Sensory processing disorders have gotten a lot of recognition lately, but the condition is by no means new. It was first identified in the 1960s when Dr. Anna Jean Ayres speculated that behavioral problems in children were linked to issues with absorbing, understanding, and processing their external environments. In 2006, Dr. Lucy Miller––a student of Ayres––first used the specific term “sensory processing disorder” to describe this phenomenon.
What Is a Sensory Processing Disorder?
People with this disorder have trouble processing and interpreting external stimuli to the degree that it adversely affects functioning and significantly impacts daily life. For example, some people may dislike noisy, crowded places, such as theme parks, but they can still go and have a good time without too much trouble. When someone feels threatened, overwhelmed, or highly anxious about going to a theme park because of these feelings, that could be a sign of sensory processing disorder. Overly bright lights, scratchy fabrics or tags in clothing, specific tastes and textures of foods, and pungent smells can also affect those with a sensory processing disorder. These things are often “too much” for a person with this condition.
Sometimes, the opposite symptoms can present themselves, which is also considered a sensory processing disorder. If you or your loved one is constantly seeking external stimulation––such as speaking very loudly or yelling, fidgeting, and hyperactivity–– this is also a sign of the same condition. It just is manifesting differently.
People with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), autism, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) are much more likely to have a sensory processing disorder. The condition can affect one or more of the five senses, as well as coordination and balance. If you suspect you or a loved one has it, talk to your medical provider about a sensory processing disorder test. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can work on strategies to help you get out there and enjoy life again. In the meantime, check out these tools to help you navigate the world with a sensory processing disorder.
Sound is one of the biggest offenders to those with a sensory processing disorder. Loud trucks, concerts, garden equipment, or even a sporting event can be unbearable for those who have trouble processing sound. If you know you’ll be in a noisy space, bring some earplugs. Many of today’s ear plugs filter out only background noise instead of muffling all sound. If you need more robust protection, opt for headphones with active noise cancellation; these can really minimize external noise.
If you constantly need to be touching something, moving your hands, bouncing your legs, and engaging in other antsy behaviors, a fidget toy could be very helpful. These toys are usually small and have different buttons, levers, switches, and spinners for fidgeting. Playing with a fidget toy on the side can help you focus on the main task by providing an outlet for your nervous energy.
Some people with a sensory processing disorder crave to be cuddled and held. Realistically, that isn’t always possible, but try a weighted blanket to ease your anxieties. Whether you’re just lounging around reading or watching TV, napping, or even turning in for the night, a weighted blanket can provide the physical security you need to relax comfortably.
If you or your child has recently been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, you’re probably seeking ways to cope with and understand your situation. A professional diagnosis is a start, but you’ll probably need some support in navigating daily life. It’s not an easy disorder to navigate. After all, pretty much anything we do in life requires us to regulate our sensory input. Without our senses, we have no way of understanding the world around us.
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About the Author: Carol Evenson is a loving mother of three, an aspiring writer, and a social activist. She enjoys educating and learning and loves sharing her knowledge with her family and friends.
Photo by Sebastian Voortman: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-holding-red-hand-spinner-422285/
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