Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects the way the brain processes sensory information. While it is most commonly diagnosed in children, it can persist into adulthood and have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. Recognising the signs can be the first step toward understanding and managing the condition.
Over- or Under-Sensitivity to Sensory Stimuli
One of the most common and noticeable signs of SPD is an unusual sensitivity to sensory stimuli. This can manifest as either over-sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under-sensitivity (hyposensitivity) to touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound.
Difficulty Filtering Out Background Noise
Difficulty focusing on a single sound or conversation in noisy environments is another symptom of SPD. This is because the brain struggles to filter out extraneous noise, making it hard to concentrate on the task at hand. This challenge can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, and anxiety in social situations and can even impact work performance.
Sensory Seeking Behaviours
They may engage in sensory-seeking behaviours as a way to self-regulate or cope with their heightened sensitivity to stimuli. Common sensory-seeking behaviours include constant fidgeting, touching or tapping objects, pacing, or seeking out strong sensory experiences like loud music or spicy foods.
Sensory Overload and Meltdowns
When exposed to too much sensory input at once, their nervous systems can become overwhelmed, leading to emotional outbursts or meltdowns. During a sensory meltdown, an individual may become agitated, irritable, and even physically aggressive.
Poor Coordination and Balance
Individuals with this condition may struggle with tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning clothes. They may also have difficulty with gross motor skills, like walking up or down stairs, and exhibit poor balance and spatial awareness. These challenges can lead to feelings of clumsiness and self-consciousness in social situations.
Difficulty with Change and Transitions
Sufferers of SPD often struggle with change and transitions. This may be due to their heightened sensitivity. As a result, they may exhibit inflexibility, resistance to change, or difficulty adapting to new situations.
Social and Emotional Difficulties
SPD can also contribute to social and emotional difficulties. They may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, feel isolated or misunderstood, and experience anxiety or depression as a result.
Sensitivity to Light and Visual Stimuli
Visual sensitivity is another common sign of SPD. They may be hypersensitive to bright lights, sunlight, or fluorescent lighting, which can cause discomfort, headaches, or even migraines. In addition, they may have difficulty focusing on visually complex scenes or patterns, such as busy wallpaper or crowded spaces.
Trouble Processing Time and Sequencing
Individuals with SPD may have difficulty processing time and sequencing, which can lead to challenges with time management, organization, and planning. They may struggle to keep track of time, misjudge the amount of time needed to complete tasks or have difficulty prioritizing and breaking tasks into manageable steps.
Sensitivity to Smells and Tastes
SPD may also heighten sensitivity to smells and tastes. This can manifest as an aversion to certain scents, such as perfumes or cleaning products, or a strong dislike of specific foods due to their taste or texture. This heightened sensitivity can make it challenging to eat out, attend social events, or even be in shared spaces where strong smells are present.