What Is a Sensory Processing Disorder?

A woman covers her ears and closes her eyes

A sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that interferes with the way a person experiences sensations. While simple sensations – like the feeling of clothing on one’s body – may go without notice for many people, someone with a SPD could find them overwhelming. In other cases, a lack of sensory input may contribute to existing symptoms or behavioral concerns.

While virtually anyone can experience a SPD, these disorders often co-occur with other conditions. Living with a SPD can be difficult, but learning what challenges you face and how you can address them can help you live comfortably and happily.


What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorders are caused when the brain has issues conducting messages. These symptoms are essentially the result of a disconnect between the information the brain receives and how it reacts.

Most brains send electrical impulses to different neurological areas to evoke certain responses. This allows people to know when they are being touched, how they perceive smells and sounds, and how to interpret their surroundings.

But different types of sensory processing disorders can make it difficult for the brain to understand these electrical impulses, resulting in an over- or underreaction. For instance, a blaring car alarm may be a nuisance to some, but intensely aggravating and even anxiety-inducing to those with noise-related sensory processing challenges. 

As a result, sensory processing difficulties can cause overstimulation, stress, and hypersensitivity, among other consequences. Signs of this disorder usually appear in childhood and persist into adulthood. Generally,though, an SPD is not considered a diagnosis on its own but instead a symptom of another condition.

What Are the Symptoms of a SPD?

Sensory processing disorder symptoms come in different severities. Some may experience a SPD that only affects one or two senses. More severe cases may affect all senses. And while SPD is often associated with overstimulation, some also experience understimulation. 

If the right amount of sensory input is like water in a pool, folks who are under- or overstimulated have too little or much. They may simply need some time and extra help to reach the same point others are at constantly.

A person with SPD may become extremely overstimulated and upset at the sound of a loud motor. They may recoil or shout if they feel a certain texture on their skin or if someone touches them. Others may be so understimulated that they may not react to loud noises, pain, or temperature changes. 

Conditions and Disabilities Related to SPD

The cause of SPD is not yet known. Because SPD and its co-occurring symptoms occur so early in a person’s life, its development may have a genetic component

However, sensory processing concerns most often correlate with other health conditions. For instance, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may develop symptoms of sensory processing challenges early in life. 

These symptoms may give rise to new concerns, such as anxiety and panic disorders, when left unaddressed. Other co-occurring disorders associated with these challenges include:

  • Bipolar disorder (BPD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Learning disorders (such as dyslexia)

Tips for Managing SPD

While there is no cure for sensory processing disorders, there are many symptom management and treatment options. Gradual exposure to unpleasant sensations in a positive environment, such as a therapist’s office, can help lessen discomfort around certain triggers. 

But what’s often also effective is not trying to completely eradicate sensory processing challenges, but learning to live with them. This can be achieved with the help of sensory-friendly accommodations, such as:

  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Private workspaces
  • Separate exam rooms
  • Modified work uniforms

The biggest obstacle to overcome is often being able to articulate your needs so you can get the support you deserve.

Final Thoughts

A SPD is something that can be managed with the right support and treatment. The first step in helping someone with SPD is often knowing where to find the best treatment options.

The team at NeuroNav is here to help you navigate options available to you. We’re also here to answer questions and guide you to resources that can help. Contact us today to book a free consultation.

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