SPD….according to healthline.com, 5-16% of school children have sensory processing disorder…other sources say 1 in 20 people. it can affect any of your senses, including proprioception, introception, and vestibular abilities. (source). it may make a child irritable and prone to “””tantrums””” aka meltdowns. however, a lot of people don’t realize that adults can have and be diagnosed with SPD as well. most information online is almost always geared towards children and the parents of children with these difficulties. i tried googling SPD and most of the results were from autism parents, etc. people with schizophrenia, ptsd, adhd, autism spectrum disorders, and many other mental and physical conditions can also deal with sensory issues. it’s not just a childhood thing, and it’s not just an autistic thing.
i’ve kinda had suspicions about having SPD and ASD (still working on a diagnosis for that. we’ll see) for a while, and recently i discussed the things that i deal with with my therapist and she told me that yes i do deal with sensory processing stuff. i did some more reading on my own and i realized, that i hadn’t realized just how extensively sensory issues had actually influenced me since childhood.
if you’re someone that spends a lot of time around me, you’ll at some point notice that when we’re having a conversation, i don’t maintain eye contact for more than a split second. this isn’t because i’m not listening, or bored with what you’re saying. it’s because i’m trying really hard to listen to what you’re saying, and i cannot so that unless i don’t look at your face. when i do make eye contact, it only takes me a second to assess the expressions you’re making, and then i look away again. i can only process one thing at a time, either what your face is doing, or the sound of your words. otherwise, if i HAVE TO maintain eye contact, it’s extremely uncomfortable and i might go into sensory overload from processing too much information at the same time.
my hearing is sensitive. when i was in elementary school, i actually failed a hearing test (if i remember correctly..) because i couldn’t tell what sounds in the headphones were what, and what was just an echo of the high pitched tone. i can’t stand high-pitched tones. it wasn’t that i couldn’t hear the tones, it was the fact that they kept echoing. kinda like when a light flashes in your eyes and the after image keeps blocking your vision.
whenever i’m out in public, i wear noise cancelling headphones to block out the sounds of the business and clutter. it’s a lot easier to be aware of myself if i can block out the background noises. the bass tones in the music i listen to are calming. the heavier the bass the better.
my sense of smell is very strange. i’m very hyposensitive to most smells in the environment, unless it’s very strong. most don’t bother me. other smells though, like ones made from candles, fire, and gas, i can smell very strongly, before anyone else usually picks up on them.
tactile stuff is also another weird and complicated thing to me. i can’t stand people touching me, unless it’s someone i trust. but i don’t like even sitting next to people because it’s like i can feel their bodies are too close to me through the air. it makes me anxious. light touches are horrible, but sometimes lots of pressure feels really good. when i’m having sensory overload i like to hide under the heaviest comforter or blanket i can find. the weight makes me feel safe and less overwhelmed. my hands being wet is a really bad feeling. either my whole body has to be wet, such as in a shower or swimming pool, or i have to dry myself immediately.
while i am very sensitive to touch in most situations, my pain tolerance is very high…or at least it is externally. my internal tolerance to pain isn’t high. if something hurts on the inside it’s all i can think about and i feel like i’m dying. if it’s something on the outside though, i may not even notice it very much. when i was in elementary school i fell on concrete and the skin on my knees was literally hanging off and i had blood all over my legs, but i didn’t feel it. i just kinda kept on doing stuff until i was told i had to go home. i didn’t understand why at all. i was fine. now that i’m an adult, i love getting tattoos. they feel good and they’re great for my mood. and they make me feel better about myself. i love watching them become art on my skin, it’s almost a stim watching them happen. kinda went off on a tangent a little bit there??
textures of everyday objects can sometimes be a pain. if i’m extremely anxious or on edge, there are a lot of objects that i have to avoid coming into contact with, with my skin, or my anxiety will worsen and i’ll become nauseous. things with rough textures, that others might not notice, are the worst to me. bed sheets, metal utensils, laptop touchpads, fabric, the kitchen counters, plastic, anything cold,…it’s all bad sometimes and to be avoided. the softer and smoother the surface or material, the less anxiety it gives me.
