10 Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) In Adults – What You Need to Know

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.

As an adult with SPD, recognizing the signs can be the first step toward understanding and managing the condition. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore 10 key signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in adults and provide valuable insights to help you navigate this complex and often misunderstood condition.

1. Over- or Under-Sensitivity to Sensory Stimuli

One of the most common and noticeable signs of SPD in adults 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.

Adults with SPD may find everyday sensory experiences overwhelming or even painful. For example, they might be extremely bothered by the feel of certain fabrics, the taste or texture of specific foods, or the sound of background noise.

2. Difficulty Filtering Out Background Noise

Difficulty Filtering Out Background Noise - SPD In Adults

Adults with SPD often have difficulty focusing on a single sound or conversation in noisy environments. This is because their brains struggle 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.

3. Sensory Seeking Behaviors

Some adults with SPD may engage in sensory-seeking behaviors as a way to self-regulate or cope with their heightened sensitivity to stimuli. Common sensory-seeking behaviors include constant fidgeting, touching or tapping objects, pacing, or seeking out strong sensory experiences like loud music or spicy foods.

While these behaviors may provide temporary relief, they can also interfere with daily functioning and social relationships.

4. Poor Coordination and Balance

Poor Coordination and Balance

Difficulty with motor skills and coordination is another sign of SPD in adults. 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.

5. Sensory Overload and Meltdowns

For adults with SPD, sensory overload can be a frequent and distressing experience. 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. They may also experience panic attacks, feelings of helplessness, or a strong urge to escape the situation.

6. Difficulty with Change and Transitions

Difficulty with Change and Transitions - SPD in Adults

Adults with SPD often struggle with change and transitions. This may be due to their heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli, making any disruption in their routine or environment feel overwhelming.

As a result, they may exhibit inflexibility, resistance to change, or difficulty adapting to new situations, which can impact work and personal relationships.

7. 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.

8. Social and Emotional Difficulties

Social and Emotional Difficulties - SPD in Adults

SPD can also contribute to social and emotional difficulties in adults. Due to their heightened sensitivity and difficulty interpreting sensory input, individuals with SPD may misinterpret social cues or struggle to connect with others on an emotional level.

They may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, feel isolated or misunderstood, and experience anxiety or depression as a result.

9. Sensitivity to Light and Visual Stimuli

Visual sensitivity is another common sign of SPD in adults. 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.

10. Sensitivity to Smells and Tastes

Sensitivity to Smells and Tastes - SPD in Adult

Adults with SPD may also have heightened 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder In Adults

1. What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects the way the brain processes sensory information. Individuals with SPD may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sensory input from their environment, leading to challenges in daily functioning and social interactions.

2. Is SPD the same as autism?

While SPD and autism share some similarities, they are not the same. Some individuals with autism may also have SPD, but it is possible to have SPD without being on the autism spectrum. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and tailored support.

3. How is SPD diagnosed in adults?

Diagnosing SPD in adults can be more challenging than in children, as symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions or dismissed as “quirks.” A thorough evaluation by an occupational therapist, psychologist, or another professional with expertise in sensory processing can help determine if SPD is the underlying cause of an individual’s difficulties.

4. Can SPD be treated or cured?

While there is no cure for SPD, there are various treatments and strategies that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their daily functioning. Occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are some common approaches that have shown positive results for those with SPD.

5. Are there any at-home strategies to help manage SPD symptoms?

Yes, there are several at-home strategies that can help adults with SPD manage their symptoms:

  • Create a sensory-friendly environment by adjusting lighting, reducing noise levels, and choosing comfortable clothing and furniture.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, such as yoga or swimming, to help improve balance, coordination, and overall sensory processing.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation to help manage stress and anxiety related to sensory overload.
  • Establish a daily routine to help reduce anxiety and make transitions easier.

In addition to these strategies, using a home-based listening program that favors sensory integration, such as the SOUNDSORY program, can be beneficial in enhancing sensory processing abilities and improving overall well-being.

6. Can adults with SPD lead successful and fulfilling lives?

Absolutely. With the right support, understanding, and coping strategies, adults with SPD can thrive in both their personal and professional lives. Early intervention, tailored therapy, and a strong support network can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with SPD. 

7. Where can I find more resources on SPD in adults?

Some reputable resources for more information on SPD in adults include the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder (https://www.spdstar.org/), the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (https://www.spdfoundation.net/), and the book “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight” by Sharon Heller. You can also consult with your healthcare provider for additional resources and guidance.

Final Words

Recognizing the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in adults is essential for understanding and managing the condition. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have SPD, it is important to seek guidance from a medical professional (like mentalhealth.com), such as an occupational therapist or a psychologist with expertise in sensory processing.

Early intervention and support can make a significant difference in improving daily functioning, reducing stress, and enhancing the overall quality of life.

By gaining awareness of the signs and symptoms of SPD, individuals can take the first step toward seeking help and finding strategies to cope with their unique sensory challenges. With understanding, compassion, and appropriate support, adults with Sensory Processing Disorder can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.