Senses Working Overtime
April 13, 2013 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Tell me everything you know about sensory integration and related issues...

I think I had sensory integration issues as a child. I was never diagnosed (neglectful parents), but looking at the criteria, I definitely met them as a child and I still have some traits.

I have strong reactions to textures (I crave them or hate them), soft mouth sounds drive me crazy (hyperacusis), I can't stand bright light, I seek out novelty and motion and sometimes do what I now realize is stimming behavior. (I'm not Asperger-like at all, but I think my father was on that spectrum.)

So I'm curious what your experiences have been with this kind of thing -- tips, experiences, suggestions, etc.

- How were you diagnosed as a child? An adult?
- Do you have children who have been diagnosed? How did you know?
- Have you/they gotten treatment? What was it? Did it work? What kind of professional helped you?

- How has this changed over your life course?

- Good books/blogs/resources

(I have pretty bad health insurance in the US, so I can't really afford a full neurological workup, I don't think. I get along fine in normal life. I just am curious about how this has affected you, and may be affecting me in ways I don't even realize.)
posted by 3491again to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I know you aren't a child, but The Out Of Sync Child is a common recommendation as a first book to people who suspect their kids have sensory processing issues. You might find it interesting.
posted by 41swans at 7:55 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wasn't diagnosed as a child, because I'm old enough that the diagnosis wasn't available then. The first I heard of SID was when my wife (a psychologist) suggested that we have out then 4-year-old son evaluated. He was easily overstimulated by loud sounds, bright lights, or lots of people. All of his clothes had to be cotton, because everything else bothered him.

As I read up on the disorder, it brought back a lot of painful memories from childhood. I had reactions to fabrics that I couldn't explain to my parents and had a hard time with sports. Eventually I outgrew most of the issues (I still can't dance without practicing first).

My son had OT through elementary and middle school. He also was in a "twice exceptional" class from third through fifth grades. Gradually most of the problems lessened (he has graduated from the university and is living successfully on his own).
posted by gteffertz at 8:06 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also find some surface textures very attractive and other completely inoffensive ones very unpleasant. The sound of nails on nylon cloth gives me intense goosebumps. I have a difficult time concentrating when someone is chewing noisily or making mouth noises for some other reason. I am absorbed and mesmerized by repetitive motion, and find trains and other rail transport completely fascinating. Sometimes I rock gently when excited, and I absent-mindedly toss objects up and down or handle them in other repetitive and stereotyped ways that could be described as "stimming."

To the best of my knowledge, I do not suffer from any cognitive disorders of perception. I think that the normal range, with regard to these behaviors and traits, covers enormous ground. I would consider everything you've described to be perfectly within the normal range of variation, just a part of the unique combination of characteristics and traits that makes you you. If you don't think that your behavior impairs you in daily life, there really isn't much point to seeking out medical help. Why do you think you need coping strategies? Thumbs up for XTC reference.
posted by Nomyte at 8:22 PM on April 13, 2013

I hate tags in clothing, most background noises make me crazy ( "just tune it out", says my husband!), and watching/sensing my dog scratch himself can make me leave the room. I cope in various ways, and always carry earplugs with me in my purse--not headphones or earbuds, but thick French wax earplugs.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:46 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was diagnosed at eight. Had a huge problem with uncomfortable clothing, which was basically everything, which meant I threw a lot of temper tantrums until I was able to dress myself. In terms of treatment it was mainly giving this stuff a name, with I think a children's therapist, and realizing that it wasn't just bad behavior.

Hated crowds, mainly because of the loud noises (still do). Ear plugs, though I don't carry them as often as I should, are a must for loud movies/concerts/events. You know that fear when you flush a public toilet and you know it's going to be really loud? Have that. Another hint: my username.

I am also stimming right now, moving back and forth in my chair. It's definitely a comfort mechanism, but I also do it unconsciously. And ohmygosh, I have huge spatial issues and clumsiness and all that.

HOWEVER, the only meaningful result is that I can't* dance.

*Slight hyperbole. Very slight.
posted by tooloudinhere at 9:49 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was never diagnosed. I was growing up in the 1980s, when sensory integration really wasn't a thing (at least in my rural area). However, one of my relatives went on to work in the area, diagnosing younger kids, and told me that my behaviors as a kid (especially fidgeting) would mean occupational therapy (OT) for SPD these days. One day I was particularly stressed out by something stupid at work that I Just Couldn't Ignore (probably a flickering light) and looked into SPD in adults, and realized that I fit a lot of the criteria.

In my case, I was already iving a pretty normal, happy life without the coping mechanisms or OT, but the coping mechanisms have made it much easier to manage my stress around some of these issues. (I no longer feel like I "should" wear different jewelry to coordinate with outfits, for one, so now I just wear the same small earrings and plain ring 99% of the time. I no longer feel weird about avoiding large parties. I'm much more deliberate about running or using a rebounder (deep pressure) as a stress-management technique.) I'm probably at the lowest end of impacts, but it's still been helpful to know about and manage.

