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Can Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) present symptoms from very particular stimuli?

Can Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) present symptoms from very particular stimuli?


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Sensory processing disorder can cause over or under reactions to sensory input, like loud sound. Can those afflicted with this disorder be okay from a particular sound played at a particular volume but react to a different sound played at the same volume? How can this disorder be differentiated from a phobia or various other disorders?


To answer your first question, I am fairly certain that those afflicted with this disorder, or more directly, a person who cannot tolerate a particular sound at a particular volume but react differently (find tolerable) to another sound even at the same volume, is definitely possible. For example, to provide a concrete example, let's assume an individual with SPD throws a tantrum when he hears a note out-of-tune, but can tolerate in-tune notes, regardless of volume. Some associate SPD with Autism Spectrum Disorders [1] (even one of the symptoms in the DSM-IV-TR for Asperger Disorder [2] make note of sensory hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity). In the example I mentioned, I don't think one would use the term "phobia" to characterize the reactive behavior to the stimuli. And someone with auditory SPD might not be able to simplify tolerable versus intolerable noises based solely on volume. SPD is a matter of difficulty in processing information received through the senses [3] - though difficulties may arouse anxiety, "phobia" is a pretty specific irrational fear, not to be attributed to a difficulty in processing.

Specific phobia(s) and SPD aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but one way in which they can be differentiated is by one of the symptoms for Specific Phobia.

C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. Note: In children, this feature may be absent. [2]

In SPD, what seems to be critical in response to stimuli is the idea of the "just-right" perception. In SPD, the reactive response to stimuli may not necessarily be indicative of a phobic response. For example, someone with SPD may absolutely hate being poked by others. But this person would not go out of his way to avoid being poked - dislike for tactile response purposes is different from a fear of pokes.

References


Problem Behavior In The Classroom: Dealing With Children And Sensory Processing Disorders At School

It interrupts their lesson plans, tries their patience, interferes with the other children's learning environment and leaves many teachers feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and out of control.

Children with sensory processing disorders are often the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed, misguided and frustrating of the "challenging children".

Without a deep understanding of the reasons behind the behaviors these children exhibit (which is explained more in depth throughout this site), proper intervention and control within the classroom may very well be impossible!

Two of the most common problem behaviors in the classroom teachers see are a child's lack of focus, and the inability to sit/stand for an appropriate length of time to effectively learn.

Children with a sensory processing disorder often "under register" movement. Their bodies just can't seem to get enough or get the right amount at the right time to endure tasks that require focus and concentration.

There are multiple tasks a child needs to be able to accomplish on a regular basis for optimal school performance.

The inability to perform the following tasks warrants a referral to additional professionals (such as an Occupational Therapist).

1. performing self-care tasks independently

2. ability to care for personal belongings

3. ability to handle a day at school without excessive fatigue

4. ability to organize and sequence information

5. ability to "read" social and environmental cues

6. ability to perform and stay on tasks without excessive distractibility

7. ability to take in and process sensory information properly The inability to properly process sensory information will elicit very particular behaviors.

Here is a very general list (you will find more specifics, however, on a variety of other pages within this site).


What is the prognosis for SPD kids?

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect has strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible primary sources. Health information on this site is regularly monitored based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy .


The Motor Basis for Misophonia

Sukhbinder Kumar, Pradeep Dheerendra, Mercede Erfanian, Ester Benzaquén, William Sedley, Phillip E. Gander, Meher Lad, Doris E. Bamiou and Timothy D. Griffiths Hypothesis: ". we hypothesized that the mirror neuron system related to orofacial movements could underlie.


Psychophysics: An Intermediate Approach

Psychophysics is an approach that has been recently applied to the study of sensory processing in ASD by both neuroscientists and sensory symptom researchers. Psychophysical studies rely on a decision related to a perceptual experience, and are designed to closely model neural responding patterns. Thus, this approach capitalizes on an intuitive intermediary between the neural response to sensory input and the individual's observable reaction. Additionally, psychophysical studies allow for the study of isolated features of real world stimuli that can be conceptualized as the building blocks of higher-level perception. For example, if studying motion perception within the visual modality, one would present the most basic motion stimulus (i.e., a moving grating pattern) and determine an individual's ability to perceive that stimulus in either a detection task (e.g., press a button when you see the moving stimulus on the screen) or a discrimination task (e.g., decide if the stimulus is moving to the right or the left). Although a review of this literature is beyond the scope of this paper, examples of this approach applied to ASD include multiple sensory modalities, including visual (e.g., Bertone et al., 2005), auditory (e.g., Jones et al., 2009), and tactile (e.g., Cascio et al., 2008).

Although these types of measurements lie in between neural response and observable reactions, this method on its own has yet to provide an integrative framework for understanding sensory processing in ASD. This is likely because important links are missing between neural responding, detection/discrimination decisions, and observable reactions. In fact, a large research area in the field of basic neuroscience seeks to understand how neural firing translates to these types of decisions in humans generally (and primates more globally). Additionally, much remains to be known about the link between these more basic perceptual decisions and higher-order observable reactions. In particular, these measurements largely ignore the affective component and real-life impact that characterize sensory symptoms of ASD. However, these tools may allow us to characterize hypo-responsive symptoms in a way that questionnaires and observational coding paradigms miss, because this category of symptoms is defined by the absence of typical reactions.


What to know about sensory overload

Sensory overload is the overstimulation of one or more of the body’s five senses, which are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.

Sensory overload can affect anyone, but it commonly occurs in those with autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder, and certain other conditions.

Keep reading to learn more about sensory overload, including the symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.

Share on Pinterest Common symptoms of sensory overload include a sense of discomfort, loss of focus, and an inability to ignore loud sounds.

Sensory overload happens when one or more of the body’s five senses become overwhelmed. It can happen, for example, in a crowded restaurant, when the radio is too loud, or when a passerby is wearing a strongly scented perfume.

In these situations, the brain receives too much information to be able to process it properly. Sensory overload leads to feelings of discomfort that range from mild to intense.

Everyone experiences sensory overload at some point in their lives. Some children and adults, however, experience it regularly. For these individuals, everyday situations can be challenging.

Even going to the school or office cafeteria can lead to sensory overload. The sounds of people talking loudly, strong smells of food, and flickering fluorescent lights can all trigger feelings of being overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

The symptoms of sensory overload vary from one person to another. Some people may be more sensitive to sound, for example, while others may have issues with different textures.

