Adolescent and Adult Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Adult Sensory Processing Disorder? As people are starting to understand this diagnosis of (SPD) they are not only seeing it in their children, but in themselves as well...
Teens and adults are desperate for information and help with what may possibly be SPD; from symptoms to treatment.
It is true that there are fewer SPD resources directed at
adolescents and adults than kids. This, in part, is because
often the symptoms and treatment are similar.
So, it may have been assumed that much of the information can cross
over and be relevant to the older crowd. (Additionally,
there is less research on adults, but this IS changing!)
But, there is only a handful of unique resources specifically for teens and adults regarding identification and treatment with age appropriate activities.
First, the teenagers...
I know of many stories in which parents have never heard of
SPD until their child was a teenager (if they were lucky enough to
hear about it at all). At this point the parent
and the child have been struggling for too many years; it almost feels
Parents have just about given up on their teens because they have done all they know how to do, and nothing seems to help. They are tired, they have exhausted every resource they know of, and used up every ounce of energy they had! Patience has all but faded. Add that to the normal issues which crop up for teenagers, and oh!... well you can just imagine!
I am sad to report that I even know of cases where teens have
taken or destroyed their lives with suicide, alcohol or drug abuse
just to deal with whatever is "wrong" with them!
I have seen the extremes...
the child just climbs deeper and deeper into a lonesome hole and loses
any potential ounce of self-esteem; or they become the riskiest of risk
takers and manage their lives through dangerous stunts and substances,
anger, and social isolation. They too have "lost" their chance at
healthy self-esteem (or so they think). Oh, it is just heartbreaking to
Please, let's not allow this to happen any more! I know I am
probably "preaching to the choir" because if you are reading this you
are most likely well on your way to becoming educated, or are already quite
knowledgeable about SPD. But, this is what I beg of you...spread the
word! Tell everyone you know about it. Tell one, they tell another,
they tell two more, and so on, and so on.
Now, about YOU, who have adult Sensory Processing Disorder...
Have you wondered why you have such a difficult time with so many things
that seem to come easy for others? Have you been given a mental health
diagnosis and treated for that with little success? Have you always
felt that something is not right, but didn't know where to turn?
Have you been invalidated and misunderstood your whole life for things that you
can't control? Do your sensory sensitivities significantly impact your
every day functioning? Are you wondering if your "symptoms" are actually the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?
You must understand, there IS HOPE!! It is up to US and it is not too
It's time to start listening to our teens AND adults! They are suffering
I can't even tell you how many times I have heard a mom or dad say, or
finally figure out, that THEY TOO have significant sensory issues after
first recognizing and treating their children for it! Now, there are
parents trying to help their children and teens when they TOO have
difficulties. That's right...put an SPD kiddo with an SPD parent, and WITHOUT
treatment or support, we could very easily have a recipe for disaster!
But, let's look at it another way...who better than a parent with
SPD to understand and validate their own SPD child or teen?!
(Although not yet proven WHY, know that there does appear to be a strong
"genetic" or "hereditary" component to SPD. Continued research should
be able to tell us more in the years ahead)
So, what do we do now?
Second? Support and treatment!
Lucky you... I can get you started on both.
Based on the "new" categories of Sensory Processing that Dr. Lucy Miller reveals in her book Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
, I have created an
Adult/Adolescent Checklist For Sensory Processing Disorder! I do hope
this helps you understand and recognize the symptoms so proper diagnosis
and treament can begin!
Keep in mind, this is NOT for definitive diagnostic purposes, only to help determine
if further evaluation is needed.
Some of you may even be so familiar with the ways in which you have helped your children (if they have SPD) that you have started your own "sensory diet". Others of you may, instead,
have a "flash" when you read it... "Ohhhhh... So that's why I do that"..."Ohhhh,
I had no idea that was a sensory thing".
Either way, let's identify it for what it truly is, get rid of negative labels, get a PROPER diagnosis, throw away that low self-esteem, and get on the road to "recovery". Once
you understand the "WHY" it is much easier to understand the "WHAT NOW?"!
The Adolescent and Adult SPD Checklist
If you find that you would like to know more about SPD and how it affects adults and adolescents, as well as treatment and accommodation ideas, I would HIGHLY
recommend the following books...
How Does Your Engine Run? Leader's Guide to the Alert Program for Self Regulation
- includes adult checklist and specific sensory diet suggestions!
Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World
Answers to Questions Teachers Ask about Sensory Integration: Forms, Checklists, and Practical Tools for Teachers and Parents
Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, Revised Edition
AND, make sure you read
Sensory Diet vs. The Alert Program
, if you haven't already read it. You can come to understand how
a sensory diet and The Alert Program are similar, yet different. A "must-read"!
The Treatment: Part I. Professionals and Supports...
OK, so you think YOU or YOUR TEENAGER might have a Sensory Processing Disorder
that needs to be evaluated and/or treated? Well, the first place I would
start is by contacting a local Occupational Therapist who has experience
treating kids and/or adults with SPD.
Not sure who to call? Check out the OTA state directory
for a state-by-state listing of Occupational Therapy Associations that can help you!
While you await a professional evaluation or treatment (if necessary) I would keep
reading as much information as you can possibly get your hands on... education
is absolutely the GREATEST place to start.
If it is your older child or teenager you are concerned about...
then sit down with your teen and help them understand the facts, the reasons, the disorder. Help them realize they are not alone!!
This is NOT their fault or yours... it just IS. It
is the same as having any other neurological disorder! It is the central
nervous system and the brain that are incorrectly interpreting sensory
stimuli... this does NOT make us "weird", it makes us someone who needs
treatment and modifications to our lifestyle... the same as ANY other
"illness", "disorder", "disease", "medical issue", etc.
Being older is a mixed blessing as far as "treatment" goes. The down side
is that these sensory issues were not addressed earlier, self-esteem
has probably suffered and life experiences been missed. The up side,
however, is that you have coping skills that younger children do not. You
have probably, naturally, made accommodations in your life based on your
sensory preferences. That may be working well enough, which is great! If
it is not, however, we need to help you. If you are having difficulty
functioning in any areas of adult "occupation", whether it be work, rest,
or "play", then education and treatment needs to happen.
Besides reading and educating yourself as much as you possibly can, I
have a few suggestions for support, which IS CRITICALLY important! First,
counseling can never hurt. It may be a necessary part of your treatment,
either individually or as a family. Let a professional decide. You have
been invalidated or misunderstood for so long, it is almost guaranteed
to have affected your self-esteem and coping skills. It's OK to get help!
You need it, and it should be from someone who understands this disorder.
If they don't understand the disorder, at least find a professional who
is willing to learn about it. You NEED a good fit and validating therapist!
The Treatment: Part II. Sensory Diets
Below you will find some general ideas to help you begin developing a
sensory diet for teens or adults. Before reading them, make sure you have already read the article, Creating a Home Sensory Diet
to help you understand the basics about sensory diets.
So, let's get you started "thinking sensory"!!
General Guidelines For Sensory Input / Sensory Diets
variable music, sounds
bright, artificial light
crunch or chew
salty, spicy, or bitter flavors
rotary and/or oscillating movement
cold or hot temperatures
hanging or stretching muscles/joints
horizontal head position
soft, rhythmic sounds
dim or natural lighting
chew or suck
neutral warm temperatures
carrying and/or pushing objects
vertical head position
You need to already know, or TRY, different activities to see which ones
produce your desired result. Each person's nervous system is individual and everyone
reacts differently to various stimuli. Some activities help with sensory modulation
issues, some for sensory motor, some for sensory discrimmination, and
some can be used for all three.
Just use the guidelines above, think about
what you typically do to calm or rev yourself up, or what you have
difficulty doing and need some more practice or accomodations for... and
with the help of your OT, you can figure out what is right for YOU!
Age Appropriate Sensory Diet Ideas For Adolescents and/or Adults
Wilbarger Brushing Protocol (under direction of OT), weighted vest, weighted
blanket, massage chairs and mats, spandex/lycra clothing under regular
clothing, swimming, bean bag chair, fabric softener, deep pressure/heavy
work activities before dentist/hairdresser, hammock and hammock chair,
warm bath, massage parlor, jaccuzzi or hot tub
Relax chairs, hammocks, hammock chair, glider rocking chair, bicycles,
jogging, amusement park rides, bench swing, swimming, waterslides,
exercise equipment, therapy ball, water skiing, tubing, sledding, jet
skiing, hangliding, sky diving, bungee jumping, rocking chair
Trampoline, bean bag chair, jumping jacks, running, aerobics, sports
(especially contact sports), sleeping bag, weighted products (vests,
blankets, lap pads, hats, etc.), massagers, massage chairs and pads,
tubing and/or knee boarding, massage parlor, tight clothing (spandex,
Relaxing music, earplugs, cotton balls in ears, musical instruments,
therapeutic listening program, white noise machines, water fountains,
nature sound machines and tapes, windchimes, headphones (special noise reducing or regular ones to block some sound and relax/distact you with your own music)
Vibrating toothbrush, nuk toothbrush, oral massagers, gum, sour candy,
straws with thick drinks, crunchy or chewy foods, sweet, sour and/or
bitter foods, lollipops, licorice, a warm cup of tea
Incense sticks, cologne, perfume, car sprays and air fresheners,
aromatherapy oils, carpet sprays, scented candles, potpouri, aromatherapy machines
I know this was a lot of information to absorb...so, let's re-cap.
First, read over and fill out the checklists to see if you or your teen have some
significant signs of trouble functioning, based on the symptoms of SPD.
Next, call your local OTA and find an Occupational Therapist that treats
adults/teens with SPD.
(or, if you ARE an OT, use this checklist as a SCREENING tool, NOT a
Talk to professionals to see if they are knowledgeable about SPD and able
to evaluate and treat you or your teen.
Get an evaluation if indicated.
While waiting...read, read, read the articles and books mentioned here. Both YOU and YOUR teen (if this is about
them) need to understand how SPD manifests itself in adults! Educate yourself as much as you possibly can and talk about it.
Let your teenager know you finally understand!
Finally, start treatment if indicated and get on the road to a happier, healthier,
rewarding life and career!
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