Hypersensitivity: Could It Be Sensory Processing Disorder?
Living with hypersensitivity is challenging, especially for children. It affects their fundamental experience of the world around them and – understandably – it’s something that many parents and guardians will try to remedy. The problem is – if you don’t understand the root cause of the hypersensitivity, most treatments will fail.
Could sensory processing disorder be behind your child’s hypersensitivity? Read on as we take a closer look at this complex disorder, the symptoms and treatments.
What exactly is hypersensitivity?
Hypersensitivity can be difficult to get your head around, even for parents and guardians of children with the disorder. It refers to having heightened sensitivity to stimulation of the senses. This can apply to any of the five senses – touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste – and may even affect multiple senses for some sufferers.
Senses provide humans with a way to view, perceive and understand life and the world around us. What we see, taste, feel, taste and smell, moulds our physical understanding of life – essentially forming our conscious experience.
Imagine, if these sensations were heightened to the extreme, just how difficult everyday life would suddenly be.
Children with hypersensitivity will often complain about sensory stimuli that others perceive as ordinary. Whether it’s a sound, a feeling or a smell, it can be almost impossible for them to control their response to these extreme sensory stimulations.
Even a well-meaning hug can cause a child with hypersensitivity to lose their temper, which can understandably be difficult for parents and guardians alike.
Symptoms of hypersensitivity
Children may also suffer from hyposensitivity, which is generally grouped with hypersensitivity because of how it affects sufferers. While “hyper” refers to too much sensitivity, “hypo” means there is too little sensation for any of the five senses. Both disorders stem from issues in the brain and nervous system.
The difficulty with sensations can make everyday activities overwhelming and unbearable. It causes children to over or under respond to food, noise, light, sounds or textures. Because it impacts their basic experience of the world, it can manifest in almost every facet of a child’s life, such as:
- Difficulty with gross motor skills, such as walking clumsily
- Difficulty with fine motor skills like handwriting
- Hearing – Meltdown in response to loud bangs, fireworks or even loud chewing noises at the dinner table
- Aggression – Poor ability to focus due to constant noise and distraction
- Touch – Problems dealing with fabric textures, clothes labels and tight clothing or sand and grass on bare feet, for example
- Food – The taste and textures of certain foods, such as mushy banana, can be difficult to deal with
- No sense of boundaries or personal space
- An unusually high tolerance to pain
- Impaired language development, with difficulty reading aloud
- Overwhelming anxiety when learning something new
- Poor posture or strength
- Poor eye tracking, including hand eye coordination
- A discomfort with heights
- Resistance to change or failure to function or perform when following a strict routine
- Behavioural problems with a broad spectrum of severity
- Overreaction to visual or auditory input – children can be easily misdiagnosed and put on medication for ADHD
- Bad reaction to overstimulation from bright lights, in classrooms for instance
- Certain autistic characteristics
With many of these symptoms, it’s common for people to think children are just behaving badly when reacting to sounds, tastes, smells, touch or sights. However, they are actually unable to control their physical and emotional reaction to this information.
So, what’s actually behind hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity?
The symptoms occur when sensory stimuli aren’t interpreted properly by the brain – and the nervous system as a result. Any information received through the affected senses is heightened or dampened, determining how children respond to it.
At the root of the cause is the Reticular Activating System. This is part of the brain stem, which manages all information that is passed up through the spinal cord. Essentially, it acts as the resistor in the body’s neural circuitry. If underdeveloped, it leads to poor management of signals, known as Sensory Processing Disorder.
More on Sensory Processing Disorder (or SPD)
SPD can occur in two ways. Either it results in information overload, leading to stress and fatigue, or a lack of information, leading to poor interpretation of social norms or deficient skills. Because it’s such a central part of how we develop, SPD is at the root of a number of issues in both children and adults.
This also means children with one issue, such as dyslexia, may be contending with another disorder in some capacity, such as hypersensitivity or developmental coordination disorder.
In recent years, Autistic Spectrum disorder has grown as a concept. Science is beginning to note that all these difficulties are often interlinked. SPD is in the same category. It’s a form of developmental delay and neuromotor immaturity that can have interlinking disorders and symptoms.
Treating SPD and hypersensitivity
With just a few adjustments to a child’s day-to-day life, you can help them better manage the symptoms of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. One is to simply raise awareness and improve your understanding of the symptoms, as well as anybody regularly in contact with your child.
Children can also adopt a sensory lifestyle. For example, headphones can be used to regulate noise levels and special lighting can help avoid overstimulation.
However, it’s best to treat the root cause. By releasing incorrectly retained reflexes, it’s possible to alleviate over-stimulation or under-stimulation and remove the blocks of incorrect development. Here is how it can be done:
- Stimulation therapy – eye tracking, balance and sensory tasks
- Auditory processing – train the inner ear muscle with neuro-acoustic training
- Sensory integration therapy – comprising visual, auditory and somatosensory treatment
Can we help?
The Child Development Centre specialises in the treatment of retained reflexes. With more than 20 years’ experience, we have established tailored treatment methods to help children overcome their individual developmental difficulties. Our treatments target the root of the problem, providing lifelong solutions for children and a significant improvement in their quality of life. To talk in more detail about your child’s symptoms and how we can help, feel free to get in touch with our team.
Hi, i adopted my son as a baby, he was born at 26 weeks and had a tracheostomy until he was 2-5 when he had a reconstruction of this trachea.
He struggles with sensitivities. Loud noises are ok, it’s noises like hands over fabrics, fabrics rubbing together, squeaky whiteboard,s etc.
The same happens with the touch of some fabrics, bed sheets, clothes, labels, tight clothes. He panics, holds his head tenses up withdraws and becomes very angry, punching a pillow and he is saying now it makes him want to hurt himself and scares him, he often smacks himself in the head with his hands when this happens.
Unfortunately also for the last year he has been dealing with the diagnosis of Leukaemia so is also being treated for that with chemotherapy, and steroids once a month for 5 days which doubles or triples the problems.
I have not yet found anyone to recognise this at take it seriously and until I read your article I could make no sense of it at all.
He does find it very distressing.
Please is there any help or support you can give us? Are you a NHS service?