Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults: Signs and Treatments

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Health Articles
Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults: Signs and Treatments

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a mental condition exemplified by the brain having trouble receiving and using sensory information from other body parts and the environment. Formerly recognized as sensory integration dysfunction, there is a high probability of the ailment transgressing to adulthood if left untreated. SPD can manifest itself in several ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Unfortunately, the inability to perform normal adult activities leaves the patients feeling like outsiders and never measuring up with the rest. In short, adults suffering from SPD fail to comprehend and elucidate why they behave differently.

Treatment for the mental disorder, SPD, is available, but many are misdiagnosed – Click below to schedule your appointment with a mental health professional.

If you know someone who exhibits behaviors associated with SPD, keep following to learn vital facts on proper diagnosis and treatment plans.

Adult Sensory Overload Explained 

Sensory overload happens when the five senses in a human being (taste, sight, touch, smell, hearing, and touch) assimilate more than necessary. As a result, the brain becomes hugely overwhelmed and reacts differently. In some scenarios, victims enter into a freeze, panicky, or flight mode owing to the crisis. Keep in mind that a human brain uses the senses to take in information from the environment and process it accordingly in normal circumstances. A person with sensory processing disorder experiences challenges processing this information and may struggle with their emotions or become extremely sensitive to certain sounds, sights, or textures. 

Ordinary circumstances that trigger sensory overload include:

  • Crowded events
  • Heavy traffic
  • Strong smells
  • Physical contact with unwanted people
  • Intense emotions 

What Does SPD Feel Like in Adult Patients?

There is plenty of controversy on common SPD symptoms and how they impinge on the sufferer’s life. All in all, the condition messes up with the way adult patients respond to stimuli. Hence, they may become over-stimulated or desensitized when they receive intense stimulation from the outside world. Furthermore, they find it challenging to organize incoming data through their senses, which hinders correct response to the present situation. Consequently, patients seem distracted, weighed down, sad or irritable, especially when exposed to a particular taste, sound, sights, and feelings. Symptoms differ from one person to another based on the triggers and severity of the disorder.

In a nutshell, SPD reveals itself in the following ways:

Motor Functioning

Patients get clumsy when performing complex motor activities like driving or running machinery.

Auditory Functioning

Common or sudden sounds that rarely affect other healthy people become a bother to SPD victims. 

Vestibular Functioning

Walking on uneven surfaces and riding in escalators, cars, park rides becomes a struggle for individuals affected by SPD.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults

Tactile Functioning

Certain types of clothing, lights, unexpected touch, or being in crowded situations create an uncomfortable feeling in SPD patients.

What are the 3 Common Patterns of SPD?

Experts classify Sensory processing disorder into three main categories:

  • Sensory modulation
  • Sensory discrimination
  • Sensory-based motor disorders

The patterns further segregate into various subtypes that differ immensely. For this reason, two SPD patients could present symptoms in entirely different ways based on how they process information from one sense over another. Recognizing these differences is essential when seeking assistance for SPD patients. After all, the data gives clinicians insight into areas that need extra attention during treatment sessions.

Below is a description that mentions each pattern and its subtypes.

SPD Types



Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)Victims have trouble identifying and interpreting sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and visual stimuli correctly.Vestibular Discrimination Disorder (DD), Visual DD, Auditory DD, Olfactory DD, Interoception, Tactile DD, Gustatory DD, and Proprioceptive DD.
Sensory Modulation DisorderThe neurological disorder affects how people process sensory information or react to stimuli.
  • Sensory craving
  • Sensory under-responsive
  • Sensory Over-responsive
Sensory-based Motor DisorderPatients struggle with motor coordination, balance, and movement. Performing routine, non-routine, and skilled tasks are nearly impossible.
  • Dyspraxia
  • Postural disorder

SPD symptoms can be treated – Click below to get professional mental health tips and treatment in order to treat the symptoms.

What are Common Causes of SPD in Adults?

SPD is a neurological condition with several possible causes. Currently, medical professionals strive hard to unveil the relation between mental health conditions such as autism and genetics in SPD patients. Some experts claim that SPD symptoms start from abnormal brain activities. Still, it remains unclear precisely what sets one person off while others remain symptom-free. 

