Sensory Processing Disorder In Adults With Autism
Every person needs to integrate the signals that we receive through our senses to do daily activities. However, for people with Asperger’s Syndrome this is difficult because of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
For those of you that are unfamiliar with SPD, here is an explanation from the SPD Foundation:
“Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.”
Many adults have gone undiagnosed all their lives wondering why they have such a problem with the everyday tasks that neurotypical people seem to handle with ease. You are not alone! Most medical professionals were not trained to recognize sensory dysfunction. As a result, many people struggle with this hidden handicap and end up being ridiculed, which in turn can lead to secondary problems like social anxiety.
Each person with SPD is affected differently. Some people are hyposensitive meaning that the person is under-sensitive, which usually leads them to seek out sensory input. Whereas, other people are hypersensitive meaning that they are over-sensitive to certain stimuli. Some people have a combination of hypo- and hyper-sensitivity. For instance, a person can have a hyposensitive auditory system seeking out loud noise but be orally hypersensitive leaving them to be labeled as extremely picky eaters. People with a hypersensitive olfaction often struggle to justify why they should concern themselves with hygiene because strong smells of deodorant and hair products can be truly upsetting. There is one quote from an unknown author that has stayed with me since high school, which reads, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” This statement is painfully true. If you meet someone smelling of body odor with your hair disheveled – this will leave a lasting impression on the person that you don’t take pride in your appearance, which usually then leads them to believe that you don’t value characteristics such as organization, cleanliness, etc.
How do you overcome this?
Due to the fact that every person is differently affected by SPD, it is important to receive occupational therapy with a sensory approach to tailor the session to your individual needs. The occupational therapist can work with you to find different calming techniques that can be used when over-stimulated or stimulating activities when your brain is craving sensation. They may even develop a “sensory diet,” which is when you schedule certain sensory activities throughout the day to help regulate your central nervous system.
Some other good suggestions to alleviate sensory triggers are:
- Use non-scented deodorant
- If the sensation of showers is bothersome, then take a bath. In order to eliminate the drastic change in temperature when exiting the tub, use a small space heater to warm the bathroom.
- Use an electric toothbrush instead of a manual.
- Try cutting or smashing small fruits (like blueberries or grapes) if you don’t like the bursting sensation in your mouth
- Buy clothes without tags.
- Try seamless socks.
- Try different kinds of sheets. Many people like the feel of the jersey sheets compared to cotton.
- In order to make brushing your hair less painful, consider wetting your hair before your brush it. Fill a spray bottle with water and a small squirt of conditioner. Shake then spray to help break up knots in your hair.
- Wear noise reduction headphones or ear plugs when sounds become overwhelming.
- Consider wearing sunglasses inside if florescent lighting is too bright for your eyes
- Compressions can be very relaxing to some people. If you have someone that you trust and know well – ask for a hug. Other people find massages helpful. Or you can try Temple Grandin’s “squeeze machine.”
Why not leave us a comment below and let us know which sensory issues you are most effected by in your life.