  • inability to ignore loud sounds, strong smells, or other types of sensory input
  • a sense of discomfort and fear
  • extreme sensitivity to clothing or other textures
  • feeling overwhelmed or agitated
  • irritability
  • loss of focus
  • restlessness
  • stress

In children, the following signs can indicate sensory overload:

  • anxiety, irritability, and restlessness
  • avoiding specific places or situations
  • closing the eyes
  • covering the face
  • crying
  • placing the hands over the ears
  • the inability to converse with others or connect to them
  • running away from specific places or situations

Sensory overload occurs when the brain struggles to interpret, prioritize, or otherwise process sensory inputs. It then communicates to the body that it is time to escape these sensory inputs. This message causes feelings of discomfort and panic.

In some people who experience sensory overload regularly, such as those with sensory processing disorder, there may be a biological basis for these processing problems.

One study indicates that children with sensory processing disorder have quantifiable differences in their brain structure. The researchers suggest that this points to a biological underpinning to sensory processing problems.

However, not everyone who experiences sensory overload will have these structural differences.

A 2018 report states that 1 in every 6 children has sensory processing difficulties. In certain groups, the prevalence ranges from 80% to 100%. These groups include children with:

Sensory overload in children can be difficult to recognize, especially if there is no co-occurring condition.

Parents and caregivers may attribute the symptoms to “bad behavior” because it can cause children to run away from situations, throw tantrums, or appear irritable and restless.

In children who do not have a related condition, sensory overload may simply occur because the brain is still developing.

Parents and caregivers should learn to recognize both the triggers and the signs and symptoms of sensory overload in children. Swift action can reduce the impact on the child and help manage their reactions.

Conditions that have an association with sensory overload include:

Autism

Autistic people commonly perceive sensory input differently. According to Autism Speaks, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association added sensitivity to sensory input to the list of diagnostic criteria for autism.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In people with ADHD, sensory inputs compete for attention in the brain, which may trigger sensory overload.

Understood.org, a nonprofit organization, suggest that certain types of sensory information, such as the texture of food or sensation of clothing, are more likely to cause sensory overload in those with ADHD.

PTSD causes people to become hypersensitive to their surroundings, which can lead to sensory overload.

Sensory processing disorder

This neurological disorder occurs when the sensory information that a person receives causes them to respond differently than someone who does not have sensory processing issues.

Others

People with some other conditions may be more likely to experience sensory overload than the general population. These other conditions include:


Helping Your Overstimulated Child Decompress

The key to helping your child cope with overstimulation is learning how your child responds to different types of sensory stimuli. Knowing this information will help you prevent overstimulation and keep your child from acting out.

This knowledge is especially important with babies and toddlers who have not learned any coping techniques yet. As your kids get older, you can help them cope by teaching them breathing techniques, going for a walk, lying on the ground, or refocusing on something that calms them.

Another technique for older children includes any type of slow, steady resistance that requires children to exert effort against their muscles. Examples might include playing "Simon Says" and requiring heavy work activities like, "Simon says march in place while stomping" or, "Simon says walk like a crab." These activities help them calm their bodies and clear their mind.

Here are some additional strategies for helping calm children when they are overstimulated.

Calming an Overstimulated Baby or Newborn

When you start to notice that your baby is overstimulated, take them to a quiet place where they can calm down. If you are at home, take them to their room and dim the lights. If you are out of the house with your baby, try putting the baby in a stroller with a light wrap or blanket. Some babies even like to be swaddled. Doing so helps reduce any physical sensations they may be experiencing.

Sometimes babies find it soothing to be carried next to your body in a sling or something similar. Using this method allows you to go about your everyday activities or continue your day out while your baby is snuggled up next to you.

Calming an Overstimulated Toddler or Preschooler

The first step in calming your toddler or preschooler is to stay calm yourself. If you get upset or uptight, this will only cause your child's emotions to escalate. So take a deep breath and calm down before rushing in.

Next, try reducing the noise or activity around your child. For example, if you are home, turn off the television or radio or take your child into the bedroom and do something quiet together like snuggle or read a book. Once your child is calm, give the child some time to play on her own.

When your child is ready to re-engage with you and others, try to help him or her put how they are feeling into words. You can start by saying, "I could tell you were upset," then ask in a calm voice what was bothering them. If your child says they do not like a particular activity, try to find out what they don't like about it.

Their answer will give you important insight into your child's preferences and may help you prevent future episodes of overstimulation. You may have to wait until a later day to talk about it if your child is particularly upset.

Calming an Overstimulated School-Age Child

At this age, kids are learning how to calm themselves down. There will still be times when your child may need your help. If you notice your child is struggling with overstimulation, suggest that they go to a quiet place and rest. Sometimes it is helpful for your child to read or listen to quiet music in their room with the lights dimmed. Other times they may just need to cuddle up on the couch next to you.

When talking with kids this age about how they are feeling, it sometimes helps to indicate you know they are upset, but you are not sure what is causing it. If your child struggles to name their feelings, gently guide them in identifying how they are feeling and why they might be feeling that way.

You also may want to talk to your child about which activities they find most interesting or valuable. When kids are feeling overstimulated, it could be that they have too many things on their plate, and they might need to let some things go.

Remember, extracurricular activities are important but your child still needs enough time during the week to do homework, spend time with family, socialize with friends, and simply have alone time. Be sure your child is not over-scheduled or you may have to deal with overstimulation more often than you care to.

Limit Technology

Another culprit of overstimulation is technology in the form of television, computer, tablet, and cell phone. As a result, be sure you are following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for media consumption.  

In general, the guidelines recommend that children younger than 2 should not use any media, and if they do, such media use should be limited and only when an adult is around. An example of media use with a child this young is video-chatting with grandparents while the parents are present. For toddlers, media should still be limited, consist of high-quality programming, and never be used alone.

For children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be no more than 1 hour per day. Parents also should avoid using media as the only way to calm children down.   Parents need to learn other strategies for coping with their children's difficult emotions.


Adolescent & Adult SPD Checklist

This is NOT meant to officially diagnose Sensory Processing Disorder. It should be used ONLY to indicate the "red flags" that may warrant attention i.e., further observation, evaluation and/or treatment. It can also be used as part of the questionnaire and history gathering process during an evaluation by an OT qualified to diagnose and treat adults with Sensory Processing Disorder.

If you are concerned after going through the checklist that you or your teenager's life may be significantly impacted by sensory processing issues, please contact a local Occupational Therapist. Again, disorder means that it is SIGNIFICANTLY interfering with ones ability to perform daily activities (work, rest, or "play"/leisure)

An open mind may help you see that what appeared to be a "mental health", "behavioral", or "compulsive" behavior or issue may actually be based on inefficient sensory processing. As with any "problem", it will not get better until you know the cause! Treat it for what it actually is. no more "band-aids".