Overall, some analyzes imply specific causes, including:  

  • Prenatal or birth complications 
  • Low birth weight (less than 2.2 kg)
  • Premature birth (46% of children born with less than 32 weeks of gestation present SPD symptoms at four years)
  • Parental stress
  • Alcohol and drugs consumption during pregnancy as well as certain:
    • Genetic factors
    • High exposure to chemical agents during childhood, and poor sensory stimulation

General SPD Adult Symptoms

One common symptom that defines Sensory processing disorder is the brain’s inability to process information appropriately. As mentioned above, this happens due to several sensory inputs. For instance, some individuals get overwhelmed even by minor sensations, whereas others experience minimal stimulation compared to other people. Take into account that Sensory processing disorder symptoms vary based on what feeling comes into play for them. These subtleties lead specially-abled individuals to experience difficulties telling differences between textures or having extreme reactions when touched by various fabrics. Basically, an adult having it tough with sensory input can display a whole list of symptoms. In most cases, an overwhelming sensory input leads to easy startling, difficult focusing on bright lights, uneasiness in public places, or reaction to specific sounds, textures, and smells. 

On the contrary, sensitive sensory input can trigger:

Below are other associated symptoms of SPD.

Poor Organization Skills

Tackling tasks becomes nearly impossible with adult SPD. If the condition escalates, this leads to immense frustration and anger. In general, these adults face trouble adjusting from one situation or environmental change. As a result, they can react violently or reject any information force-fed anything on them.

Distraction or Hyperactivity

SPD patients find it hard to relate to activities requiring concentration for long periods. That is because they constantly get distracted by other stimuli in the environment. Thus, this makes them quickly overwhelmed when focusing on one thing at once. In such instances, consulting a verified mental health expert makes sense. 

Signs of Processing Disorder in Adults

Coordination and Muscle Tones Issues

SPD victims can develop coordination problems in fine and gross motor activities. These are often related to modification of Praxis or human motor planning. In other words, this is the process where we decide what our bodies must do and then perform them satisfactorily. This action can be complex for people who experience sensory processing disorder because their brains may not understand how certain things work. The outcome in some cases is awkward movements when trying new tasks that require good balance or anything involving hand-eye coordination.

Changes in Academic Performance, Motor and Language Skills

Despite adults’ average intelligence, some face problems in their occupational or academic areas. You can notice these challenges in preschool children as well.

Low Self-Esteem

Some SPD sufferers find it hard to get things done. Thus, they may appear bored or unmotivated when tackling tasks. Generally, they avoid activities that seem too difficult for them because of an inner fear of likely failure in the future. These symptoms can lead these individuals down the depression and hopelessness path, further deteriorating SPD.

What Signs of SPD Can You Detect at Work Or at Home?

Most SPD warming signs start on a mild note but significantly affect’s victim’s life if left unattended. Common symptoms you can observe at work or home vary from one patient to another. Still, look out for startling signs like irritation of loud sounds or sensitivity to particular fabrics. Also, if presentations become a nightmare, flashy lights cause nausea, or strong perfumes cause discomfort, seek medical attention. Furthermore, if hugs or associations with close family members become a bother, walking in crowded places makes you sweat: that’s a major red flag. Note that the symptoms mentioned here are pedestals to numerous challenges in life. For example, patients may have relationships challenges in work, school, or home. In addition, they may easily slip into depression and mood swings for no apparent reason. 

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Sensory Processing Disorder Connection With ADHD

Sensory processing disorder and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are two of the most common ailments that overlap one another. While they have some disparities, these conditions can also affect patients in a similar way. Overall, ADHD patients struggle to control emotions and experience frequent meltdowns, especially in public. It is not uncommon to hear SPD and ADHD victims complain of an inability to control their brain’s functions as a result.

Can ADHD Cause SPD Complications in Adults?

Though not all ADHD victims have a sensory overload, ADHD can trigger it sometimes.

Common ADHD factors that increase sensory overload include:

Quickest Ways to Distinguish between ADHD and SPD

In many ways, sensory processing disorder and ADHD are similar. Yet, there is still some overlap in their symptoms though it’s not as much as you would think at first glance. The differences between these two disorders are eminent on a few signs and the effect of the disorders on affected individuals.  ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that keeps the victim’s mind wandering from the task at hand. ADHD patients often exhibit signs of restlessness such as fidgeting or constant movement despite the sensory input. In reality, patients are more responsive to cognitive skills compared to sensory inputs. The brighter side is that attention improves when on medication and various treatment programs.