one thing that some people don’t know is how SPD can also affect things like balance, coordination, motor skills, bodily awareness, etc. this is proprioception and vestibular stuff, as mentioned above. i haven’t done a lot of reading on these as much as the other stuff, but apparently a lot of people with SPD can be a little clumsy or tend to have poor coordination. when i was younger, i had pretty good coordination even though i was super awkward. i was good with doing small stuff like playing guitar, writing, etc, but when it came to say, throwing a basketball correctly, i had no idea how. i could somewhat do it, but never consistently. it was always a fluke if i could do something like that correctly. i was good at soccer-like games though, things with my feet. running i was great at. now that i’m an adult though, i’m terrible at everything. all those years of masking and pretending to appear neurotypical to fit in and make friends in school wore me down and my ability to mask. playing guitar is really difficult sometimes because my hands are always doing things of their own accord, and writing is a weird activity too. it’ll come back though.
i almost forgot about visual processing!!!
do you know that feeling that comes when you’re getting a migraine, or have a hangover, when lights are bright and unbearable? the lights make you feel nauseous and just generally make you feel gross and want to hide? well that’s what light sensitivity is like when you have SPD. even when it’s not bright lights causing an overload, just too much information coming through your seeing organs can be extremely overwhelming. after too much of it, it can feel impossible to understand what you’re seeing or looking at. nothing about what you’re seeing sticks in the brain, and the only thing that might help is sitting in the dark for a while or taking a nap, or stimulating your other senses in a positive way. laying under a blanket is what works best for me.
one thing a lot of people with SPD or ASD have difficulties with is picky eating. it’s not because we’re trying to be difficult, or rude, or badly behaved. it’s that either the texture of the food you’re trying to get the person to consume is utterly inedible in our brains, and sometimes, our stomachs. sometimes it may just be that our digestive systems aren’t compatible with that food and are causing pain, or it could be that the food isn’t compatible with our brains. it can’t be certain textures, colors, or tastes, depending on the person. for example, i can’t chew the fat on meat without gagging. i can’t chew it, swallow it, or even look at it without feeling sick. if it goes in my mouth i’ll immediately notice there’s a bad texture. if a food is a different color or appearance than what i’m used to, i get extremely apprehensive of eating said food. it might take me a while to get around to eating it. the main thing i enjoy about food though is the texture. i love soft, consistently textured food, such as, but not limited to, granola, cereal, bread, ice cream, hamburger, chicken, scrambled eggs, and rice or pasta. i consider hot sauce to be sensory heaven. i put it on everything. extreme flavors are my favorite, or extremely mild flavors.
now onto the subject of stimming.
stimming is a repetitive activity that’s self-soothing…or self-stimulatory..or stereotypic behavior. you might know it as the stereotypical rocking back-and-forth, hand-flapping, spinning, or leg bouncing. there’s nothing wrong with stimming. it helps to regulate one’s emotions, process information, and for one’s personal enjoyment. basically everyone does it to some extent. even people who don’t have any brain differences. as long as it’s not hurting a person, or the person who’s doing it, just let them be. don’t judge them! it’s natural.
i personally don’t care anymore if people see me stimming, because i’ve always done it, even when i don’t or didn’t realize it. again, it’s natural. it helps me lower my anxiety when there’s too much going on and my brain can’t process fast enough. it helps me focus. when i started school i did it a lot but then i learned that most didn’t find it socially acceptable so i would develop more discreet ways of stimming, like chewing the inside of my mouth and picking my skin, staring at interestingly shaped objects, lights, colors, and shadows. it was an escape from the long, boring but anxiety-inducing days at school. after a while i forgot about the things i used to do to manage the anxiety, except i never stopped rocking in my seat..all the time. people always made fun of me for doing that, even though it was just something i would do naturally and subconsciously? i never realized why i was doing that until i read about it somewhere online…then i was like..ohhhhhh everything makes sense now.
before you say, oh SPD isn’t real, or it’s something that only children have and they’ll grow out of it, you should realize that children will eventually become adults. children with autism, brain differences, mental illnesses, and physical illnesses, etc. will eventually probably become adults. that child with adhd will become an adult with adhd at some point. sensory processing disorder may not be a thing that can technically be diagnosed, or so i read, but it is real. it’s not uncommon. some people it affects severely, others not so much. everyone is different. that child you see crying inconsolably in the mall? they might be having sensory difficulties. they’re not behaving badly, they’re overwhelmed. don’t prevent them from stimming if they’re not hurting themselves. find out if they’re a sensory-seeker, or sensory-avoid-er, and then find out what their needs are. the same goes for you, if you think you have sensory issues. talk to a therapist about it. self care, and sensory self care, are everything.
here are some useful links???
(if you want to suggest a website or your SPD-related blog, let me know and i’ll add it to this list)