It’s hard to show sensitivity for things you can’t see. It can also be difficult enough “just” to open up about your struggles. It’s often even more difficult to ask for what you need, lest you feel like a burden or demanding to family and loved ones.
These are huge obstacles to the critical task of building community and support, particularly for people with disabilities.
Most material available on sensory processing issues focuses on children – likely since that is the common age of diagnosis - but these problems affect people of all ages and can be extremely disruptive. Because of misguided brain signaling, specific sensory triggers – of any sense - can become absolutely debilitating and unbearable.
In this piece, after a brief overview of the issues, we’ve compiled a list of tips to be aware of and help alleviate the symptoms at home. At the very least, we hope this piece facilitates safe, open conversations between you and your loved ones about how to best be supportive.
Any disruption of the senses that causes hypersensitivity to that particular sense counts as a sensory processing issue, and results from dysfunctional processing of that particular sense or senses. There are many different ways that these issues may arise, and they usually accompany other health issues.
Though not recognized as their own diagnosis, sensory processing disorders tend to fall into a few different categories that consistently present alongside other disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger syndrome), ADHD, learning and language disabilities, and even Fragile X syndrome. An added layer here is that people with SPDs might not be comfortable communicating their triggers, and so you might see the effects – such as isolation, avoidance, aggression, depression, and anxiety – without readily seeing the causes. Some of the most common sensory processing disorders include:
One issue not discussed as much is that sensory sensitivities may result as part of other diseases and/or their treatments. The list of potential conditions that can cause sensory sensitivities is rather long and beyond the scope of this piece, however we wanted to draw attention to some of the more common ones. You may encounter people on a daily basis who are silently struggling with these sensory sensitivities. Again it is important to remember that these sensitivities can be completely disruptive and must not be taken lightly. Because there is often no clear, established pathologic association between the two, these sensitivities might be unfairly dismissed.
Some – by far not all - body-related causes of sensory sensitivity include:
The home should be the ultimate source of comfort and nurturing. If you or a loved one are dealing with any of these sensory sensitivities, aside from discussing therapeutic possibilities with your doctor, you definitely want to ease the burden at home and create an environment that is restful.
Some of these fixes carry over very well into the workplace, and so you may wish to find ways to either incorporate these into your workplace yourself, or speak with your company to find ways to make these accommodations readily available. (It’s a good idea to have some form of medical documentation if you choose to pursue the latter.)
Closely linked to olfaction, there are some specific things you can do to aid with gustatory sensitivity.
Ideally, you could discuss with them the ways in which they prefer to receive affection, and make sure you align accordingly.
If you don’t suffer from any of these sensitivities, it can be hard to understand what the person is enduring as a result of exposure. It is critical that you remain sensitive and open to discussing and implementing solutions to help accommodate.
Note: The information contained here is intended as general suggestions, but this piece is not meant to substitute for a consultation with a qualified health professional.