ALL of you will check off several of the items on this checklist, as many of them indicate normal sensory preferences or difficulties. That does NOT mean you have SPD. Look at HOW MANY you have checked off, the AMOUNT OF HIGH NUMBERS you indicated, WHICH SENSORY SYSTEMS are targeted, and HOW MUCH they impact your everyday FUNCTIONING.

Also, keep in mind, many of these symptoms can be indications of other disorders and mental health issues. It is the clusters and intensity of symptoms that we are looking for here, as they apply to, and are based upon sensory stimuli.

Again, if you feel these sensory processing issues are significantly impacting your life (pay attention to FREQUENCY, TIMING, AND DURATION), I urge you to seek a knowledgeable professional for help. AND, if you are really bothered by sensory issues, you may also want to think back to childhood, or earlier years, and fill out the Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist For Kids .

Keep in mind, the more information you can give the evaluator, the more accurate your diagnosis and treatment will be. If concerned, keep journals and bring that, and these checklists to your Doctor, Psychologist, or Occupational Therapist who is familiar with SPD to decide if an evaluation and further treatment is indicated.


Check off the following "behaviors" and sensory preferences if they are a part of YOUR life, and rate how often each applies to you, on a scale of 0-5 ("0" being NEVER, "5" being ALWAYS).

Adolecent / Adult Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

Sensory Modulation:

__ __ bothered by clothes certain materials, tags, seams, pantyhose, ties, belts, turtlenecks, have to wear shorts, skirts, or pants exclusively, etc.

__ __ bothered by "light touch" someone lightly touching/rubbing your hand, face, leg or back

__ __ excessively ticklish

__ __ distressed by others touching you would rather be the "toucher" than the "touchee", difficulty "snuggling" with your partner

__ __ have to fidget and "fiddle" with things all the time change in your pocket, your keys, a pen/pencil, paper clip, rubber band, ANYTHING within reach

__ __ often touching and twisting your own hair

__ __ very sensitive to pain, especially as compared to others

__ __ don't seem to notice pain get shots/cuts/bruises and hardly feel a thing

__ __ dislike the feeling of showers or getting splashed

__ __ difficulty going to the beach the sand blowing on your skin or getting on your body

__ __ avoid touching anything "messy" if you do, you have to go wash your hands right away and/or only touch it with your fingertips

__ __ can not wear new or "stiff" clothes that have not been washed or soaked in fabric softener

__ __ hate to be barefoot or hate to wear shoes and/or socks

__ __ frequently get car sick, air sick, motion sick

__ __ a thrill seeker loves fast and/or dangerous rides, leisure activities, and sports

__ __ difficulty riding on elevators, escalators, or moving sidewalks

__ __ avoid amusement park rides that spin or go upside down

__ __ seek out fast, spinning, and/or upside down carnival rides

__ __ will often rock or sway body back and forth while seated or standing still

__ __ frequently tips chair on back two legs

__ __ restless when sitting through a lecture, presentation, or movie

__ __ constantly chews on ends of pens and pencils

__ __ difficulty eating foods with mixed textures, or one particular texture

__ __ prefer foods with very strong tastes and flavors

__ __ prefer very bland foods, dislike anything spicy

__ __ has a diagnosed eating disorder or has major eating "sensitivities"

__ __ constantly biting nails or fingers

__ __ bites lips or inside of cheeks

__ __ frequently shake your leg while sitting or falling asleep

__ __ love to sleep with multiple or heavy blankets on top of you

__ __ seek out crashing and "squishing" activities

__ __ cracks knuckles often

__ __ loves crunchy foods (popcorn, carrots, chips, nuts, pretzels, etc.)

__ __ frequently have gum or hard candy in your mouth

__ __ has an "endless" supply of air fresheners, scented candles, odor masking sprays, etc.

__ __ becomes nauseated or gags from certain cooking, cleaning, perfume, public restroom, or bodily odors

__ __ identifies objects by smell, have to smell everything, judge whether you like something or someone by smell

__ __ becomes overstimulated / overaroused when people come to the house or in crowded places

__ __ very high or very low energy level

__ __ avoids crowds and plans errands at times when there will be fewer people

__ __ overly exited/aroused in group settings

__ __ hides or disappears when guests come over

__ __ drinks excessive amounts of coffee or caffeinated beverages

__ __ notice and bothered by noises other people do not seem bothered by. clocks, refrigerators, fans, people talking, outdoor construction, etc.

__ __ sensitive to loud sounds or commotion

__ __ easily distracted by auditory or visual stimuli

__ __ can not attend certain public events or places due to excessive noise

Sensory Discrimination:

__ __ can't identify objects by feel if your eyes are closed

__ __ difficulty finding things in your purse or pocket without looking

__ __ don't seem to notice if your hands or face are dirty

__ __ bothered by hands or face being dirty

__ __ loves to touch and be touched, has to touch everything

__ __ have a hard time feeling where a bug has bitten you or whether you are being bitten

__ __ difficulty heating food to the correct temperature, feeling if it is too hot or too cold

__ __ difficulty locating items in a cupboard, drawer, in your closet, or on a grocery shelf

__ __ difficulty with recognizing/interpreting/following traffic signs

__ __ difficulty judging distances about where your car is in relation to other cars, in parking spaces, or near a curb (fail miserably at parallel parking!!)

__ __ difficulty merging into oncoming traffic on road, rotary, or highway

__ __ get disoriented and/or lost easily in stores, buildings, hiking, etc.

__ __ can't sleep if room isn't completely dark

__ __ difficulty concentrating on or watching a movie/tv show when there is background noise or distractions

__ __ difficulty remembering or understanding what is said to you

__ __ difficulty following directions if given two or three at one time

__ __ can not complete concentrated tasks if noises present

__ __ sensitive, or over reacts, to sirens, dogs barking, vaccuum cleaners, blenders, or other sudden/loud sounds

__ __ talks too loud or too soft

__ __ lethargic, hard to get going, appears "lazy" and unmotivated

__ __ become engrossed in one single activity for a long time and seems to tune out the rest of their environment

__ __ spend hours at a time on fantasy or video games and activities

__ __ great difficulty settling body down for sleep or waking up in the morning (did you even hear the alarm that has been going off for 15 minutes?)

