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Adults’ Sensory Hypersensitivity

Although sensory integration disorders concern mostly children during adolescence, they become increasingly frequent also among adults. What is sensory hypersensitivity of adults, what symptoms does it have, and the most important – how to deal with it?

Struggle with stimuli

Sensory hypersensitivity constitutes a set of pathological reactions resulting from inadequate sensory perceptions received and interpreted by our senses. It may concern only one as well as numerous stimuli. Usually it affects the sense of touch, hearing or impulses from vestibular system of the inner ear and proprioceptors (receptors of internal processes). These sources are responsible for providing information necessary to maintain proper balance and motor coordination. Some adults also have problems with visual, olfactory and taste stimuli. Sensory hypersensitivity is a condition of exaggerated reactions to encountered stimuli. It is a feeling of being bombarded and overwhelmed with external signals. In a normal condition we have no problems with interpreting what comes to us and we do not analyse the process of receiving stimuli in a given situation. Person with the disorders, however, overreacts when exposed to stimuli and, as a result, does everything to avoid noise, direct touch even from the loved ones or tries to live in isolation.

Power of impression

Sensory hypersensitivity among adults usually has its origins in childhood. Their learned reactions and the ability to avoid problematic situations allow them, however, to adapt to the world without manifesting any symptoms of the disorder. Yet the problems remain unsolved and the issues become even deeper embedded in the personality. Hypersensitive people tend to perfectly organise their day and adapt their plans in order to minimise the risk of being exposed to undesired stimuli. Therefore, they are often forced to lie and use various excuses in their pursuit to avoid tangled, unpredictable and dangerous sensory impressions. They do what they must to survive while trying to risk as little as possible. They can also be considered peculiar in their avoidance of group meetings, crowded places or noises. Patients struggling with sense of touch issues may organise their home and place of work to minimise, e.g. the possibility to seat next to other people. Fear of proximity often leads to resignation from intimate life as physical interactions cause fear and pathological reactions such as escape.

Types of therapy

In everyday situations as adults we are not aware of the importance of movement or touch, how quickly we can lose our attention when we are more sensitive to sounds or light. We do not realise how much work is devoted by our nervous system to perform a given task. Children may treat therapy as a game but adults must understand its meaning. Ergotherapy, also known as occupational therapy, is one of the most effective tools in managing sensory hypersensitivity. It consists in performing repetitive activities and getting familiar with noise, touch or crowd. The use of sensory bedding and accessories is also an effective, research proven method. Quilts, pillows and blankets with a special heavier filling are wrongly associated only with children`s therapy. In fact, they are a great help also for adults. They stimulate deep feeling, improve the orientation of the body in space and have calming down and soothing effects. Some forms of sensory hypersensitivity, however, require psychotherapy – especially if phobias become the cause of social rejection or ridicule.