October is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Month. Every October we take a minute to try to understand Sensory Processing Disorder and all the ins and outs that children and adults alike struggle with and manage every day. Sensory Processing Disorder is a mouthful to say and a difficult topic to wrap our heads around. So, let’s break it down into bite sized portions.
Everyone remembers learning about our senses in grade school: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Sensory Processing is a term used for way the brain receives messages from these senses and connects those messages with the things we already know about our world.
There are actually seven senses that are really important. There are the five we all know: tactile (touch); visual (sight); gustatory (taste); auditory (sound); and olfactory (smell). But, there are also two additional that most people are less familiar with: vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (body awareness).
These seven senses help every single adult and child navigate the world around them. You interact with these senses without even thinking about them. We smell the flowers. We taste the chocolate chip cookie. We can ride a bike without falling down. When we are presented with these sensory inputs, we always know how to react. Except when we don’t.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder is precisely that – when someone doesn’t know how to react to their senses. The messages that these senses send to the brain get crossed and jumbled up. And it leaves you not knowing how to properly behave in the situation.
This can manifest itself in a lot of different ways. For some people, especially kids, loud sounds or bright lights can be distracting or make them feel uncomfortable. Or for others, they might find certain fabrics irritating. They may be very particular about certain foods due to different textures, tastes, or smells. Regardless, these examples of sensory input leave those with SPD feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or irritable. As children with SPD become adults with SPD, often they have learned how to cope with these feelings. However, many adults still struggle with the challenges of interacting with everyday sensory input.
The concept of Sensory Processing Disorder is actually fairly difficult to understand for most people, which makes it harder from them to arrive at acceptance. The main reason for this is because these reactions come so naturally to people without SPD that most don’t even have to think about it. Trying to wrap your head around the disconnection between sensory input and the feeling of overwhelm is challenging. Taking time to understand how kids and adults with SPD live life will lead to empathy, and ultimately acceptance.
So, don’t be afraid to talk about SPD. Wear orange. Answer questions. Spread awareness.