__ __ has difficulty licking an ice cream cone neatly

__ __ difficulty with speech and annunciation

__ __ bumps into things frequently

__ __ often pushes too hard on objects, accidentally breaking them

__ __ difficulty judging how much pressure to apply when doing tasks or picking something up

__ __ difficulty identifying which key on your ring belongs to what

__ __ numbers and letters often reversed or backwards

__ __ difficulty telling time on an analogue clock

__ __ difficulty reading and understanding a map, bus schedule, directions

__ __ difficulty organizing and grouping things by categories, similarities, and/or differences

__ __ can't seem to find words in word search puzzles

__ __ unable to identify foods that have gone bad by smell

__ __ difficulty being able to smell dangerous smells, i.e., smoke, noxious/hazardous solvents

__ __ difficulty being able to smell when something is burning on the stove or in the oven

__ __ difficulty distinguishing different tastes and/or flavors of food and/or drink items

Sensory-Based Motor Skills:

__ __ difficulty learning to ride a bike or other "moving" equipment

__ __ clumsy, uncoordinated, and accident prone

__ __ difficulty walking on uneven surfaces

__ __ difficulty with fine motor tasks such as buttoning, zipping, tying, knitting, sewing, playing games with small parts, closing zip loc bags

__ __ confuses right and left sides

__ __ prefers sedentary tasks, avoiding sports or physical activities

__ __ difficulty with handwriting hard to read, takes a long time to write

__ __ frequently bumps into people and things

__ __ easily fatigued with physical tasks

__ __ frequently misses when putting objects on a table

__ __ messy eater, difficulty with eating utensils, spills and drops food

__ __ knocks drinks or other things over when reaching for them

__ __ frequently drops items

__ __ has to talk self through tasks

__ __ hums or vocalizes while concentrating on a task

__ __ significant difficulty learning to tie a tie

__ __ difficulty with motor tasks requiring several steps

__ __ difficulty lining up numbers correctly for math problems and/or balancing a checkbook

__ __ difficulty learning new motor tasks. a new dance, sport or exercise activity, how to drive

__ __ lose balance frequently

__ __ significant difficulty learning to type the "proper" way

Social / Emotional:

__ __ dislikes changes in plans or routines, needs structure

__ __ may be described as "stubborn", "defiant", or "uncooperative"

__ __ cries easily, over things others usually don't, very "emotional" and "sensitive"

__ __ can't seem to finish anything

__ __ difficulty making decisions

__ __ rigid and controlling

__ __ prefers solitary activities, avoids groups

__ __ impatient and/or impulsive

__ __ difficulty with social cues and non verbal language

__ __ difficulty with authority figures

__ __ trouble relating to and socializing with peers and colleagues

__ __ strong feelings of anger or rage

__ __ needs sameness and routines needs to know what to expect

__ __ have panic or anxiety attacks

__ __ plagued by fears and/or phobias

__ __ OCD-type qualities can't let foods touch each other on your plate, have to wear clothes a certain way, will only do ____, repetitively does ____, can not do _____ without doing _____, has to have ____ like ____

__ __ distractible and unorganized

__ __ difficulty seeking out and maintaining relationships

Internal Regulation:

__ __ difficulty falling asleep or getting on a sleep schedule

__ __ heart rate speeds up, and won't slow down when at rest, or won't speed up for tasks that require a higher heart rate

__ __ respiration too fast or slow for the appropriate state of arousal

__ __ over or under sensitivity to bowel and bladder sensations

__ __ over or under sensitivity to the sensation of hunger/appetite

__ __ irregular, inconsistent bowel, bladder and appetite sensations

__ __ difficulty with temperature regulation of body

Related Resources and Further Reading

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - comprehensive SPD Checklist signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.

Child Developmental Checklist - Use this child developmental checklist for children ages 0-3 to find out whether your child is in need of an early intervention/developmental therapy referral.

SPD Symptom Checklist For Infants And Toddlers - Signs and symptoms of sensory processing disorder for babies is here with the SPD symptom checklist for infants and toddlers.


Types of sensory input

When we think of sensory input, we think of having five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. These are some common examples of things kids seek and avoid from those senses.

Sight: Visual patterns, certain colors or shapes, moving or spinning objects, and bright objects or light.

Smell: Specific smells. Some kids like to smell everything, while some kids are able to detect — and object to — smells that other people don’t notice.

Hearing: Loud or unexpected sounds like fire alarms or blenders, singing, repetitive or specific types of noises (like finger snapping or clapping).

Taste: Specific tastes (like spicy, sour, bitter, or minty) and textures (like crunchy, chewy, or mushy), chewing or sucking on non-food objects (like shirt sleeves or collars).

Touch: Touch from other people, touching and fiddling with objects, tight or soft clothing, and certain textures or surfaces.

But there are two other senses that affect kids with sensory processing issues. One is the ability to sense body movement, position, and balance. This is called proprioception. Sensory-seeking kids will try to get more proprioceptive input. They might give people tight hugs or crash into things to feel the physical contact and pressure. Sensory avoiders will try to get away from those sensations.

The other sense has to do with spatial orientation, or knowing where your body is “in space.” In this case, sensory seekers might rock back and forth, spin or swing, hang upside down or jump from heights. Sensory avoiders may be more physically cautious.


How to Help: 15 Amazing Strategies for Toileting

1. Try a 4 in 1 Stages Potty Seat which is closer to the ground and fits a smaller bottom. It also helps transition to use a grown-up toilet

2. Try fun potty seats like this Race Car Potty and Character Underwear that are motivating!

3. Try using flushable wipes and a Wipes Warmer to make the experience of wiping more enjoyable

* one consideration for this is that your child may begin to rely on it…. if you are out in public and don’t have warm wipes, will it be a problem? Take that into consideration before making it part of your routine. But if you are desperate, it’s worth a shot!

4. Sing Songs to make toilet training more fun:

  • “Let it go! Let it go!”
  • “Push it out, Push it out, WAY OUT!”
  • “Pee Pee in the Potty, Pee Pee in the Potty!”
  • “I just want to Potty all the time, Potty all the time, Potty all the time!”

5. Use painter’s tape to make a line for boys to know where to stand

6. Offer Toilet Targets or use goldfish crackers or fruit loops (get the pee in the hole!)

7. For children who aren’t sure if they have to pee OR poop, let them sit. It’s hard to tell which muscles are which.

8. Provide an inviting environment depending on your child’s sensory needs:

For a sensory seeker, bright lights, fun music, and toys alerting aromatherapy (peppermint and eucalyptus).

