Yes! Adults can have sensory processing disorder (SPD). Maybe for your entire life you’ve noticed some difficulties with sensory input, or perhaps your just seeing it now.
Everyone receives and interprets sensory input, and because of this, we sometimes have challenges processing it.
There’s lots of information out there on how SPD affects kids, but what about adults?
What does it look like for an adult to struggle with sensory processing? Is this different than a child? How do you help an adult with SPD?
What is sensory processing in adults?
As mentioned above we all take in and process sensory input. When the input is received our brain interprets it and sends information back to the body on how to respond. When we have successful sensory processing it’s easier to be regulated, stay on track, and be focused.
We have a page on our site dedicated to understanding sensory processing and sensory processing disorder, spend some time there to learn more. Understanding your sensory systems and what types of input you receive during the day will help you more effectively identify how sensory input affects you.
What happens when we don’t process the information as effectively? We can become dysregulated, have trouble completing tasks, and struggle with our emotions or behavior.
How does SPD affect adults?
In children difficulties with sensory processing may look like meltdowns or tantrums, becoming easily upset. You may even observe a child being reckless or aggressive, overly touchy, or scared of loud noises as a result of sensory processing disorder.
As adults, we tend to show our struggles with sensory input differently, since most of us have learned to limit the tantrums!
For adults we might see:
- The need to have alone time
- Being overly sensitive or emotional
- Easily frustrated
- Quick to a temper or becoming upset over little things
- Urge and need to be physical (go to the gym, exercise, take a brisk walk)
- Wanting to snack or eat foods with more oral stimulus (crunchy, sour, chewy, cold)
- Becoming overwhelmed with tasks, clutter, or activities
- Needing to have music or noise constantly
This is not a complete list of the ways adults might experience SPD just a few examples.
You might relate to some of these feelings/emotions but may never have connected them with sensory processing difficulties.
Start by observing
Next time your feel overwhelmed with something going on in your life, or you notice you’re being quick to frustration, or just having a hard time focusing and getting things done. Step back for a moment and assess your sensory surroundings or recent sensory experiences.
- Are things really cluttered? Did the week get away from you and the mail has piled up on the table? This visual clutter can be a constant visual stimulus that may be overwhelming you.
- Have you had a lot of social outings, talking, and engaging with others? Now your home is also noisy (tv on, music playing, etc.)? You may be overwhelmed by the auditory stimulus you’ve received recently.
- Has your schedule or routine been off and you haven’t had time for your normal walk, gym session, or stretching routine? These activities directly affect and give input to our proprioceptive system, which helps us to stay regulated. If you haven’t been able to get that input recently you may just be ‘off’ which could lead to you feeling more disregulated and/or overwhelmed.
Our sensory systems are ever-changing, they are constantly taking in input. So the feelings you have right now may not be fully related to the sensory situation you are currently in, they may be cumulative from earlier, the past day, or even the past week or more.
How to treat SPD in adults
Many adults have naturally developed strategies that help keep their sensory systems regulated, even if they didn’t know this!
- They go to the gym or exercise regularly because they know it helps them feel good.
- They carve our quiet time or make a point to keep things calm at home.
- They snack on crunchy food, which gives oral input (calming for most).
- They use a weighted blanket at night or on the couch.
- They listen to music when doing tasks or chores (some need that extra stimulus).
These things we naturally do all affect our sensory systems. Learning how your system responds to input is the first step.
First try to identify if you tend to get overstimulated by input, or are someone that seeks more input on a regular basis. Remember you can also ‘be’ both! Identify the categories that tend to overstimulate you and the sensory systems that you tend to want more input from.
Once you know these it’s easier to start recognizing how certain activities or tasks may affect you.
If you know social situations that are busy and have lots of auditory and visual stimuli are going to be challenging for you, try to cave out some time before to get in some good stretching or deep breathing to help ready your system, and spend some time afterward in a quiet setting.
Sensory diet for adults
Engaging in a sensory diet is also a great tool for adults, it may just look a bit different than how we engage a child. Learn more on how to build a sensory diet for yourself here.
I’m a grown-up sensory kid, I know there are a lot of us out there, perhaps you are a grown-up sensory kid too? Keep on exploring how sensory input affects you and you will continue to become more effective at regulating your sensory systems!