Have you ever felt like the world is much too loud, bright, or fast-paced for you?
Have you ever felt like you can’t quite connect with your environment or the people around you? Do you constantly feel exhausted or like you just have too much energy? You may have a difficult time regulating sensory stimulation.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder(SPD)?
Basically when a person is either oversensitive or undersensitive to certain sensory experiences. Or a person may have difficulty regulating sensory input. It is also known as Sensory Integration Disorder and Dysfunction in Sensory Integration (DSI). It is a neurological disorder.
Who experiences it?
Anyone can experience this to some degree. This theory of sensory integration is new, so children are mostly being diagnosed at this point. However, it is not a new disorder, so many of us adults are living with this and may not even realize that it has a name.
However, it is important to note that we all have sensory preferences. It only becomes a processing disorder when it significantly impacts our developmental skills or every day ability to function. That being said, you may not have this disorder, but we are all sensitive to sensory experiences to some degree. So, I feel that we can all benefit from learning about it.
How does it affect a person’s life?
We need sensory processing abilities to develop motor skills, interact socially, and focus so that we can learn. If sensory sensitivities are not tended to, serious developmental delays may occur. It may be difficult for some people to maintain relationships, employment, education, or stable living situations.
· Act out
· Scream a lot, for no apparent reason
· Hurt others or themselves
· Not seem to pay attention in class
· Start yelling or crying uncontrollably in the car or in stores
· Refuse to do activities which are a part of everyday regimens
These children are usually labeled as ADD/ADHD or “spoiled.” Parents are usually blamed for these poor behaviors. These children act out because that is their way to cope with this dysfunction.
Adults will exhibit signs differently:
· Extremely bothered by certain foods, clothing, hugs, showering, or touching messy things
· Experience car/motion sickness easily
· Constantly bites nails
· Have a poor appetite
· Easily fatigued
· Become angered very easily
· Isolates self
· Easily distracted by environment
· Have a very high or very low energy level
· Seem overly-sensitive to loud sounds or general commotion
· Have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep
Additionally, adults with SPD may exhibit the following:
· Smoking, substance abuse
· Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol
· OCD-type qualities
· Anxiety or panic attacks
What does SPD have to do with mental illness?
Since SPD can affect our sleep, relationships, ability to learn, ability to maintain employment, eating habits, and self-care, it is easy to see how it can affect our mental health. Problems in these areas can easily trigger depression or anxiety. For example, a lack of sleep can trigger depression, just as easily as depression can trigger poor sleep.
Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, employment, or socioeconomic stability can lead to mental illness and increase your likelihood of developing physical conditions and illnesses.
What can I do if I am experiencing any of these signs or symptoms?
1. Always talk to your primary doctor if you have any concerns about your health or mental wellness.
2. Find out what is triggering you.
3. Make a list of the things which bother you or seem to make you feel worse- or better!
· Think about things you avoid, such
as social events, showering, going outside, or car rides.
· Think about things that make you feel better, such as a cup of tea, turning off the
lights, or cuddling with your favorite person or pet.
4. Think of ways that you can cope with these things.
· We often believe that there is only one or two right ways to do something, but in
reality, there are many more ways! -Some of which may work better for you.
5. Focus on self-care!
Here are a few examples of modifications that I have made in my life:
Problem: I bloody hate showering/baths.
Solution: I will wash my hair and body at separate times. I will wash my hair under the bath faucet, usually in the morning. I will not get my hair wet when I get into the shower/bath, usually at night.
Rationale: I avoid over-stimulation when I do these things separately. The temperature change is less dramatic, the water isn’t going into my ears, and it shortens the length of time that I actually have to bathe at one time.
Problem: I hate doing the dishes.
Solution: I wear cleaning gloves up to my elbows.
Rationale: I hate when things get under my nails. I hate messy things. I hate slimy things. I hate when my hands are too hot or too cold. Wearing gloves protects me from most of those things.
Problem: It’s very difficult for me to take exams w/ more than one person in the room with me.
Solution: I find a place away from windows (bright lights) and I wear my earplugs.
Rationale: I cannot control my environment completely, but when I wear earplugs, it helps me feel that I am in my own world and I can just focus on my exam and my breathing(- instead of the 100+ other students in the same room.)
Problem: I have a very difficult time sleeping.
Solution: I drink some water, put my hair up in a bun, put on my eye-mask, put in my earplugs, turn on my electric blanket, and put one or two pillows over my head/body.
Rationale: The less sensory stimulation, the better. I control the temperature and amount of sensory input as much as possible. I drink water so I don’t wake up thirsty. I put pillows over my head and body put pressure on my body so I feel secure- sort of like swaddling a baby.
What has helped me the most?
Accepting that my brain and body are wired uniquely has helped me move forward with my life. Instead of being mad at myself for not being “normal,” I just try to love myself and listen to what my body needs. This reduces my level of anxiety on a daily basis and gets rid of some of those negative thoughts that are usually going through my head.
Questions for you!
Do you experience any of these symptoms?
What self-care techniques have helped you cope?
If you want more information on this disorder, please visit:
Also, I included some additional reading below!
How might it affect our 5 senses?
Keep in mind that this is not always bi-polar, meaning, someone can experience both hyper and hyposenstivity to any of these things.
Hypersensitive: covers ears, startled by loud noises, avoids loud areas such as cafeterias, classrooms, malls. Distracted by sounds that others do not notice. Difficult time focusing in an environment which is not silent. May complain that music or TV is “too loud.”
Hyposensitive: loves loud music and making noise, may not immediately respond to verbal cues, may say “what?” frequently, may turn in the wrong direction when hearing something.
Hypersensitive: dislikes toothpaste and brushing teeth, picky eater, extreme food preferences, may gag on certain textured or tasting foods. Has difficulty chewing, sucking, or swallowing. May prefer bland foods.
Hyposensitive: loves intensely flavored foods, frequently chews on gum, pen, pencils, etc.
Hypersensitive: easily irritated by bright lights or sunlight, avoids eye contact, easily distracted by visual movements or changes, may avoid brightly colored rooms and clothing.
Hyposensitive: focuses on little details in a picture, loses place a lot when reading or copying notes, mixes up similar letters, hard time tracking objects with eyes.
Hypersensitive: Easily bothered or nauseated by certain smells, chooses food based on smell, notices smells that other people don’t usually notice.
Hyposensitive: May have difficulty defining certain smells, may not notice unpleasant odors.
Hypersensitive: bothered by textures, clothing, tags, seams, very sensitive to pain, dislike the feeling of showers or being splashed, avoid hugs, kisses, touching messy things, distressed when others touch you, often fidget with a toy or chew on gum.
Hyposensitive: do not seem to notice pain, can get bumps or bruises without noticing or feeling a thing, self-harm, touches everything constantly, do not realize hands or face are dirty.
Vestibular/ Position & Movement
Hypersensitive: avoids heights, afraid of falling, avoids uneven walking surfaces and sudden or rotating movements, such as playground equipment or roller coasters.
Hyposensitive: never seem to sit still, thrill-seeker, shakes leg while sitting, never gets dizzy, full of excessive energy, looks for any opportunity to move.