For a sensory avoider, soft lighting (night lights) and music, calming aromatherapy (lavender and chamomile). *Click for more info about Aromatherapy

9. Let your child leave the room before flushing if they are defensive, OR let your child choose if they flush or you do.

10. Use earplugs to block the sounds, (especially in a public bathroom), OR keep post-its in your bag to put over the automatic sensor.

11. Use a soft toilet seat.

12. Keep a Potty Training Chart or offer Potty Reward Stickers for Boys or Girls

13. Try a toileting schedule. Have your child sit on the toilet every 15 minutes for a few minutes. If they go, Wahoo! big Praise. If not, that’s ok, we’ll try again in 15 minutes.

14. Provide a Kitchen Timer for set “potty” sitting times. Let your child set the timer so they are a part of the process.

15. If your child is fearful of the sensation of pooping in the toilet, have them help you dump the poop from the diaper into the toilet and then flush it.


Adolescent & Adult SPD Checklist

This is NOT meant to officially diagnose Sensory Processing Disorder. It should be used ONLY to indicate the "red flags" that may warrant attention i.e., further observation, evaluation and/or treatment. It can also be used as part of the questionnaire and history gathering process during an evaluation by an OT qualified to diagnose and treat adults with Sensory Processing Disorder.

If you are concerned after going through the checklist that you or your teenager's life may be significantly impacted by sensory processing issues, please contact a local Occupational Therapist. Again, disorder means that it is SIGNIFICANTLY interfering with ones ability to perform daily activities (work, rest, or "play"/leisure)

An open mind may help you see that what appeared to be a "mental health", "behavioral", or "compulsive" behavior or issue may actually be based on inefficient sensory processing. As with any "problem", it will not get better until you know the cause! Treat it for what it actually is. no more "band-aids".

ALL of you will check off several of the items on this checklist, as many of them indicate normal sensory preferences or difficulties. That does NOT mean you have SPD. Look at HOW MANY you have checked off, the AMOUNT OF HIGH NUMBERS you indicated, WHICH SENSORY SYSTEMS are targeted, and HOW MUCH they impact your everyday FUNCTIONING.

Also, keep in mind, many of these symptoms can be indications of other disorders and mental health issues. It is the clusters and intensity of symptoms that we are looking for here, as they apply to, and are based upon sensory stimuli.

Again, if you feel these sensory processing issues are significantly impacting your life (pay attention to FREQUENCY, TIMING, AND DURATION), I urge you to seek a knowledgeable professional for help. AND, if you are really bothered by sensory issues, you may also want to think back to childhood, or earlier years, and fill out the Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist For Kids .

Keep in mind, the more information you can give the evaluator, the more accurate your diagnosis and treatment will be. If concerned, keep journals and bring that, and these checklists to your Doctor, Psychologist, or Occupational Therapist who is familiar with SPD to decide if an evaluation and further treatment is indicated.


Check off the following "behaviors" and sensory preferences if they are a part of YOUR life, and rate how often each applies to you, on a scale of 0-5 ("0" being NEVER, "5" being ALWAYS).

Adolecent / Adult Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

Sensory Modulation:

__ __ bothered by clothes certain materials, tags, seams, pantyhose, ties, belts, turtlenecks, have to wear shorts, skirts, or pants exclusively, etc.

__ __ bothered by "light touch" someone lightly touching/rubbing your hand, face, leg or back

__ __ excessively ticklish

__ __ distressed by others touching you would rather be the "toucher" than the "touchee", difficulty "snuggling" with your partner

__ __ have to fidget and "fiddle" with things all the time change in your pocket, your keys, a pen/pencil, paper clip, rubber band, ANYTHING within reach

__ __ often touching and twisting your own hair

__ __ very sensitive to pain, especially as compared to others

__ __ don't seem to notice pain get shots/cuts/bruises and hardly feel a thing

__ __ dislike the feeling of showers or getting splashed

__ __ difficulty going to the beach the sand blowing on your skin or getting on your body

__ __ avoid touching anything "messy" if you do, you have to go wash your hands right away and/or only touch it with your fingertips

__ __ can not wear new or "stiff" clothes that have not been washed or soaked in fabric softener

__ __ hate to be barefoot or hate to wear shoes and/or socks

__ __ frequently get car sick, air sick, motion sick

__ __ a thrill seeker loves fast and/or dangerous rides, leisure activities, and sports

__ __ difficulty riding on elevators, escalators, or moving sidewalks

__ __ avoid amusement park rides that spin or go upside down

__ __ seek out fast, spinning, and/or upside down carnival rides

__ __ will often rock or sway body back and forth while seated or standing still

__ __ frequently tips chair on back two legs

__ __ restless when sitting through a lecture, presentation, or movie

__ __ constantly chews on ends of pens and pencils

__ __ difficulty eating foods with mixed textures, or one particular texture

__ __ prefer foods with very strong tastes and flavors

__ __ prefer very bland foods, dislike anything spicy

__ __ has a diagnosed eating disorder or has major eating "sensitivities"

__ __ constantly biting nails or fingers

__ __ bites lips or inside of cheeks

__ __ frequently shake your leg while sitting or falling asleep

__ __ love to sleep with multiple or heavy blankets on top of you

__ __ seek out crashing and "squishing" activities

__ __ cracks knuckles often

__ __ loves crunchy foods (popcorn, carrots, chips, nuts, pretzels, etc.)

__ __ frequently have gum or hard candy in your mouth

__ __ has an "endless" supply of air fresheners, scented candles, odor masking sprays, etc.

__ __ becomes nauseated or gags from certain cooking, cleaning, perfume, public restroom, or bodily odors

__ __ identifies objects by smell, have to smell everything, judge whether you like something or someone by smell

__ __ becomes overstimulated / overaroused when people come to the house or in crowded places

__ __ very high or very low energy level

__ __ avoids crowds and plans errands at times when there will be fewer people

__ __ overly exited/aroused in group settings

__ __ hides or disappears when guests come over

__ __ drinks excessive amounts of coffee or caffeinated beverages

__ __ notice and bothered by noises other people do not seem bothered by. clocks, refrigerators, fans, people talking, outdoor construction, etc.