On the other hand, SPD is an under or over-sensitivity to ordinary sensory input like:

  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Flavor
  • Touch
  • Sound

The sequence of attacks seems to follow particular activities or happen at specific time frames.

Causes of Sensory Processing Disorder Causes in Adults

Nature of ADHD

Nature of SPD

A neurodevelopmental condition that makes it hard for the person to concentrate and sit still.An over or under sensitivity to sensory input such as sights, sounds, flavors, smells, and textures.


  • Cannot stop impulsive behavior regardless of sensory input.
  • Craves novelty and activity that is not necessarily related to specific sensations.
  • Do not become more organized after receiving intense sensory input.
  • More responsive to cognitive inputs rather than sensory inputs.
  • Calms or improves attention when presented with constant novelty.


  • Calms or focus when provided sensory inputs.
  • Becomes more dysregulated when provided novelty related to sensory input.
  • Dysregulation issues seem to follow patterns (occur at a particular time of day, or during particular activities).
  • Sensory sensitivities and/or craving behaviors do not seem to resolve with ADHD medication.

The SPD Diagnostic Criteria 

Even if some professional medical bodies recognize SPD, it is still not listed under the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5). Undeniably, this makes Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis a complicated and daunting process. However, it is vital to seek help even without proper diagnosis guidelines if you exhibit any SPD symptoms mentioned in this article. Thankfully, the health industry has competent occupational therapists that assess symptoms correctly, accurately diagnose and suggest a successful treatment program. For proper diagnosis, the assessment usually starts from childhood history and behaviors. Mainly, medics assess experiences during pregnancy, childbirth, and developmental milestones. You might fill out questionnaires around these areas for better analysis. A professional would use this information to determine if there may be some neurological disorder behind your particular issues related to physical senses like touch/pressure sensitivity in certain areas of skin (or any other qualms). 

Based on this information, medics should constantly evaluate people with sensory issues for:

That way, it becomes easier to rule out SPD against other related mental conditions.

The thumb rule is to consult a qualified therapist who can accurately observe patient coordination of:

  • Eye movements
  • Response to stimuli
  • Body balance

Click the button below to get an accurate diagnosis of the mental health disorder, sensory processing disorder.

Simple Quiz to Detect SPD in Adults

SPD can be a tricky disability to detect but not impossible to manage. Although the quiz evaluates symptoms and their intensification, the result is not precise. Beyond anything else, consult qualified mental health experts for a professional approach. Take this quiz and see how you score. Each item that is marked yes will be scored 1 and the items marked with no will be scored 0. Altogether, a score of 7 out of 10 indicates your tendency towards the condition.

1Do you feel anxious in a busy environment like a mall?
2Do you frequently bump into things?
3Do you persistently keep on touching things?
4Do you get disturbed by the texture of certain fabrics?
5Are there instances when you feel frustrated searching for something?
6Do you often keep away from others?
7Can you multitask concurrently?
8Can you stand dazzling lights and loud noise?
9Do you feel frustrated in a new environment?
10Do you avoid certain temperatures or food textures?
11Do you often feel slow starting your day?
12Do you repeatedly read content several times before absorbing it fully?

How to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults? 

There are no standardized approaches for adults compared to children’s treatment programs. Given that doctors do not recommend medication for SPD, therapies and lifestyle changes used to treat children also apply for grownups. However, there is no specific consistency because patients have unique sensory difficulties and needs. Therefore, it’s essential to determine how each patient reacts to stimuli and sensory input before implementing a treatment program.

Treatment Options of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults

Below are preferred treatment therapies for SPD in adults: 

Sensory Integration

Occupational therapists use a sensory integration mechanism to help SPD patients cope better in life. Often, medics introduce controlled, stimulating activities that challenge patients without overwhelming them. The approach builds appropriate responses outside of therapy and extends to school, home, and outside life.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy stands out among the most preferred SPD treatments. For those that need help focusing on specific aspects of their condition or improving focus through prioritization skills, occupational therapy is an ideal solution.

Most commonly used occupational therapy strategies include: 

Functional Skills

Here, therapists empower patients to develop practical, hands-on abilities vital for everyday life. These include simple things such as sitting upright, self-care, and handwriting skills. 

