disorder and ‘Sensory Quirks’? It is essential to understand the difference between these two options and how best to move forward. Today, we will discuss everything you need to know about both!

We have a one-hour training on SPD - we'll provide the link in the show notes. We've mentioned sensory quirks during our other episodes but today's episode will break down the difference between sensory quirks and SPD with greater detail.

What is SPD?

If you've heard any of our previous episodes, you may already be familiar with what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is. But to provide a quick overview: SPD occurs when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses that are typical for the individual's age and developmental level. To learn more, we have included some helpful links in the show notes diving deeper into this important topic!

To begin, sensory processing disorder develops when the brain and body are unable to properly regulate incoming senses. Naturally, my first thought is of auditory systems because this is something I am often preoccupied with- being able to effectively perceive numerous sounds at once despite any competing background noise. Being able to process what someone is saying to me, and actually have it makes sense in my brain, rather than just say that I'm listening and going in one ear and out the other or not even going in one ear, maybe just going over my head completely. Sensory Processing and modulation is a natural process that occurs in everyone constantly, subconsciously, all the time.

Our Eight Senses and Sensory Processing Disorder

We are blessed with a total of eight senses, five that we traditionally learn about and three additional ones which most people don't know about. If the input arriving in our bodies from outside sources becomes scrambled or misconstrued, hindering us to process it correctly, this is known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Without an adaptive response to these external stimuli, SPD may arise over time.

Sensory Processing Disorder can present itself in one or more of the eight sensory systems, meaning that everybody's individual experience is unique. Nevertheless, SPD can manifest across any of these channels so it is important to take note and respond accordingly.

An example of Sensory Processing Disorder would be a severe negative reaction to some fabrics, like the tag in your shirt or even socks with seams. If that kind of clothing is causing you difficulties carrying out everyday occupations such as getting dressed, then it might be an indication that you're suffering from SPD.

Another example is if you're at a party. It can be overwhelming to try and process auditory information from the music in the background, an interesting conversation you want to join in on, or a car driving by quickly outside. This often results in not being able to hold meaningful conversations and feeling extremely anxious. The anxiety becomes too much for some people; leading them to leave the event early or become overwhelmed when they get home. Consequently, this impedes your capacity to move through the day with confidence and success.

You may have witnessed an example of being overly sensitive to sensory input if you or someone close to you struggles with motion sickness. This reaction is a sign of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which can also be under-responsive and craving in nature as well. These two subtypes are very similar, so it's important to understand the difference between them when seeking out proper diagnosis and treatment.

We discussed the differences between sensory cravings and under responsiveness in a previous episode. If you didn't have the chance to listen, you can click on the link provided and quickly obtain more information about this fascinating topic!

Consequently, those with heightened senses can find themselves battling through everyday tasks due to the disruptive nature of their cravings. When someone is 'under-responsive', they are overwhelmed by a desire for sensory input - be it touching objects or an affinity towards loud noises and constant movement.

Talking with your pediatrician and any medical professional who can confirm it is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), then the necessary steps for intervention must be taken. Recognizing the differences between true Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and one's own individual sensory preferences is essential in understanding how we're feeling; let’s talk about this further!

All About Sensory Quirks

So when we talk about sensory quirks, we're talking about all those little sensory things that we seek or avoid.

We all have a sensory system so we all have sensory quirks. However, if sensory challenges are impacting the child's ability to get through their day, if they are seeking sensory input to feel calm and regulated, but it's not impacting your success throughout the day to do the things you want and need to do, then it's more of a sensory quirk, and it's not sensory processing disorder.

An examples of a sensory quirk is the need for vestibular input - swings, roller coasters, and movement in general. But that enjoyment of vestibular input does not prevent you from doing the things you want or need to do.

When to Be Concerned About SPD

Through this episode, we aim to provide an answer to this common question - "What should I do if I'm experiencing or my child is exhibiting signs of sensory issues? How can I identify them and when should I seek help?"

If you're worried about any sensory issues, we don't want to just brush it off and say everything is okay. It's important to understand more about the senses through our quick training materials or by taking Sensational Brain's sensory system checklist if this is new for you. This can help identify whether someone might be under-responsive, over-responsive, or wanting additional sensory stimulation.

Parents, if you find yourself adjusting your child's routine, clothes, and meals to prevent tantrums or meltdowns due to certain clothing items, food types or activities; it might be worth considering. After all, who knows their kids better than the parents? By paying attention to how much accommodations are being made for your child’s sensory preferences throughout the day will help them thrive in life!

During our interview with Larissa, we discussed sensory overload in adults. It's equally important to remember that providing kids with enough sensory stimulation is the foundation of their well-being - regardless if they have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or not. If your child lacks adequate exposure to different forms of senses, it may manifest as signs and symptoms of SPD. On the other hand, providing them with regular sensations can help prevent any concerns related to this condition from emerging in the first place!

Sensory Strategies to Help

Let's discuss ways we can incorporate sensory-based activities into our daily lives with our kids to help ensure their success! Not a full-fledged "sensory diet," but just easy changes, such as doing various lifestyle strategies that involve all senses.

One strategy that Logan and I created to help him navigate his morning routine was a visual schedule. When the school year began, he had difficulties transitioning through his daily tasks without me reminding him what to do next. The new regime was an unfamiliar challenge for third grade Logan, so we made this helpful tool which has helped tremendously!

Logan also really enjoys leaping and crashing. He often propels himself from the couch to a nearby beanbag multiple times each day, except for in the mornings. Without fail, he always makes sure to do it after school as well as before going to bed every evening.

Going outside is an activity that is so important to Logan. I see that he sleeps better after outdoor excursions. He loves to move around and explore the environment. Even now here in Idaho when it's only 20 degrees out, he still says his "nose is cold." Experiencing fresh air brings him joy - something all of us could benefit from during our days.

If your child has SPD or just some sensory tendencies, it is essential to utilize visual schedules and implement sensory strategies as well as get outdoors for fresh air. Such activities help all of us regulate our nervous systems so that we can feel contented each day.

Experimentation is essential in discovering what works best for your child. If a certain approach isn't effective, change tactics the following day and keep trying until you find something that calms their nervous system. Each kid is one-of-a-kind, so remember that no two solutions will be identical.

Ultimately, it is all about deciphering your child and hearing out their requests. They may not be able to articulate what they feel or need just yet, but if you take the time to carefully observe them and experiment a bit, you can certainly get an understanding of how best to fulfill their sensory needs..

Sensory overload is something we all experience in life, especially when our lives are filled with overwhelming stimuli. Yet it's essential to recognize that we're all sensory beings who require satisfying our senses - some of us may need a bit more nurturing than others and that is perfectly okay!


While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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