Sensory processing disorder is common in autism / Asperger’s, but it can also occur with people considered “neuro-typical”. It has to do with difficulty processing and acting on information that the brain receives through the senses.
Sensory processing difficulties can cause anxiety, depression and avoiding being in public and around others. If you suspect this describes you or your child, it is best to be assessed by an occupational therapist. If you need referral, there are checklists online to help you identify more specific symptoms that you can bring to your doctor.
In addition to getting diagnosed and treated by a qualified professional, it is very helpful to take care of yourself as much as possible. In my experience, people who understand and accept their sensitivities are better able to cope with sensory stressors.
Strategies to Cope With Stressful Sensory Input
Crowds – It is fairly common for people to not like going into crowded environments, and places where there can be loud or sudden noises. Avoid crowds by going shopping at times when there are less people. If you have to be in a crowd, limit the amount of time you spend there.
Loud Noise – Wear earplugs or noise cancellation headphones to muffle loud noises (as long as you are with someone who will listen for sounds, such as a car honking). Or, try listening to music or sounds through ear phones that you find soothing. You can keep the volume low enough so you can still hear what is going on around you.
Bright Lights – I have known people to wear dark glasses indoors and a hat with a brim to protect them from certain types of overhead lighting.
Uncomfortable Clothing – Be sure to buy clothes that are comfortable, or return them.
Try Weighted Clothing or Blankets – Some people find calming and comfort by wearing weighted clothes, such as vests, or sleeping under weighted blankets. However, for some people, it’s just the opposite. They don’t like the feeling of clothing and/or blankets.
Take Breaks – It is often helpful to take breaks when you need move your body, or when you need to rest. Schedule that into your day if possible.
Follow a Schedule or Routine – Making events of your day scheduled and predictable can help with many issues, including sensory processing problems.
Tell Others – Be honest about your experience. You don’t need to hid and pretend something doesn’t bother you. For example, you can tell people in your environment (home, school, work, friends) that you need to take a break or go for a walk because you can’t sit still any longer, or that you don’t like to be touched. This is not a weakness or character defect. In fact, the more you accept and adapt to these issues, the better off you’ll be. Feelings of shame and embarrassment can increase your stress and make things worse, especially if you experience anxiety, depression and/or attention problems.
Accept Your Differences – Strive for self-acceptance by learning about this condition, talking to supportive friends and family, seeking help from professionals.
Feel free to contact us if you have questions or would like support.
Disclaimer – this article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered specific advice or treatment. Contact your medical professionals including occupational therapy, for evaluation and treatment.