In today’s 24-hour world of constant sensory stimulation, most people can feel the need to retreat from time to time. From various digital communications throughout the day to bright lights, smells, and sounds, the barrage of sensory input we face can feel overwhelming.
This is even more so for adults with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), for whom these sensations can often feel like a relentless assault, making daily life an often challenging and stressful ordeal.
This article will take a closer look into the symptoms associated with SPD in adults and uncover some coping strategies and treatment options that can help these adults not only survive but thrive in their world.
What Is SPD in Adults?
SPD affects the way individuals process and respond to sensory information, heightening their sensitivity to stimuli that other people may barely notice. This heightened sensitivity can reveal itself in many ways.
For some individuals, even the gentlest touch can feel painful, while everyday sounds can become intolerably loud and upsetting. As a result of this sensory hypersensitivity, the simplest daily tasks like getting dressed or eating a meal can turn into challenging endeavors that require immense effort to navigate. This can make the world feel filled with sensory surprises and potential discomfort.
Recent data suggests that around 5% to 16.5% of the population experiences sensory processing challenges. These challenges are even more prevalent for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Symptoms of SPD in Adults
The symptoms of SPD in adults can vary significantly from person to person depending on both the severity of the disorder and the specific triggers involved. Here are some general symptoms commonly experienced by individuals with SPD.
- Tactile senses: People with SPD may find certain clothing textures, lighting conditions, unexpected physical contact, or crowded environments highly uncomfortable or distressing.
- Balance and coordination: Everyday activities such as being able to walk on uneven surfaces, taking car rides, using escalators, or enjoying amusement park rides can become challenging tasks for people with SPD.
- Motor skills: Individuals with SPD can experience challenges in fine and gross motor skills, leading to clumsiness and other difficulties in tasks like operating vehicles or using machinery, where precision is needed.
- Sensitivity to sound: Everyday occurrences, such as exposure to common sounds or sudden loud noises, can be distressing or overwhelming to people with SPD, causing them difficulties with their auditory function.
- Visual sensitivity: Individuals with SPD often experience heightened sensitivity to visual stimuli. For example, bright lights like sunshine, fluorescent lights and camera flashes can prove challenging for them. This heightened sensitivity can lead to fatigue and difficulties in maintaining focus, particularly in busy environments.
- Olfactory sensitivity: Individuals with SPD can also exhibit heightened sensitivity to smells such as perfumes, detergents and certain foods. Strong or unexpected odors can be challenging for them to process, potentially causing them great discomfort or distraction, especially in environments where there are a variety of different smells.
The added burden of living in a world of heightened sensitivity and discomfort can cause adults with SPD to look for ways to manage their symptoms more effectively. The emotional challenges associated with SPD can place an extra strain on individuals as they may struggle in social situations making it more difficult for them to form and maintain relationships with others. As a result, people with SPD can suffer from low self-esteem and often end up feeling socially isolated, depressed and misunderstood.
In an attempt to navigate these social and emotional difficulties, some adults with SPD may resort to self-medicating through alcohol and drugs which in some cases, can lead to a pattern of substance abuse and addiction. There have been studies undertaken in this area that suggest that “substance-dependent people process environmental information in different ways which makes them vulnerable to the arousal stimuli associated with substance consumption.”
Other studies question whether people with SPD are prone to substance use since they seek relief for their oversensitivity or whether SPD is a result of changes in the brain of substance dependents. If you would like professional guidance and support in overcoming drug or alcohol dependency you can visit this site for more information.
There is no universal approach to treating SPD in adults, as individual experiences and sensitivities can vary widely. While medical professionals do not usually recommend medication as a treatment option for SPD they do often design tailored treatment plans based on the patient’s individual sensory challenges and requirements. Some treatment options therapies for managing SPD in adults include the following:
- Sensory integration therapy: This therapy is designed to help individuals with SPD better cope with their condition by exposing them to sensory experiences in a controlled way. This helps improve their ability to process and respond to sensory input in a way that is not overwhelming.
- Vision therapy: Vision therapy can help individuals with SPD improve their visual-motor skills. This therapy is designed to target issues like reading, writing, and spatial navigation difficulties, enhancing visual coordination and processing. This can help individuals better adapt to sensory-rich environments, improving their daily life.
- Sensory diet: This approach involves creating a personalized plan of sensory activities and adjusting the amount of sensory input needed for each individual according to their needs. It involves incorporating specific sensory experiences into their routine to promote focus and improved daily functioning.
- Therapeutic listening: This sound-based therapy uses specific sound frequencies and patterns to stimulate the auditory system of the brain. This form of therapy delivers sound through headphones with the aim of enhancing sensory processing and emotional control in individuals with SPD.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can help adults with SPD to improve their coordination, focus, and motor skills. It also equips them with essential life skills, making it easier for them to engage in social and work activities, helping them better manage sensory sensitivities in various environments.
- Speech and language therapy: Speech therapists can work with individuals with SPD to help them improve their verbal skills, oral-motor control, and articulation. This can help them with their communication skills, improving their ability to interact with others.
Managing the symptoms of SPD as an adult can be challenging, however, with the right therapies and support individuals can greatly enhance their overall quality of life.