Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which individuals feel intense emotional, mental, or physical pain or stress as a result of sensory overload. Sensory processing disorder often includes aversions or intense reactions to various sights and sounds related to each of the five senses:
People with sensory processing disorder may exhibit signs of overwhelm when coming in contact with various “triggers.” Some triggers are common among many people with the disorder, while others are unique and not necessarily experienced by every individual. The most common signs and symptoms of sensory processing disorder include:
Individuals with sensory processing disorder may have strong aversions to or interests in certain textures. While many people with sensory processing disorder prefer soft, smooth textures and textures, others can be overwhelming, irritating, or painful, including:
While wool sweaters and other clothing items may feel slightly itchy to the average person, trigger textures can be debilitating for an individual with sensory processing disorder. Children with sensory processing disorder may exhibit outbursts when wearing clothing that is a trigger, while adults may seek out particular fabrics to avoid contact with abrasive materials.
One of the most unique indicators of sensory processing disorder is a strong aversion to clothing tags, buttons, buckles, and fastenings. This includes:
While clothing tags and buttons may not be something many of us consider, for those with sensory processing disorder, they may have trouble concentrating or they may even feel physical pain or irritation as a result. Many people with sensory processing disorder opt for either tagless shirts or they choose to remove the tags from their clothing.
While nails on a chalkboard may be irritating to most people, there are noises that may not bother others that are overwhelmingly difficult to encounter for those with sensory processing disorder. Loud, unexpected noises or metallic, screeching sounds may cause anxiety, irritation, and stress. This includes noises like:
People with sensory processing disorder also commonly cite dental cleanings as a difficult experience due to the sound of dental tools scraping their teeth. In addition to various types of noises, noise level or volume is also a concern for those with sensory processing disorder. Loud radios and TVs may be difficult to listen to at levels that might be considered normal for others.
Many people with sensory processing disorder have a difficult time processing bright lights or lights that repeatedly blink or change colors. While bright lights and strobe lights do not cause seizures in those with sensory processing disorder in the way that they do for those with epilepsy, they can still be extremely uncomfortable. As a result, people with sensory processing disorder tend to avoid concerts, haunted houses, and other events with bright lights.
Because people with sensory processing disorder are sensitive to touch, they may not respond well to physical touch. Individuals with sensory processing disorder also tend to have anxiety about being in large crowds or in situations where individuals are sitting or standing in close proximity to one another, such as:
Because of their desire to maintain a boundary between themselves and others, people with sensory processing disorder may not be willing to participate in hugs, hand shakes, and other types of physical touch.
For many people, Halloween costumes, haunted houses, corn mazes, scary movies. and roller coasters produce an adrenaline rush which feels exciting, but for those with sensory processing disorder, they may illicit intense feelings of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and danger. Many individuals with sensory processing disorder choose not to watch horror movies, visit amusement parks, or participate in other activities which may be considered thrilling.
Food aversions are common in children and adults with sensory processing disorders, but don’t mistake your toddler’s aversion to broccoli as a sign. While many people have aversions to certain types of food or certain textures, people with sensory processing disorder may have a difficult time eating various tastes, textures, and flavors without feeling overwhelmed or anxious. For people with sensory processing disorder, food aversions can be so strong that the smell of a certain type of food or the texture of a similar food can cause nausea or vomiting.
The exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown, but studies have indicated those with sensory processing disorder have unique brain responses to various stimuli, which could indicate an inability to process taste, touch, sound, and other senses normally. We do know that sensory processing disorder is often linked to individuals with special needs such as autism, Asperger syndrome, and other conditions. There’s also evidence to suggest sensory processing disorder is linked to childhood abuse, particularly sexual or physical abuse.
READ MORE: Housing Options for Special Needs Adults
Most people with sensory processing disorder exhibit signs of sensory overload and overwhelm at a young age. Many toddlers and children with sensory processing disorder tend to respond negatively to clothing tags, unexpected touch, loud noises, and bright lights. Because of their inability to process information in the same way that others do, individuals with sensory processing disorder may have unexpected outbursts, tantrums, or yelling, or they may draw away from others and be incredibly introverted to avoid people and triggers.
Tantrums are not the only sign of sensory processing disorder, however, and it’s important to note that children with sensory processing disorder tend to be highly intelligent and functioning individuals with strong reactions to various experiences, or they may have developmental disorders. As a result, many parents of infants and children with sensory processing disorder suspect their child is highly sensitive or suffering from sensory processing disorder due to the nature of the condition.
Because the exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown, there is no cure. It’s recommended that individuals with sensory processing disorder and parents of children and teens with sensory processing disorder make efforts to avoid triggers which can cause emotional unrest or extreme anxiety.
If you have a loved one with sensory processing disorder, there are a few ways you can support them.
While the exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown, we do have enough evidence to indicate the brains of those with the disorder do work differently. Understanding your loved one is not choosing to have aversions or reactions to various sights, sounds, textures, and tastes is not to gain attention or sympathy, but is a very real condition that should be respected.
Many children and adults with sensory processing disorder have an aversion to touch, so they may be unwilling to hug, shake hands, or participate in other forms of physical touch that others consider to be friendly gestures. Also be aware that bright lights and noises can affect individuals with sensory processing disorder and that they may be unable to cope in situations with loud noises and flashing lights. Learning their triggers and avoiding behavior or actions that can be overwhelming or harmful to them is also recommended.