Let’s face it: everyone has a few pet peeves, whether it be the sound of someone chewing gum or someone talking a little too loudly. But those who live with Sensory Processing Disorder deal with these irritations on a whole new level.
Roughly five to 16 percent of the overall population deal with Sensory Processing Disorder. Though SPD has not yet been classified as a mental disorder in medical manuals, like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and International Classification of Diseases, it is still a well-known dysfunction that impacts thousands of people.
Understanding the full impacts of Sensory Processing Disorder is essential before deep diving into solutions, and we are here to help.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the five senses, which are:
This disorder has also been coined as sensory overload, and it does just that. When someone with this disorder comes into contact with a trigger, such as a particular smell like a cologne or candle, their senses become overloaded and the brain feels like it just freezes up.
The body and brain of someone with Sensory Processing Disorder are unable to fully process the sense and react to it accordingly. Thus, people with SPD are extremely sensitive to certain stimuli that most people have no problem with.
We take in sensory information through our eyes, ears, muscles, joints, skin, and inner ears, and our brains are able to use those sensations by integrating them, modulating them, analyzing, and interpreting them for immediate functioning. Those with SPD have an extremely hard time doing this correctly, timely, and efficiently.
A few symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder are:
- Thinking clothing seems too scratchy or itchy
- Lights feel too bright
- Sounds feel too loud
- Soft touches feel too hard
- Certain food textures cause gagging or vomiting
- Poor balance and coordination
- May show little to no reaction or experience towards pain, or vice versa, showing too much of a reaction or experiencing excess pain relative to the cause
SPD is widely diagnosed early on in childhood, but many adolescents and adults experience it, too — they might just have never gotten a proper diagnosis. It is more common and easier to diagnose SPD in children because of their usual reactions to certain stimuli.
For example, if a child hears a lawnmower that they deem is too loud, they will likely cover their ears and may even start screaming or yelling. Their brains aren’t able to properly receive the information of the sound, and it overwhelms their senses.
Another example could be with the sense of touch. Certain textures and fabrics, like wool or cotton, can trigger someone with Sensory Processing Disorder. The texture may be too much for them and can cause extreme reactions like hitting or hiding under a nearby table.
Though these are the extreme sides, there is another side to Sensory Processing Disorder, which is that it causes the person to not react enough to certain stimuli. If on the other side of SPD, they may be completely unresponsive to anything around them and fail to respond to extreme heat, cold, or even pain.
Many of the symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder have shared symptoms of ADHD or ASD. Various studies have been conducted that among children with ADHD, it has been shown that 46 to 49 percent of them show symptoms of SPD. Though ADHD and SPD are different in their own ways, it is still noteworthy to be aware of the similarities between the two.
Many adults have tried to explain what Sensory Processing Disorder feels like. They describe it as the feeling of being assaulted, attacked, or invaded by everyday experiences and stimuli. They are bothered by sounds or textures that most people don’t even notice. This can seriously negatively impact someone’s quality of life, as well as relationships.
SPD causes an overall feeling of discomfort and deregulation that is frustrating to live with on a day-to-day basis. SPD can complicate routine activities like brushing your teeth in the morning, putting on deodorant, and making breakfast for yourself. Simple tasks may not be all that simple with Sensory Processing Disorder.
With that, autistic children and adults often struggle with SPD, and sensory issues are even included on the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. But each person on the spectrum is different and has their own personal sensitivities to certain stimuli.
Hypersensitivity to stimuli can result in sensory avoidance, which is trying to get away from stimuli that most people can easily tune out. Sensory avoidance can manifest itself like pulling away from physical touch, covering the ears to avoid unpredictable sounds, or avoiding certain kinds of clothing and foods altogether.
It’s important to note that Sensory Processing Disorder shouldn’t be confused for Sensory Processing Sensitivity, also known as SPS. This instead is a biologically based trait that is characterized by increased awareness and sensitivity to the environment.
For example, the dust in the air that floats around us may be more noticeable for someone with SPS. Sensory Processing Sensitivity is not associated with dysregulation, but rather with awareness, depth of processing, and needing more time to process information and certain stimuli that they experience to a more intense degree.
Dim light can be too bright, oatmeal can taste too gritty and cause you to gag, someone talking while the TV is also playing can be too overwhelming, touching something sticky could send you over the edge, and smelling something weird like burnt popcorn can give you an instant headache and cause your body to shut down. All of these are examples of Sensory Processing Disorder playing out in daily life.
