Sensory processing disorder is a condition where the body-brain interprets your senses differently than most folks. For instance, you may be sensitive to noises, certain materials that brush your skin, or fluorescent lights that nearly blind you.
Every day, your body and brain are busy interpreting the signals it receives. The process happens so often that you hardly notice it’s occurring. Your sight, touch, smell, taste, movements, and hearing are all part of your sensory experiences.
You know that not everyone views the world the same, and many see things or hear them differently than you. This is all because their sensory processing system is diverse. However, sometimes the sensory processing mechanism inside the brain is over-responsive, and it can cause significant discomfort in everyday life.
One person might be overly sensitive to touch, while another individual is susceptible to sound. In many instances, these differences are subtle, but their sensory issues can be crippling for some folks.
An Illustration of Sensory Processing Disorder
A few years ago, a video circulated the internet to help others understand how sensory processing disorder works. By walking through the grocery store of someone with this neurological disorder, it’s easy for anyone to see how uncomfortable it can be.
Watching the video, viewers see how an ordinary trip to the local grocery store turned into a nightmare for someone with this neurological disorder. Sadly, SPD affects one out of every six children in this country, according to Star Institute. Parents who have children who scream, cry, and throw tantrums, may think their child is just acting up in the store.
However, the problem may be their overstimulated by the environment. This condition often exists in children who are on the autism spectrum as well as those that have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although, it can also occur by itself with no other known issues.
Adults can suffer from SPD too. It’s not uncommon to see these neurological issues after trauma to the brain or a long-term illness. Even anxiety can cause the senses to be off, making for an uncomfortable experience trying to get through daily life.
Behaviors That Identify Sensory Processing Disorder
Since the symptoms of SPD overlap many other neurological conditions, it’s not always easy to identify. However, the most common behaviors or symptoms are as follows.
1. Keen Hearing
Those who suffer from SPD may have hyper-acute hearing. They can hear the slightest sounds, and often they find them to be overwhelming.
It’s not uncommon that a person is highly bothered by a noise that other individuals won’t notice. Their keen sense of hearing can make them also hypersensitive.
2. Hypersensitive Hearing
While most folks wouldn’t think anything of silverware clanking at the dinner table. However, those with SPD may find the racket unsettling.
Their hypersensitive nature may cause them to avoid the dinner table, have a meltdown, or refuse to eat. The excessive noise may be enough for the adult to raise their anxiety and cause a panic attack. If a person tends to avoid the dinner table, then further investigation should be done.
3. Rejects Physical Contact
A person with SPD may be uncomfortable with any form of touch. To this individual, something as minor as a touch or handshake is too many stimuli. This person may be surprised or even frightened if someone tries to hug them.
It’s not uncommon for this individual to avoid contact with others due to the fear of getting too close. With these sensitivities, walking barefoot outside in grass or sand may be sensory overload. Things that most people enjoy, like the fresh air blowing on their skin, might be too much to handle.
4. A lack of coordination
Have you ever met someone who struggles with a lack of coordination? They may seem as if they have all thumbs when they try to do anything. This person will often break things and mess up anything they touch.
Society might label this individual as uncoordinated, but it could all stem from the fact that they have poor motor coordination. They find it terribly difficult to hold a crayon or use a fork during childhood. As an adult, it morphs into an ungainly or awkward nature.
5. No Sense of Personal Space
One thing that those with sensory processing disorder often do is latch onto others. They may not know personal boundaries because they want to touch anything and everything around them.
Part of this disorder is that some feel comfort when they’re close to another object. Just being next to a person makes them feel safe, especially when they experience these weird sensations that come along with SPD.
6. Exceptional Tolerance for Pain
Those with SPD might display a high pain tolerance when they get hurt. Shockingly, some of them might not even realize they’ve been hurt, which can cause a whole other set of issues. In some instances, their response to pain may be delayed due to their inadequate processing from the body to the brain.
Some folks tend to be a bit aggressive, and many may not know their strength. This is especially seen in the formative years with children. They may be rough and act like a bully to other kids.
They probably don’t mean to react this way, but they don’t have any clue how significant their strength. Sadly, this brute force may cause them great difficulties in making friends, or there is the possibility of hurting another child.
8. Gets Sidetracked Easily
Many people with SPD are diagnosed with ADHD. This is because the part of the brain that controls focus is altered in both conditions. Because their senses are heightened, this person cannot stay focused.
Being in a classroom or an office where someone with SPD must sit still for long periods can be torturous to them.
9. Problems Learning New Tasks
Folks with SPD have great difficulties when it comes to learning new things. They take longer than the average person, and they often fall behind. It’s easier to identify these issues in the school-age years rather than in adulthood.
While you may see a meltdown or an anxiety attack on the outside, what’s going on inside is much more severe. Those with sensory processing issues often go into overload when they cannot process all their stimuli.
Think of it like your computer. If you open 20 browsers and have several programs going at once, the system will freeze or crash. It’s because the capacity of the CPU is maxed out.
The same things happen inside the person’s mind with SPD, so they meltdown because they cannot take all the stimuli.
When the world and all the noise and chaos around is too much, the person with SPD hides. A child may find a closet or cubby hole where they can go alone to calm down.
The adult may shut themselves in their bedroom. They need to go somewhere to allow their senses time to calm so they can regroup.
Why Sensory Processing Disorder May Not Be Just Autism
SPD and autism are often confused, but they are not the same disorder. SPD affects the central nervous system and how it receives and responds to the signals it collects.
The crux of this issue is that the brain doesn’t know how to interpret the signals, either over or under reacts. People can have problems with the sensory processing system in their bodies and be autistic, but they don’t always occur together.
Autism is not an actual neurological disorder but rather seen as a developmental ailment. A person with this condition has problems with behavior, communication, and interaction with others.
Remarkably, folks with autism and sensory processing disorder have significant brain differences that cannot be ignored. Research suggests that the minds of those with SPD have reduced connectivity in specific areas accountable for sensory processing.
However, the brains of those children affected by autism performed inversely in areas associated with emotional advancement and memory.
Final Thoughts on Sensory Processing Disorder
You may find that you or a loved one might have some sensory processing issues.
SPD comes in all shapes and sizes, and most develop coping skills to combat the issues. However, sensory processing disorder is debilitating and makes you want to avoid places like the grocery store or a shopping mall. The next time you see a parent in a store with a child having a major meltdown, rather than instantly thinking about behavioral issues or a lack of discipline, consider that the child might have sensory issues and are in pain.
How different would the world be if we looked through eyes of kindness and understanding rather than judgment? While others see and hear screaming or temper tantrums, what the child could be dealing with on the inside is unbearable to them. Additionally, the adult with strange behaviors and tends to avoid social settings might also be suffering from SPD.