Suppose you are hypersensitive to sounds or textures to the point where they are physically and emotionally unbearable. In that case, you may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Sensory processing disorder is when the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information coming in through the senses. Your skin may feel unbearable; loud music is maddening, perfume sickening. Whatever the specific symptoms, SPD disorder makes daily living difficult. Living with SPD can be hard, and it can complicate many everyday activities.
In most cases, sensory issues occur in children, but adults can also experience SPD. In adults, the symptoms have likely existed since childhood. However, they have developed ways to deal with their SPD.
Although SPD is not classified as a disorder in the ICD-11 or the DSM-5, it is a form of neurodivergence. Neurodivergent refers to thought patterns, behaviors, or learning styles that fall outside what is considered normal or neurotypical.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
We experience the world through our senses. Sensory information comes in through our eyes, ears, muscles, joints, skin, and inner ears. In a person with a sensory processing disorder, the brain has trouble receiving and responding to the information coming in through the senses, resulting in sensory overload.
Sensory processing is divided into eight main types:
1. Visual: what see
2. Auditory: what we hear
3. Olfactory: what we smell
4. Gustatory: what we taste
5. Tactile: what we feel
6. Vestibular: our balance and orientation
7. Proprioceptive: our sensations from muscles and joints
8. Interoception: what we feel inside the body (i.e., hunger, heart rate, respiration, and elimination)
Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of SPD and their responses can affect each person differently. It can impact one sense or multiple senses at the same time.
Sensory overload symptoms include:
· Anxiety, irritability, and restlessness
· Physical discomfort
· Urge to cover your ears and eyes to block out the source of input
· Feeling extreme stress, fear, or panic
· Sensory meltdown resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze response
If you experience these or similar symptoms for SPD, consult a doctor or mental health professional for a formal assessment.
Is SPD part of another disorder?
Conditions or disorders that can be connected to sensory processing disorder can include:
· Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
· Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
· Sleep disorders
· Developmental delay
· Traumatic brain injury
What causes sensory processing disorder?
Although no specific cause has been found for sensory processing disorders, some research indicates that this can be genetic.
Some doctors believe there could be a link between birth complications and environmental factors, including significant life events or stresses.
It is important to note that sensory processing disorder should not be confused with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). In contrast, SPS is a biologically based trait characterized by increased awareness and sensitivity to the environment.
Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment
Although there are currently no medications that can help treat SPD, therapy is highly recommended. Therapy sessions should be led by a trained therapist who can help you learn how to cope with the disorder by learning new reactions to stimuli. Therapy can lead to changes in how they deal with certain situations, leading to an improved quality of life.
There are different types of therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder:
Research shows that starting therapy early is key for treating SPD. Therapy sessions should be led by a trained therapist. Your registered psychotherapists will help you learn how to cope with the disorder and learn how to manage your challenges using exposure therapy.
Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)
Your therapists can help you experience stimuli and build tolerance without feeling overwhelmed. They can help you develop coping skills for dealing with and responding to those stimuli.
Many times, a sensory diet will supplement other SPD therapies. A sensory diet is a list of sensory activities for home and work. A sensory diet is a group of activities specifically scheduled into your day to assist with attention, arousal, and adaptive responses.
An occupational therapist can help with fine and gross motor skills. They can help you practice everyday skills that help retrain the senses. Many occupational therapists use a sensory integration (OT-SI) approach that begins in a controlled, stimulating environment and makes SPD easier to manage in day-to-day life.