Signs & Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults & Children

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has difficulty processing and interpreting information received through the senses. While this disorder is commonly associated with children, it can also affect adults. In our integrative medicine clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, taking a functional medicine approach can be instrumental in identifying and treating the underlying causes of SPD.

Let's explore the signs and symptoms of SPD and how they manifest in both adults and children. Then, you'll learn how an integrative team is best suited to provide comprehensive care for individuals with sensory processing disorders.

Learn more about our approach to treating sensory processing disorders.

Recognizing Signs & Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults and Children

For many adults and children, sensory issues can be a huge barrier and source of frustration in their daily lives, as well as for those around them who may struggle to understand an individual's limitations. From difficulty regulating emotions to struggling to stay focused, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is very real and must be taken seriously. If unaddressed, SPD may lead to social isolation, low self-esteem, and difficulty adapting to change. Integrative treatments such as functional medicine offer an effective way to address the underlying causes of SPD symptoms and work towards improving quality of life for those affected.

Sensory Processing Disorder occurs when the brain struggles to process and organize sensory input from the environment. SPD causes hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness to stimuli) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness to stimuli) (1).

Sensory information can come from any of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. The brain usually processes these inputs seamlessly, allowing individuals to interact effectively with their surroundings. However, for those with SPD, this process can be disrupted, leading to difficulties in daily activities and social interactions.

Though neurotypical children may have sensory processing disorders, they are more prevalent among children with ASD and ADHD (2).

Related: 10 Mental Health Activities to Do with Your Child

Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Children

Adults and children can both experience symptoms of sensory processing issues.

Sensory issues generally manifest from one of two areas, either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity.

Over-sensitivity to stimuli: Children with SPD may display hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or certain textures. They may become overwhelmed and display distress or withdrawal in response to such stimuli.

Under-sensitivity to stimuli: Conversely, some children with SPD may show hyposensitivity to sensory input, seeking out intense sensory experiences, such as crashing into objects, or requiring constant movement to feel engaged.

In children, the signs of SPD include being over-sensitive or under-sensitive to certain types of sensory information. Examples of this can be seen in (3):

  • avoiding loud noises or overly stimulating environments
  • difficulty eating certain textures of food
  • problems with coordination and balance due to an inability to process spatial information
  • fear of heights or other physical sensations
  • hypersensitivity to touch, leading to irritation or even pain when touched
  • trouble falling asleep or staying asleep due to being overly sensitive to sound and light.

Shop: Support your child’s mood with NDF Calm. 

Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults

Adults can also experience difficulties with sensory processing. Adults with SPD may be highly sensitive to certain sensory stimuli, causing discomfort or anxiety in loud or crowded environments.

Individuals with sensory issues may also struggle with emotional regulation difficulties, leading to increased stress, anxiety, anger, or other instability. As a result, adults may develop avoidance behaviors as coping mechanisms to manage their sensory difficulties.

Common signs include:

  • difficulty making decisions due to an inability to filter sensory noise
  • trouble keeping up with conversations or understanding what is said due to problems processing auditory information
  • difficulty remembering directions or following instructions due to an inability to process visual information
  • hypersensitivity to smells and tastes, leading to aversions or cravings for certain foods
  • difficulty tolerating textures of clothing on skin.

Read: Signs & Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety

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Additional symptoms may include:

Difficulty with transitions: Children with SPD may struggle with transitioning from one activity to another, often becoming upset or anxious during these periods of change.

Poor motor coordination: SPD can affect a child’s fine and gross motor skills, leading to difficulties in handwriting, balance, and overall physical coordination.

Social and emotional challenges: SPD can hinder the ability to navigate social situations, leading to difficulty making friends and understanding social cues.

Functional Medicine Approach to Sensory Processing Disorders

The functional medicine approach to SPD focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of the disorder rather than merely masking the symptoms. Our team of integrative medicine providers in Atlanta, Georgia, evaluates the unique genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors that contribute to sensory processing issues.

Doctors have yet to pinpoint a root cause of sensory processing disorder, but there is evidence to suggest SPD may be inherited, stem from prenatal complications, or come from certain environmental factors (4).

Additionally, some studies show differences in the way the brain is wired in those with sensory processing disorders (5).

Comprehensive Evaluation 

A functional medicine practitioner will conduct a thorough assessment, including a detailed medical history. The goal of this evaluation is to uncover potential triggers and underlying imbalances contributing to SPD.

Personalized Treatment Plans

Based on the evaluation, the functional medicine team will design personalized treatment plans that address the individual’s specific needs. These plans may include dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, targeted supplementation, and other whole-body treatments to support optimal sensory processing.

Focus on Nutrition

Nutrition plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being, including sensory processing. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities or nutritional imbalances that could be exacerbating SPD symptoms.

Related: 14 Brain-Boosting Foods for Child Development

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle factors, such as sleep patterns, stress management, and physical activity, are considered when developing a treatment plan. Adequate sleep, stress reduction techniques, and appropriate exercise can all positively impact sensory processing.

Integrative Treatment for Sensory Processing Disorder in Adults and Children

While there is no cure for SPD, an integrative team of specialists, including those in functional medicine, can work together to optimize cognitive and behavioral health with an individualized treatment plan.

An integrative team approach brings together various healthcare professionals, each contributing their expertise to provide comprehensive care for individuals with SPD. This team typically includes a functional medicine practitioner, occupational or speech therapies, dietitian, and/or counselor (6).

An integrative team can not only assess the patient’s unique biochemistry, but provide therapeutic interventions designed to address the broad range of challenges, and provide social and emotional support.

Read: The Benefits of Magnesium for Mood & Mental Health

What to Remember

Sensory Processing Disorder affects both children and adults and can have a significant impact on daily life and social interactions. A functional medicine approach to SPD allows for a comprehensive evaluation of the individual’s unique needs. Our integrative team of healthcare professionals in our Atlanta office can work together to identify and treat the underlying causes of SPD, offering personalized therapeutic interventions that help children and adults with sensory issues thrive in their daily lives.

By addressing the root causes and providing holistic support, the integrative approach fosters a path towards improved sensory processing and enhanced overall well-being.




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