__ __ sensitive to loud sounds or commotion

__ __ easily distracted by auditory or visual stimuli

__ __ can not attend certain public events or places due to excessive noise

Sensory Discrimination:

__ __ can't identify objects by feel if your eyes are closed

__ __ difficulty finding things in your purse or pocket without looking

__ __ don't seem to notice if your hands or face are dirty

__ __ bothered by hands or face being dirty

__ __ loves to touch and be touched, has to touch everything

__ __ have a hard time feeling where a bug has bitten you or whether you are being bitten

__ __ difficulty heating food to the correct temperature, feeling if it is too hot or too cold

__ __ difficulty locating items in a cupboard, drawer, in your closet, or on a grocery shelf

__ __ difficulty with recognizing/interpreting/following traffic signs

__ __ difficulty judging distances about where your car is in relation to other cars, in parking spaces, or near a curb (fail miserably at parallel parking!!)

__ __ difficulty merging into oncoming traffic on road, rotary, or highway

__ __ get disoriented and/or lost easily in stores, buildings, hiking, etc.

__ __ can't sleep if room isn't completely dark

__ __ difficulty concentrating on or watching a movie/tv show when there is background noise or distractions

__ __ difficulty remembering or understanding what is said to you

__ __ difficulty following directions if given two or three at one time

__ __ can not complete concentrated tasks if noises present

__ __ sensitive, or over reacts, to sirens, dogs barking, vaccuum cleaners, blenders, or other sudden/loud sounds

__ __ talks too loud or too soft

__ __ lethargic, hard to get going, appears "lazy" and unmotivated

__ __ become engrossed in one single activity for a long time and seems to tune out the rest of their environment

__ __ spend hours at a time on fantasy or video games and activities

__ __ great difficulty settling body down for sleep or waking up in the morning (did you even hear the alarm that has been going off for 15 minutes?)

__ __ has difficulty licking an ice cream cone neatly

__ __ difficulty with speech and annunciation

__ __ bumps into things frequently

__ __ often pushes too hard on objects, accidentally breaking them

__ __ difficulty judging how much pressure to apply when doing tasks or picking something up

__ __ difficulty identifying which key on your ring belongs to what

__ __ numbers and letters often reversed or backwards

__ __ difficulty telling time on an analogue clock

__ __ difficulty reading and understanding a map, bus schedule, directions

__ __ difficulty organizing and grouping things by categories, similarities, and/or differences

__ __ can't seem to find words in word search puzzles

__ __ unable to identify foods that have gone bad by smell

__ __ difficulty being able to smell dangerous smells, i.e., smoke, noxious/hazardous solvents

__ __ difficulty being able to smell when something is burning on the stove or in the oven

__ __ difficulty distinguishing different tastes and/or flavors of food and/or drink items

Sensory-Based Motor Skills:

__ __ difficulty learning to ride a bike or other "moving" equipment

__ __ clumsy, uncoordinated, and accident prone

__ __ difficulty walking on uneven surfaces

__ __ difficulty with fine motor tasks such as buttoning, zipping, tying, knitting, sewing, playing games with small parts, closing zip loc bags

__ __ confuses right and left sides

__ __ prefers sedentary tasks, avoiding sports or physical activities

__ __ difficulty with handwriting hard to read, takes a long time to write

__ __ frequently bumps into people and things

__ __ easily fatigued with physical tasks

__ __ frequently misses when putting objects on a table

__ __ messy eater, difficulty with eating utensils, spills and drops food

__ __ knocks drinks or other things over when reaching for them

__ __ frequently drops items

__ __ has to talk self through tasks

__ __ hums or vocalizes while concentrating on a task

__ __ significant difficulty learning to tie a tie

__ __ difficulty with motor tasks requiring several steps

__ __ difficulty lining up numbers correctly for math problems and/or balancing a checkbook

__ __ difficulty learning new motor tasks. a new dance, sport or exercise activity, how to drive

__ __ lose balance frequently

__ __ significant difficulty learning to type the "proper" way

Social / Emotional:

__ __ dislikes changes in plans or routines, needs structure

__ __ may be described as "stubborn", "defiant", or "uncooperative"

__ __ cries easily, over things others usually don't, very "emotional" and "sensitive"

__ __ can't seem to finish anything

__ __ difficulty making decisions

__ __ rigid and controlling

__ __ prefers solitary activities, avoids groups

__ __ impatient and/or impulsive

__ __ difficulty with social cues and non verbal language

__ __ difficulty with authority figures

__ __ trouble relating to and socializing with peers and colleagues

__ __ strong feelings of anger or rage

__ __ needs sameness and routines needs to know what to expect

__ __ have panic or anxiety attacks

__ __ plagued by fears and/or phobias

__ __ OCD-type qualities can't let foods touch each other on your plate, have to wear clothes a certain way, will only do ____, repetitively does ____, can not do _____ without doing _____, has to have ____ like ____

__ __ distractible and unorganized

__ __ difficulty seeking out and maintaining relationships

Internal Regulation:

__ __ difficulty falling asleep or getting on a sleep schedule

__ __ heart rate speeds up, and won't slow down when at rest, or won't speed up for tasks that require a higher heart rate

__ __ respiration too fast or slow for the appropriate state of arousal

__ __ over or under sensitivity to bowel and bladder sensations

__ __ over or under sensitivity to the sensation of hunger/appetite

__ __ irregular, inconsistent bowel, bladder and appetite sensations

__ __ difficulty with temperature regulation of body

Related Resources and Further Reading

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - comprehensive SPD Checklist signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.

Child Developmental Checklist - Use this child developmental checklist for children ages 0-3 to find out whether your child is in need of an early intervention/developmental therapy referral.

SPD Symptom Checklist For Infants And Toddlers - Signs and symptoms of sensory processing disorder for babies is here with the SPD symptom checklist for infants and toddlers.


Psychophysics: An Intermediate Approach

Psychophysics is an approach that has been recently applied to the study of sensory processing in ASD by both neuroscientists and sensory symptom researchers. Psychophysical studies rely on a decision related to a perceptual experience, and are designed to closely model neural responding patterns. Thus, this approach capitalizes on an intuitive intermediary between the neural response to sensory input and the individual's observable reaction. Additionally, psychophysical studies allow for the study of isolated features of real world stimuli that can be conceptualized as the building blocks of higher-level perception. For example, if studying motion perception within the visual modality, one would present the most basic motion stimulus (i.e., a moving grating pattern) and determine an individual's ability to perceive that stimulus in either a detection task (e.g., press a button when you see the moving stimulus on the screen) or a discrimination task (e.g., decide if the stimulus is moving to the right or the left). Although a review of this literature is beyond the scope of this paper, examples of this approach applied to ASD include multiple sensory modalities, including visual (e.g., Bertone et al., 2005), auditory (e.g., Jones et al., 2009), and tactile (e.g., Cascio et al., 2008).