Though “curing” SPD isn’t really possible, there are tools that can help you work through your symptoms to help make it easier to live a more comfortable life
Tools For Working Through Sensory Processing Disorder
Tools used for SPD should be tailored to you and your specific needs, and trying out a few different strategies can help you determine what works best for you.
If you are not sure where to start, consult your doctor for professional guidance through the options available to you.
Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)
This type of therapy is unique to those who deal with sensory issues, and it can be a great outlet. Sensory Integration Therapy uses fun activities in a controlled environment to help patients work through processing issues.
With the therapist, you will be guided through stimuli without feeling overwhelmed. It’s a way to develop coping skills for dealing with your triggers, and coping skills can soon be developed into regular, everyday responses to these stimuli.
By being exposed to sensory stimulation in a structured, controlled, and repetitive way, the brain will adapt over time to allow patients to process and react to sensations more efficiently.
This may seem incredibly harrowing at first — most therapies can feel that way. But, working on yourself and creating better coping mechanisms with the help of a professional is an incredible way to invest in your future in a safe, controlled way.
We aren’t talking about a new, balanced food diet, so don’t worry. This is just the coined name for basically incorporating a routine filled with activities to help with sensory processing. These activities are designed to help with staying focused and organized throughout the day and not giving space for meltdowns to arise due to SPD.
This “diet” should be customized to your needs, but a few examples of tools to implement throughout the day could be:
- Every hour, take a short, 10 to 15-minute walk.
- Listen to music through your headphones for an allotted amount of time while doing homework, work, or chores.
- Give yourself time to fidget with some sensory toys (more on that later).
- Try exchanging the boring desk chair with a bouncy, exercise ball so you can bounce while working and activate muscles in the process.
Incorporating any of these into your daily routine could prove to be beneficial for working through SPD.
There are a million toys out there that can help with calming your brain and combatting SPD — here are just a few examples of the most common:
- Soft surgical brushes. These brushes may help someone who has a hard time with certain textures. They are used to brush the skin to help provide and train on soft, textured stimulation.
- Adult coloring books. These are a great way to not only have a relaxing evening, but also encourage your brain to focus on the task at hand. Pick whatever colors or design you want and get to coloring!
- Fidget toys. There are too many to try to list here, but being able to play or “fidget” with something while you’re overwhelmed can help a lot. To name a few, there are fidget spinners, stress balls, gelatin balls, and a hundred other gadgets that can help.
- Bubble wrap sensory toy. Unlike real bubble wrap, this toy is not loud but gives the same satisfaction as popping bubble wrap. Made of silicone, these are great toys to fidget with.
- Rubik’s cube. One of the first known “fidget toys,” Rubik’s cubes not only are fun to play with, but they also work your mind like a puzzle! Small enough to transport with you on the go, try one of these out the next time you’re feeling overloaded.
Hug Sleep’s Pod Blanket
Designed with science in mind, the Hug Sleep blanket (called the Sleep Pod) is the perfect solution for someone wanting to get cozy without experiencing sensory overload.
This blanket was designed around the concept of Deep Touch Pressure Therapy, known as DTP. This therapy provides tactile sensory input that applies gentle and calming pressure to the body to promote relaxation and comfort. DTP has the unique ability to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to a lower heart rate and further calmness, so this therapy can be incredibly helpful during high arousal times.
This type of compression therapy has been widely used for those who experience symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder or are otherwise struggling with sensory input. Those with sensory issues are able to feel wrapped up and safe, getting the relaxation and comfort they deserve.
Coined as the “blanket that hugs you back,” the Sleep Pod has two designs, with the newest version being the Sleep Pod Move that gives total feet freedom and added mobility. The blanket comes in both adult and kid sizes so that anyone can reap the benefits from the Sleep Pod.
Its patented, unique design is shaped like a cocoon and covers your entire body so you can feel as if you’re being hugged or swaddled all night! The material is breathable, lightweight, and doesn’t trap heat.
Sensory Processing Disorder can be difficult, but the Sleep Pod can help make things manageable at least at night. Try it out and see for yourself how it has changed so many lives for the better!
SPD Doesn’t Have to Control Your Life
Though this disorder can feel all too overwhelming and daunting at most times, don’t lose hope! Many people deal with Sensory Processing Disorder, and you are not alone. Certain stimuli may always be uncomfortable for you to touch, feel, taste, etc., and that is perfectly fine. But working through how to handle your reactions to specific overwhelming sensations is when you can finally get your life back.
Whether it be through sensory integration therapy, trying out a new sensory “diet” or routine, buying a few toys to fidget with, cuddling up with the Sleep Pod, or doing all of the above, hopefully this list will help you find new ways to manage your Sensory Processing Disorder and work through the obstacles as they come.