Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information from the senses (Google). What does it mean to have one? It means you are sensorally challenged. Children, teens and adults experience either over-sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under-sensitivity (hyposensitivity). Both can be overwhelming. SPDs cause difficulties for couples, which will be discussed later.
You may react with some level of distress to labels in clothing or certain types of fabric, and bright lights. Certain smells, and some sounds are very disturbing, You avoid the perfume aisle in the local department store, and the shrill beep of a truck backing up drive you crazy. And you wear ear plugs and eye shades when you go to sleep.Children with this disorder can have tantrums in an overstimulating environment.
ADHD and SPDs can go together. In a recent column from online ADDitude Magazine, reported that 60 percent of kids with ADHD also had SPD. This is based on the work of Lucy Jane Miller, PhD. She is director of the Sensory Processing Processing Treatment and Research Center in Denver, Colo. She found that “more than half of children suspected to have ADHD had SPD or both conditions.”
Sixty percent of children with ADHD, demonstrated persistence of symptoms into their mid-20’s. An article in a pamphlet from the National Resource Center on ADHD says that 75 percent of children with ADHD continue to show symptoms in adulthood. There is a very good chance that Sensory Processing issues will also continue into adulthood.
How is a Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosed? It can mask as other disorders, such as OCD, ADHD or some other developmental disorder. It can be connected to autism. A trained occupational therapist who is knowledgeable about the disorder can review the results of physical exams and psychological surveys. These will determine if an SPD is present.
For me, it came with my inattentive ADHD, It was only diagnosed a few years ago. For a lot of my life, I knew that I had certain sensitivities. I am one of those people who always has to wear sunglasses on bright, sunny days.Falling asleep with the TV on has never worked for me. And I am very sensitive to temperature changes. When the temperature inside goes above 77 degrees in the house, the air conditioning must be going. Yet I wear a winter coat when the temperature goes down below 65 degrees. It drives me crazy when my husband turns the lights on in our family room to full power. I prefer quiet to noise, and no smell, rather than a scented candle burning.
I had a memory just today of really disliking the beach when I was a kid. It was all that icky sand in my bathing suit that was so irritating. A sunny day on the beach was no thrill for me. Nowadays, I love to be near the ocean, though, and I’m happy to take a walk by the water. I like the beach best in the winter when there are no crowds and no bathing suits.
So how do those of us with sensory integration (SI) issues manage in the world where overstimulation is a way of life? Well, we learn to cope. We cut out labels from our clothes, We don’t go anywhere without our sun glasses. We sometimes carry ear plugs in our purses. And we thank God that public buildings do not allow smoking any more.
SPD’s and Relationships
Having an SPD can have its impact on a relationship. When one partner is very sensitive to environmental stimuli and the other is not, this can lead to tensions between the partners. For example, if the ADHD partner, who might be responsible for dealing with the garbage, does not take the garbage out within a couple of days, the smell may be very assaultive to the SPD. Or, if the non-SPD partner turns the lights up really high in a room they mutually share, this may be a serious irritant to the SPD partner. These kinds of lapses can result in frequent conflict.
Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder
There are treatment protocols for SPD. You can work with an occupational therapist in a controlled stimulation environment, where a patient can slowly and gently be trained to accept initially uncomfortable stimuli over time. “Both occupational therapy and LT [Listening therapy], use principles of the theory of neuroplasticity, which posits the brain can change based on experience – which may mean months, or even years, of practice,” (Janice Rodden).
Sensory Integration Therapy “can actually “rewire” the brain so that kids can appropriately integrate and respond to sensory input, allowing them to both make sense of and feel safer in the world.”
Personally, I have managed to create an environment at home that eliminates most stimuli that are really troublesome to me, and I do my best to prepare for and adjust to those things in the outside world that might challenge me so that I barely notice them anymore. And I’ve learned to be grateful for sunshine and the beach.