Physical Skills

Occupational therapy SPD patients develop better coordination and strength that help them cope well in social and occupational settings. 

Managing Behavior

Qualified occupational therapists focus on creating a consistent and suitable reaction to behavioral issues. Furthermore, they are experts in the art of behavior modification and might recommend strategies destined to introduce better habits within no time.

The Alert (Engine) Program

The approach offers a variety of innovative strategies to help patients regulate their:

These techniques include learning how to identify when you’re feeling overwhelmed to not affect your performance at school or work. Additionally, it involves using different exercises to brainstorm creative ideas while reducing fatigue before deadlines.

Education on the Condition

We know that managing sensory input can be difficult. Sometimes, the best way to help is by teaching patients appropriate strategies.

Psychotherapy helps people struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders – Click below to schedule your appointment with a mental health professional.

Sensory Diet

One remarkable way to help with sensory issues is through a sensory diet. The success of this technique relies on the patient’s preference and whether they use it at home or not. Hence, experts customize the program according to specific clients’ needs and challenges. For instance, they can allow patients to carry around fidget toys throughout the day. Other than that, SPD victims can access headphones to concentrate on a task without distractions.

Listening Therapy

Popularly known as LT, this is a suitable treatment that helps patients with learning disorders such as:

  • Hyperlexia
  • Dyslexia
  • Reading comprehension

Akin to occupational therapy, the LT foundation is based on the theory of neuroplasticity, which states that human beings have multiple ways to store information in their brains. Listening programs work by intensifying neurological pathways so that patients may better process language or learn new things more easily. LT also combines auditory programs and specific visual activities, including balance exercises. This combination increases therapist efficiency while providing an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Other efficient therapies for SPD encompass:

Language and Speech therapy

This therapy helps people with communication disorders.

These disorders can include:

  • Speaking
  • Understanding language
  • Using language to communicate

Speech therapy can help people of all ages who have trouble speaking or understanding a particular language. In the long run, language therapy guides patients in putting words together to form sentences or understand what others are saying.

Vision Therapy

The program improves eye-motor skills for people struggling with writing, reading, and finding their way into traffic.


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a program that helps people understand and deal with their thoughts and feelings.

This is ideal for people struggling with:

Talk therapy also helps people learn to cope with stress and life changes. Generally, the objectives of mentioned therapies revolve around improving patients’ life skills. In particular, therapists enhance motor skills, bilateral coordination, and reaction to stimuli.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Lifestyle Tips and Changes for Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment

Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference for someone with sensory processing disorder (SPD). On that note, experts advocate a whole list of lifestyle changes to facilitate better results.

Keep following as we define critical lifestyle tips you should consider: 

Regular Walking

It is crucial for people with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) to get regular exercise. Exercise helps the body to release nervous energy and promote better sleep. It also helps to circulate oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, essential for healthy brain function. Walking is one of the best exercises for SPD patients because it is low-impact and provides an excellent overall workout.

Compression Clothing

Compression clothing is standard attire worn by sports enthusiasts and athletes. The tight undergarment gives a better experience while working out or just going about daily life. In general, compression clothing helps stimulate arms or legs receptors making the wearer feel energized from inside out. The best time to wear compression garments is early in the morning to facilitate a more relaxing day.


Chewables can be necklaces or small objects you can put in the mouth. Chews help the body release endorphins that lighten emotional buildup or break down mental frustration caused by rigidity or lack of movement. After regular chewing, the action stimulates the brain resulting in improved concentration and alertness.  

Muscle Work

Muscles are the part of the body responsible for making every movement possible. Pushing your body to the limit and regular exercises is excellent way of stimulating muscle proprioception. This helps patients develop spatial awareness and understand other people and objects better.

Despite a lack of a definite cure for this disorder, several treatment therapies can help sufferers live comfortably and enjoy life – Click below to schedule your appointment with a mental health expert.


Meditation is a practice that involves focusing one’s attention on a particular object or thought. People who meditate often achieve a certain level of calmness and clarity. Research also suggests that meditation can offer mental and physical health benefits, such as reduced stress and anxiety. There are several types of meditation, easily adaptable to fit anyone’s needs. Frequent meditation can be helpful for people with a sensory processing disorder, as it can help them focus on specific sensations and better control their responses to them. 


