2014/08/27

Do You have Sensory Problems?


I do... have for as long as I can remember. I didn't always understand why some parts of me were different from other people nor do I always understand some of the ways I respond now. Some ways that my body may respond to a stimulus I still do not understand... but I accept it and sometimes laugh about it... and sometimes cry about it... and sometimes I just shake my head and shrug. In the end, my processing challenges are a part of me and make me the unique and wonderful individual that I am. That said, I was in my thirties before I was even heard the term sensory processing disorder / sensory integration disorder and researchers are still trying to understand how these disorders work. I thought that I would take a few minutes to talk about the basic human sensory system and leave you with a small list of questions that you can read and, if interested, can use to look at your own behavior and responses to different stimuli and determine if you too, might have some sensory processing challenges. :)

When I was growing up, I learned about the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell. The sense of touch as processed through our skin and taste processed inside of our mouths.... the sense of sight which is processed through our eyes and sound through our ears... and the sense of smell through our nose. And each of these organs sends the information to the brain for final processing so that we can use the information. In the processing the information is organized in the brain so that we can use it to make appropriate responses to external stimuli. For those with disorders of the sensory system, the organized information may not create the correct responses.... the child who reaches toward a snarling cat and is genuinely confused when the cat hurts it... the person in whom fear causes hyperactivity or out of control behavior, etc...

So let's start with some basic questions. Here is how the questions work. Each question should be looked at by thinking of how often you perform the behavior in question. The more often you do it, the more likely it is that your brain is having some difficulty processing the information in a 'neuro-typical way'. Is that a problem? Not necessarily... it really depends on how my your behavior in this regard affects your quality of life.

1. Do you prefer the dark, happily avoid bright light and feel happier in dim light? Do you find that you are bothered by light when others feel comfortable?

2. Is it difficult for you to accurately visualize images or objects in messy or cluttered backgrounds? Do you end up staring at objects overly long to process the information?

3. Do you find it more challenging or impossible to complete tasks with noise or music in the background? Do you find yourself easily distracted by noise or even seek out noise or make sounds simply to have noise around you?

4. Do you avoid noise or sounds? Are you slow to respond to sounds around you that are relevant and important... an inability to recognize what sounds are important and to block out sounds that are not?

5. Do you have difficulty processing really strong smells? An inability to smell odors that the people around you can?

6. Do you find yourself feeling large amounts of anxiety or anger when your expectations or your routine has to change? Do you find yourself doing tasks in inefficient ways because it feels more comfortable to you? Do you move from one activity to another not completing any of them very quickly?

7. Do you prefer to be alone? Prefer quiet activities? Quiet areas and places?

8. Do you have problems with textures in food and limit what you eat based on what the food feels like? Do you crave certain foods due to flavor or strong smells or will you only eat certain foods?

9. Do you have problems with touching or being touched? Do you react emotionally when being touched by people or things such as water, unnatural fabrics, etc.. or do you crave touch and will touch too much and too often?

10. If something touches you such as clothing, are you able to 'forget' the touch.... or do you feel the clothing and its touch all day in part of your mind? Do you go barefoot because shoes feel uncomfortable? Do you fill your hands with things so avoid people touching your hands?

11. Do you seem to have an awareness – or lack of awareness- to pain or temperature that is different from most other people? Can you injure yourself and find that the pain is not at the level that it should be for the injury? Do you feel comfortable in a snowy environment in short sleeves?


I could definitely go on and healthcare providers who try to help their patients with sensory issues will ask many more questions than this.

One challenge that comes with sensory problems is that as someone struggles with them and they find the way they respond is so different from other people, it affects the individual's emotional well being. People with sensory problems appears to be more likely to develop low self esteem and self critical behavior. They are more likely to exhibit socially inappropriate behavior as well as difficulty expressing emotions in a healthy way. The odds of having problems with anxiety are a lot higher in this population making a challenging situation sometimes worse. I will admit that I find it challenging sometimes myself.

This post is so basic that I beg of you to not make any diagnosis or take to much out of it. I just wanted to take a little time to introduce the topic to start a little basic awareness. If you want more information, please feel free to leave any questions you want answered in the comments or speak to a medical professional about your thoughts. Both of these diagnoses are still debated by healthcare professionals so if you would like more information, be sure to find a provider who has studied and has knowledge of both sensory processing disorder and sensory integration disorder and the nuances between them. Thanks for sharing. :)

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