Sensory processing disorder is a widely debated topic. Though more broadly recognized in recent years, it is not officially listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the manual used by clinicians to diagnose psychiatric disorders. This means that sensory processing disorder is not yet an official diagnosis.
Sensory processing disorder can appear as oversensitivity. Symptoms include lights seeming too bright, sounds too loud, or clothing too tight. Objects that are soft may feel hard, and sudden movements, noises, and other stimuli can lead to an extreme reaction. People with oversensitivity may have poor balance and be particular about food texture.
Sensory processing disorder can also cause under-sensitivity. In this case, the individual often becomes sensory-seeking. Symptoms include being unable to sit still, difficulty picking up on social cues, seeking visual stimulation, and not noticing things like a dirty face or runny nose. Thrill-seeking, spinning without getting dizzy, chewing on things, and sleep impairment are common.
The cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown. Doctors believe that there may be a genetic component and that it may be linked to autism, though sensory processing disorder does not place a person on the autism spectrum. The condition may run in families, and people with autism may have children with a sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Processing Sensitivity
Sensitivity processing disorder is often confused with sensory processing sensitivity, but they are not the same. Sensory processing sensitivity is a personality trait that exists in everyone to varying degrees. Highly sensitive people respond to physical and emotional stimuli differently than the average individual. Sensory processing disorder occurs when the senses are unable to process stimuli appropriately.
Children with Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing disorder in children is particularly challenging, in part because it can be difficult to get a diagnosis. Early treatment is the best approach, and teaching children to manage their challenges may improve the disorder with age. People with sensory processing disorder may experience it their whole life, even with treatment.
Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder
Adults with sensory processing disorder may have experienced it their whole lives or they may have received effective treatment as a child and kept symptoms under control only to have symptoms return later in life, sometimes following a traumatic event. They may find it difficult to work and have trouble running errands or, in some cases, even leaving the house.
Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism
People can experience signs of sensory processing disorder without meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism. Sensory issues are only recognized in the DSM as a possible sign of autism or ADHD, which is why many people advocate for a separate diagnosis.
Sensory Integration Therapy
One treatment approach for sensory processing disorder is sensory integration therapy. It involves fun, engaging activities taking place in a controlled yet stimulating environment. The idea is to provide appropriate stimuli without overwhelming the person. In time, coping skilled develop, and the person is better able to cope with everyday life.
Another treatment for sensory processing disorder is a sensory diet. This typically supplements other therapies and has nothing to do with food. A sensory diet focuses on feeding the senses to control behavior, focusing on individual needs. For example, a child having problems in school may have scheduled time to go for a walk, wear headphones to listen to white noise while working quietly, or play with fidget toys in the classroom.
Occupational therapy can also help with sensory processing disorders. It is effective for both fine motor skills like using scissors and gross motor skills like throwing a ball. Because sensory processing disorder is not an official diagnosis, some insurance companies may not cover this and other therapies.