phone_enabled 01270 766660
Request call back
5 March 2018

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

by Alexandra Hooson

‘Sensory Overload’, sometimes called ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’, is when a person has sensory processing issues. This happens because the brain has difficulty organising information from the senses.

People with sensory processing disorders may be oversensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavours, smells and other sensory inputs. This can make every day experiences overwhelming, such as learning environments, meeting new people or watching a football match. Other people with sensory processing issues are under sensitive to information they receive through the senses. This can lead to other problems.

Sensory processing issues can impact a person’s social skills, behaviour and learning development.

What are the main signs of Sensory Processing Issues?

Hypersensitive people may have an extreme response to noise or even notice sounds that other people may not. They may even dislike being touched, even by people they know. Large crowds can be scary and they can worry about their safety; so taking part in activities can be a huge deal to them.

Hyposensitive people lack sensitivity to their surroundings. They can be very active and constantly on the move being ‘sensory seeking’. This means they have a constant need to touch everything around them including people, which sometimes can come across inappropriate to others. They can also have issues with personal space, be a little clumsy and uncoordinated.

Some people with sensory processing issues show both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity and can behave in one or both of the following ways:

  • An extreme response to a change in environment- people may be comfortable in a familiar environment but, if they are taken to a new place or their routine is changes it can cause them to have a ‘meltdown’.
  • Fleeing from stimulation- people who are under sensitive may run away from something that is too stimulation, or they may run towards something they are familiar with that will calm them down.

What skills can be affected?

People with sensory processing issues can find dealing with sensory information very frustrating and confusing. It can be a struggle to adjust to new surroundings, situations and it can take longer for them to settle into activities making them feel stressed and anxious.

People who are under sensitive may avoid touching and handling objects which can have a huge impact on their motor skills development. Over sensitive people can feel anxious and irritable around other people making it difficult for them to socialise. On the other hand under sensitive people may be too rough and full on with others which can make other people for uncomfortable and can lead to being excluded from schools.

Poor self-control is another issue a person may face, as people who feel anxious or overstimulated may have trouble controlling their impulses. This can lead them to having random outbursts of behaviour, like running off or throwing something.

What can be done to help those with Sensory Processing Disorders?

Helping somebody with a sensory processing disorder is no easy task, as they may come across inflexible and unable to control their behaviour, but there are ways you can support them and make life easier for them and the people around them. Here are a few ideas to try and help:

  • Research to learn as much as possible about the disorder, so you can identify the sign and can start to recognise patterns or triggers in their behaviour.
  • Knowing the patterns means that you can try and put things in place before ‘the meltdowns’ occur  to make the situation less stressful or scary for them.
  • Provide opportunities for the person to visit a place whereby they feel safe and comfortable enough to join in with activities with other people. Multi-sensory rooms or a sensory space (doesn’t have to be a full room, a sensory space could be made within a shed/tent for example) are a great environment to encourage this. Also trying to teach the person that when they feel they are finding things difficult or are on the verge of a meltdown going into this sensory space could calm them by taking them out of the situation.
  • Use your knowledge to try and prevent sticky situations. For example if noise can cause your child to feel anxious try not to fire up the lawnmower or using the vacuum cleaner when they are around.
  • Never feel alone, there is many resources available to help you the carer and the person with the sensory processing disorder.

Below are a few sensory resources Rhino UK recommend:

Sensory resources for hypersensitivity

  • Cocoon: This is a great resource to create a small, safe place.
  • Squeeze Machine: Being tightly held can be calming, comforting and give a sense of security to the user.
  • Ear Defenders: Reduce the sound level if your child suffers from sensory overload.
  • Weighted Blanket: Create a calming effect with our range of weighted blankets.

Sensory resources for hyposensitivity

  • Therapy Balls: A wide variety of sensory therapy balls and fidgets to encourage calming and relaxation.
  • Tactile Resources: to encourage sensory stimulation.

For further information please contact Rhino UK: 01270 766660.