Although these types of measurements lie in between neural response and observable reactions, this method on its own has yet to provide an integrative framework for understanding sensory processing in ASD. This is likely because important links are missing between neural responding, detection/discrimination decisions, and observable reactions. In fact, a large research area in the field of basic neuroscience seeks to understand how neural firing translates to these types of decisions in humans generally (and primates more globally). Additionally, much remains to be known about the link between these more basic perceptual decisions and higher-order observable reactions. In particular, these measurements largely ignore the affective component and real-life impact that characterize sensory symptoms of ASD. However, these tools may allow us to characterize hypo-responsive symptoms in a way that questionnaires and observational coding paradigms miss, because this category of symptoms is defined by the absence of typical reactions.


What is the prognosis for SPD kids?

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect has strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible primary sources. Health information on this site is regularly monitored based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy .


The Motor Basis for Misophonia

Sukhbinder Kumar, Pradeep Dheerendra, Mercede Erfanian, Ester Benzaquén, William Sedley, Phillip E. Gander, Meher Lad, Doris E. Bamiou and Timothy D. Griffiths Hypothesis: ". we hypothesized that the mirror neuron system related to orofacial movements could underlie.


How to Help: 15 Amazing Strategies for Toileting

1. Try a 4 in 1 Stages Potty Seat which is closer to the ground and fits a smaller bottom. It also helps transition to use a grown-up toilet

2. Try fun potty seats like this Race Car Potty and Character Underwear that are motivating!

3. Try using flushable wipes and a Wipes Warmer to make the experience of wiping more enjoyable

* one consideration for this is that your child may begin to rely on it…. if you are out in public and don’t have warm wipes, will it be a problem? Take that into consideration before making it part of your routine. But if you are desperate, it’s worth a shot!

4. Sing Songs to make toilet training more fun:

  • “Let it go! Let it go!”
  • “Push it out, Push it out, WAY OUT!”
  • “Pee Pee in the Potty, Pee Pee in the Potty!”
  • “I just want to Potty all the time, Potty all the time, Potty all the time!”

5. Use painter’s tape to make a line for boys to know where to stand

6. Offer Toilet Targets or use goldfish crackers or fruit loops (get the pee in the hole!)

7. For children who aren’t sure if they have to pee OR poop, let them sit. It’s hard to tell which muscles are which.

8. Provide an inviting environment depending on your child’s sensory needs:

For a sensory seeker, bright lights, fun music, and toys alerting aromatherapy (peppermint and eucalyptus).

For a sensory avoider, soft lighting (night lights) and music, calming aromatherapy (lavender and chamomile). *Click for more info about Aromatherapy

9. Let your child leave the room before flushing if they are defensive, OR let your child choose if they flush or you do.

10. Use earplugs to block the sounds, (especially in a public bathroom), OR keep post-its in your bag to put over the automatic sensor.

11. Use a soft toilet seat.

12. Keep a Potty Training Chart or offer Potty Reward Stickers for Boys or Girls

13. Try a toileting schedule. Have your child sit on the toilet every 15 minutes for a few minutes. If they go, Wahoo! big Praise. If not, that’s ok, we’ll try again in 15 minutes.

14. Provide a Kitchen Timer for set “potty” sitting times. Let your child set the timer so they are a part of the process.

15. If your child is fearful of the sensation of pooping in the toilet, have them help you dump the poop from the diaper into the toilet and then flush it.


Problem Behavior In The Classroom: Dealing With Children And Sensory Processing Disorders At School

It interrupts their lesson plans, tries their patience, interferes with the other children's learning environment and leaves many teachers feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and out of control.

Children with sensory processing disorders are often the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed, misguided and frustrating of the "challenging children".

Without a deep understanding of the reasons behind the behaviors these children exhibit (which is explained more in depth throughout this site), proper intervention and control within the classroom may very well be impossible!

Two of the most common problem behaviors in the classroom teachers see are a child's lack of focus, and the inability to sit/stand for an appropriate length of time to effectively learn.

Children with a sensory processing disorder often "under register" movement. Their bodies just can't seem to get enough or get the right amount at the right time to endure tasks that require focus and concentration.

There are multiple tasks a child needs to be able to accomplish on a regular basis for optimal school performance.

The inability to perform the following tasks warrants a referral to additional professionals (such as an Occupational Therapist).

1. performing self-care tasks independently

2. ability to care for personal belongings

3. ability to handle a day at school without excessive fatigue

4. ability to organize and sequence information

5. ability to "read" social and environmental cues

6. ability to perform and stay on tasks without excessive distractibility

7. ability to take in and process sensory information properly The inability to properly process sensory information will elicit very particular behaviors.

Here is a very general list (you will find more specifics, however, on a variety of other pages within this site).


Types of sensory input

When we think of sensory input, we think of having five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. These are some common examples of things kids seek and avoid from those senses.

Sight: Visual patterns, certain colors or shapes, moving or spinning objects, and bright objects or light.

Smell: Specific smells. Some kids like to smell everything, while some kids are able to detect — and object to — smells that other people don’t notice.

Hearing: Loud or unexpected sounds like fire alarms or blenders, singing, repetitive or specific types of noises (like finger snapping or clapping).

Taste: Specific tastes (like spicy, sour, bitter, or minty) and textures (like crunchy, chewy, or mushy), chewing or sucking on non-food objects (like shirt sleeves or collars).

Touch: Touch from other people, touching and fiddling with objects, tight or soft clothing, and certain textures or surfaces.

But there are two other senses that affect kids with sensory processing issues. One is the ability to sense body movement, position, and balance. This is called proprioception. Sensory-seeking kids will try to get more proprioceptive input. They might give people tight hugs or crash into things to feel the physical contact and pressure. Sensory avoiders will try to get away from those sensations.

The other sense has to do with spatial orientation, or knowing where your body is “in space.” In this case, sensory seekers might rock back and forth, spin or swing, hang upside down or jump from heights. Sensory avoiders may be more physically cautious.


Helping Your Overstimulated Child Decompress

The key to helping your child cope with overstimulation is learning how your child responds to different types of sensory stimuli. Knowing this information will help you prevent overstimulation and keep your child from acting out.

This knowledge is especially important with babies and toddlers who have not learned any coping techniques yet. As your kids get older, you can help them cope by teaching them breathing techniques, going for a walk, lying on the ground, or refocusing on something that calms them.

Another technique for older children includes any type of slow, steady resistance that requires children to exert effort against their muscles. Examples might include playing "Simon Says" and requiring heavy work activities like, "Simon says march in place while stomping" or, "Simon says walk like a crab." These activities help them calm their bodies and clear their mind.