Massage is a beautiful way to release feel-good hormones and promote secure attachment. Slow, rhythmic pressure movements also help regulate heart and breathing rate to the advantage of an SPD patient. Not only are massages divine but they also provide proprioceptive input, which instigates a calming effect in the long run. Besides, sufferers report coping well with challenging situations in life, such as intense physical activity or pain management therapy sessions.

Case Study

Anna’s life turned upside down when her psychologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder. The 20-year-old had been struggling with emotional challenges linked to childhood sexual cruelty. Thankfully, the program helps her make sense of things that happened in the past concerning present life. Though excelling academically, Anna also struggled with concentration problems at school. The consequence is shared with people living through heavy trauma, even if it happened a long time ago. Nonetheless, her excellent study habits saved the day and prevailed through several drawbacks. Principally, her life was in a state of chaos. She felt vulnerable in establishing relationships and forming connections with other people. Sometimes, she would feel numb and anxious and not even trust herself around others. These feelings caused her immense stress and fear, especially when alone in her apartment. Fortunately, divulging these worries to her therapist brought around a positive turn. For once, she felt overly aware of things happening around her. One of her breakthroughs came when her psychologist recommended a copy of the Adolescent/Adult Sensory profile to perceive SPD symptoms. Likewise, the psychologist gave Anna a short outline of the 1997 Dunn’s Model of Sensory Processing. From these publications, Anna learned a lot about understanding her sensory processing. Without a doubt, a combination of reliable psychologists and helpful publications worked magic in giving Anna a new lease of life.

What are Frequently Asked Questions on SPD (FAQs)

Is Sensory Processing Disorder Considered a Neurological Disorder?

Even if the American Psychiatric Association (APA) currently doesn’t classify SPD as a neurological disorder, recent research depicts that there may be some neurological basis. In one study, experts used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of SPD-affected children and compared the results to healthy ones. The results showed that the brains of children with SPD had altered connectivity between specific regions. Although these results call for more research, the evidence so far suggests a neurological relation.

How Can You Define Sensory Touch Issues?

Sensory touch issues happen when individuals struggle to receive and react to information passed through their senses. People with sensory touch issues may easily get irritated by anything touching their skin or feel overwhelmed after frequent touching in quick succession. This occurs due to physical discomfort caused by the inability to process all these sensations at once. Also, it can stem from something else, such as anxiety about public spaces and concern about personal boundaries.

Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults

Which Kind of Sensory Processing Disorder Severely Impacts an Adult Patient?

Among the three SPD types, sensory modulation disorder takes a leading position as the most severe. Medics define this disorder as the inability to regulate responses to sensory input. This can cause problems in everyday activities like eating, sleeping, and socializing. Due to patients’ incapability to filter out irrelevant sensory information, they may react more intensely to sensory stimuli, leading to several behavioral issues. Sensory modulation disorder patients may require extra help to manage their sensory input.

Does Aging Affect Sensory Abilities?

Researchers are still studying the process of aging and how it affects sensory abilities. However, some reports indicate that aging can affect senses in various ways. Older people should be aware of this and take measures to compensate for any losses. One prudent approach is ensuring that their environment is well-lit and clutter-free. What’s more, they should eat easy to chew and swallow foods as a precaution. They may also need to adjust how they participate in activities, such as avoiding busy streets or using a cane when walking in case of coordination challenges.

Can Anxiety Trigger Sensory Issues?

Patients with anxiety disorders often experience symptoms of sensory processing disorder. Anxiety is the body’s response to stress, and it affects how people perceive their surroundings. People with anxiety are susceptible to stimuli that others rarely notice, like the ticking of a clock or the sound of cutting vegetables. This can cause them to feel overwhelmed and stressed, leading to other problems like difficulty sleeping and gastrointestinal issues.

Final Thoughts

Undiagnosed SPD often makes victims feel outlandish, leading to hesitation in seeking proper treatment. It is no surprise that some patients withdraw entirely from the public scene and prefer to steer clear of loud noises and dazzling lights. Nonetheless, with proper interventions, SPD should not be a crippling ailment. On that note, seek early professional guidance at EZCare Clinic and save yourself and your loved ones against undesirable long-term SPD outcomes.

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