I haven't bothered to get a diagnosis. If I ever ran across something I needed an OT to help with, it might be necessary, but other than that there's really no point. All of my coping mechanisms are within the range of slightly eccentric personal preferences and personality quirks, so it hasn't been necessary.

Most of the books out there are geared for kids, but there are a couple for adults -- the one I'd recommend is Sharon Heller's Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight. (The subtitle mentions sensory defensiveness but the book is a more general look at sensory processing and integration issues, and includes coping strategies and case studies.)

If you're looking for more personal advice, you don't have to get a neurological workup -- you could just look into a good OT in your area and pay upfront for a couple sessions. There are OTs who work with adults.
posted by pie ninja at 5:01 AM on April 14, 2013

I have ADHD diagnosed as an adult. I also have some sensory issues like the ones you are worried about. I agree with tooloudinhere, it's somewhat normal which is something you acknowledge not really causing you a problem in your life. Mine tends just be run of the mill. I hate being touched, I can't stand certain textures but go out of my way others. Noises and lights are all triggers. I was a pretty clumsy kid followed by a moderately clumsy adult. I did see a psych to get tested and it certainly helped me understand my life better. I take adderall which actually helps my sensory issues as much as my ADHD. If its not causing you any problems why are you looking for one?
posted by lasamana at 5:09 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add try the basics for your SID first, yoga and exercise. I do a lot of yoga using videos I've found on youtube and Hulu. They're great (because I don't like being in a class) and mostly free. Also try exercising. It seems to me by looking at your past posts you've a lot of anxiety. Exercising (simply walk for 40 minutes of more at a brisk pace) has helped me tremendously both with ADHD and all the other stuff. I guess what I'd add is don't make something big where it has no place being.
posted by lasamana at 5:38 AM on April 14, 2013

I've never been formally diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, but after a lifetime of freaking out over stimuli that rolls off the backs of those around me, I have no doubt that I've got issues in that area. I can't stand heat/cold/certain types of socks/too much activity around me/loud noise, etc.

I have been diagnosed with inattentive ADD, and consider myself to be the classic "highly sensitive person" (an aptly finicky term).

I've never received professional care that I found helpful for my sensitivity/sensory issues. I've sought therapy throughout my adult life to help me deal with my intense shyness, and while it certainly hasn't hurt, I also think it's missed the mark in some ways. Many of the minor little struggles of my life are not simply "in my head," but are genuine issues--for instance, try getting through a job interview or meeting your partner's folks in a busy restaurant where you can't understand what the hell anyone's saying without having to ask "What?" a billion times.

What has helped, to some degree, are things that I've instinctively gravitated towards doing throughout my life--daily exercise, quiet time spent in nature, eating healthy foods including lots of vegetables, as much sleep as my brain will allow me. If I slip on any one of these, everything in my life goes downhill pretty quickly. It sucks to have to be so vigilant, but it's kind of forced me into healthy habits. I'd love to take up meditation but haven't been able to work that one into regular rotation yet. I also pick the hell out of my cuticles--that's a pretty big coping mechanism, sadly.

As far as books go, anything by Elaine Aron is good (although she sometimes seems to gloss over the economic realities of life in modern-day America--I seem to recall in one of her books she offhandedly mentioned that every highly sensitive person needs at least four weeks of vacation a year--Ha! Hahahaha!!) I also recently read a somewhat-related book--"The ADD Myth: how to cultivate the unique gifts of intense personalities." I thought it did a really good job of reframing some of the "flaws" of the highly sensitive personality. Pretty much everything I've read on the topic has recommended: eat well, exercise, meditate, spend time in nature. Basically, take extra-good care of yourself, because you don't have the option of ignoring your body's signals like less-sensitive people do.

(And if it seems like I'm conflating high sensitivity with sensory integration disorder, that's because the two are inextricably bound up together in my experience of life, so maybe I'm being a bit unscientific about it. I hope some of this is still helpful.)
posted by whistle pig at 7:10 AM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

A relative of mine has this. He didn't get diagnosed until he was in his 40s, although he had issues since childhood. The diagnosis helped him in that it no longer was some "weirdness about him" instead it was a "real thing." So he was able to stop being defensive about his needs, and stopped castigating himself for needing certain things, and became more proactive and positive about creating his life the way he needed it to be. In that sense, having a diagnosis helped him, but would not help other people. (He did not seek out or receive any treatment). It was a psychologist, not a neurologist or psychiatrist who did the assessment.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:52 AM on April 14, 2013

I'm an OT student and we spend a fair amount of time working with sensory integration dysfunctions in children and adults. People like Winnie Dunn, Tina Champagne, and Catana Brown are people you might want to Google. I have some formal assessments I can email to you if you Mefi Mail me your email address.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2013

Thanks for the great answers! For all of those who wondered why I want to explore coping strategies, I think that's fairly self-evident. I have noticed these unusual symptoms that set me apart from others all my life (much like the other commenters), and I'd like to get some idea of how others have coped, learned about them, etc. Aren't you curious about yourself too?
posted by 3491again at 5:45 PM on April 15, 2013

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