Here are some additional strategies for helping calm children when they are overstimulated.

Calming an Overstimulated Baby or Newborn

When you start to notice that your baby is overstimulated, take them to a quiet place where they can calm down. If you are at home, take them to their room and dim the lights. If you are out of the house with your baby, try putting the baby in a stroller with a light wrap or blanket. Some babies even like to be swaddled. Doing so helps reduce any physical sensations they may be experiencing.

Sometimes babies find it soothing to be carried next to your body in a sling or something similar. Using this method allows you to go about your everyday activities or continue your day out while your baby is snuggled up next to you.

Calming an Overstimulated Toddler or Preschooler

The first step in calming your toddler or preschooler is to stay calm yourself. If you get upset or uptight, this will only cause your child's emotions to escalate. So take a deep breath and calm down before rushing in.

Next, try reducing the noise or activity around your child. For example, if you are home, turn off the television or radio or take your child into the bedroom and do something quiet together like snuggle or read a book. Once your child is calm, give the child some time to play on her own.

When your child is ready to re-engage with you and others, try to help him or her put how they are feeling into words. You can start by saying, "I could tell you were upset," then ask in a calm voice what was bothering them. If your child says they do not like a particular activity, try to find out what they don't like about it.

Their answer will give you important insight into your child's preferences and may help you prevent future episodes of overstimulation. You may have to wait until a later day to talk about it if your child is particularly upset.

Calming an Overstimulated School-Age Child

At this age, kids are learning how to calm themselves down. There will still be times when your child may need your help. If you notice your child is struggling with overstimulation, suggest that they go to a quiet place and rest. Sometimes it is helpful for your child to read or listen to quiet music in their room with the lights dimmed. Other times they may just need to cuddle up on the couch next to you.

When talking with kids this age about how they are feeling, it sometimes helps to indicate you know they are upset, but you are not sure what is causing it. If your child struggles to name their feelings, gently guide them in identifying how they are feeling and why they might be feeling that way.

You also may want to talk to your child about which activities they find most interesting or valuable. When kids are feeling overstimulated, it could be that they have too many things on their plate, and they might need to let some things go.

Remember, extracurricular activities are important but your child still needs enough time during the week to do homework, spend time with family, socialize with friends, and simply have alone time. Be sure your child is not over-scheduled or you may have to deal with overstimulation more often than you care to.

Limit Technology

Another culprit of overstimulation is technology in the form of television, computer, tablet, and cell phone. As a result, be sure you are following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for media consumption.  

In general, the guidelines recommend that children younger than 2 should not use any media, and if they do, such media use should be limited and only when an adult is around. An example of media use with a child this young is video-chatting with grandparents while the parents are present. For toddlers, media should still be limited, consist of high-quality programming, and never be used alone.

For children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be no more than 1 hour per day. Parents also should avoid using media as the only way to calm children down.   Parents need to learn other strategies for coping with their children's difficult emotions.


What to know about sensory overload

Sensory overload is the overstimulation of one or more of the body’s five senses, which are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.

Sensory overload can affect anyone, but it commonly occurs in those with autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder, and certain other conditions.

Keep reading to learn more about sensory overload, including the symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.

Share on Pinterest Common symptoms of sensory overload include a sense of discomfort, loss of focus, and an inability to ignore loud sounds.

Sensory overload happens when one or more of the body’s five senses become overwhelmed. It can happen, for example, in a crowded restaurant, when the radio is too loud, or when a passerby is wearing a strongly scented perfume.

In these situations, the brain receives too much information to be able to process it properly. Sensory overload leads to feelings of discomfort that range from mild to intense.

Everyone experiences sensory overload at some point in their lives. Some children and adults, however, experience it regularly. For these individuals, everyday situations can be challenging.

Even going to the school or office cafeteria can lead to sensory overload. The sounds of people talking loudly, strong smells of food, and flickering fluorescent lights can all trigger feelings of being overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

The symptoms of sensory overload vary from one person to another. Some people may be more sensitive to sound, for example, while others may have issues with different textures.

  • inability to ignore loud sounds, strong smells, or other types of sensory input
  • a sense of discomfort and fear
  • extreme sensitivity to clothing or other textures
  • feeling overwhelmed or agitated
  • irritability
  • loss of focus
  • restlessness
  • stress

In children, the following signs can indicate sensory overload:

  • anxiety, irritability, and restlessness
  • avoiding specific places or situations
  • closing the eyes
  • covering the face
  • crying
  • placing the hands over the ears
  • the inability to converse with others or connect to them
  • running away from specific places or situations

Sensory overload occurs when the brain struggles to interpret, prioritize, or otherwise process sensory inputs. It then communicates to the body that it is time to escape these sensory inputs. This message causes feelings of discomfort and panic.

In some people who experience sensory overload regularly, such as those with sensory processing disorder, there may be a biological basis for these processing problems.

One study indicates that children with sensory processing disorder have quantifiable differences in their brain structure. The researchers suggest that this points to a biological underpinning to sensory processing problems.

However, not everyone who experiences sensory overload will have these structural differences.

A 2018 report states that 1 in every 6 children has sensory processing difficulties. In certain groups, the prevalence ranges from 80% to 100%. These groups include children with:

Sensory overload in children can be difficult to recognize, especially if there is no co-occurring condition.

Parents and caregivers may attribute the symptoms to “bad behavior” because it can cause children to run away from situations, throw tantrums, or appear irritable and restless.

In children who do not have a related condition, sensory overload may simply occur because the brain is still developing.

Parents and caregivers should learn to recognize both the triggers and the signs and symptoms of sensory overload in children. Swift action can reduce the impact on the child and help manage their reactions.

Conditions that have an association with sensory overload include:

Autism

Autistic people commonly perceive sensory input differently. According to Autism Speaks, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association added sensitivity to sensory input to the list of diagnostic criteria for autism.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In people with ADHD, sensory inputs compete for attention in the brain, which may trigger sensory overload.

Understood.org, a nonprofit organization, suggest that certain types of sensory information, such as the texture of food or sensation of clothing, are more likely to cause sensory overload in those with ADHD.

PTSD causes people to become hypersensitive to their surroundings, which can lead to sensory overload.

Sensory processing disorder

This neurological disorder occurs when the sensory information that a person receives causes them to respond differently than someone who does not have sensory processing issues.

Others

People with some other conditions may be more likely to experience sensory overload than the general population. These other conditions include: