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 hopeless.

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 see.

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 late.

It's time to start listening to our teens AND adults! They are suffering too.

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?

First? Education!

Second? Support and treatment!

Lucky you... I can get you started on both.

The Education...

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 - Find out signs and symptoms of SPD with 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

Alerting Stimuli:

  • variable music, sounds
  • bright, artificial light
  • crunch or chew
  • salty, spicy, or bitter flavors
  • rotary and/or oscillating movement
  • cold or hot temperatures
  • light touch
  • hanging or stretching muscles/joints
  • horizontal head position

  • Calming Stimuli:

  • soft, rhythmic sounds
  • dim or natural lighting
  • chew or suck
  • sweet tastes
  • linear movement
  • neutral warm temperatures
  • deep pressure
  • 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

    Tactile: 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

    Vestibular: 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

    Proprioception: 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, lycra)

    Auditory: 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)

    Oral: 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

    Olfactory: Incense sticks, cologne, perfume, car sprays and air fresheners, aromatherapy oils, carpet sprays, scented candles, potpouri, aromatherapy machines

    In Conclusion

    I know this was a lot of information to, 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 diagnostic test!)
  • 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, 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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    Related Resources

    The Adolescent and Adult SPD Checklist - Find out signs and symptoms of SPD with the adolescent and adult SPD checklist.

    Tactile Defensiveness In Adults - A comprehensive question and answer thread from the awesome readers of

    Leave the Adult Sensory Processing Disorder page and return to the SPD home page

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