What are sensory issues?

what are sensory issues

Sensory issues are quite common, particularly in children, but are not widely recognised or discussed.

If you or someone you know is particularly sensitive to sensory experiences, like taste, touch, sounds, smells, and sights, then they may have a sensory processing disorder.

Sensory issues can cause anxiety and avoidance of triggers in adults and a wide range of symptoms in children who may panic or have a tantrum when they encounter a sensory trigger.

Having sensory issues can cause significant distress and negatively impact a person’s life without proper treatment or support.

In this article, we will explain a bit more about what sensory issues are, what causes them, and common signs that someone may be experiencing them.

What are sensory issues?

If a person has problems associated with sensory processing, then they may have difficulty responding to or interpreting sensory stimuli like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell.

Those that suffer from sensory issues may have a neurological condition which means that when the body receives sensory signals it struggles to distinguish between the senses and form the appropriate responses.

People with sensory issues are usually either over or under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli. Some people find that the condition affects just one sense, whilst multiple senses are affected in others.

Sensory issues are relatively common; it is estimated that somewhere between 5% – 16.5% of the general population experience sensory issues, sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder (SPD). Sensory issues can affect both adults and children but are more common in children. Most adults with sensory issues have had them since childhood and have learnt to hide or live with them. Sensory problems tend to be particularly common amongst people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

It can be difficult to receive help or treatment for sensory issues alone as sensory processing disorder is not yet a widely recognised medical diagnosis. People with serious sensory issues that interfere with their day-to-day life often seek help from an occupational therapist.

What are the most common sensory issues?

Sensory processing problems are usually associated with being hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli, like very loud noises, but they can cause under-sensitivity too.

Sensory issues can affect people in many different ways and with different levels of severity. Some common types of sensory issues include:

  • Touch – Over or under-sensitive to touch. This may include the feel of certain materials, going barefoot, physical contact, messy activities, or temperature.
  • Auditory – Over or under-sensitive to loud sounds and noises.
  • Visual – Over or under-sensitive to bright lights.
  • Taste/Smell – Over or under-sensitive to food textures and smells.
  • Movement – Poor balance or coordination.

What can trigger sensory issues?

People who experience sensory problems may feel uncomfortable or anxious in a variety of different situations, depending on what their sensory triggers are.

Some common situations that can trigger sensory issues include:

  • Very crowded spaces.
  • Loud noises or environments.
  • Being touched.
  • Very hot or very cold environments.
  • Eating foods with certain textures.
  • Wearing or trying on clothes of certain textures.
  • Strong smells.
  • A lack of sensory stimulation.

Whilst some adults with sensory issues may be able to avoid sensory triggers or control their reactions to them, children may have more extreme and uncontrolled reactions.

A child with sensory issues that are being triggered may go into ”fight or flight” mode and panic, run away, become very anxious, cover their ears or eyes, or throw a tantrum.

Can you have sensory issues without autism?

Sensory issues are a very common symptom of autism. Many people with autism are either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch.

However, not every person who is sensitive to sensory experiences has autism. According to the Child Mind Institute, other conditions where sensory issues are common include ADHD, OCD, and developmental delays.

However, many people with sensory issues have not been diagnosed with any other condition, in these instances, the condition is usually referred to as sensory processing disorder or SPD.

How do you know if you or someone else has sensory issues?

Signs or symptoms of sensory issues are usually less obvious in adults than they are in children as adults may have learnt coping mechanisms to deal with the problems they experience.

Signs of sensory problems in children

Common signs or symptoms of a child that is oversensitive to sensory stimuli include:

  • Complaining that clothing is scratchy or uncomfortable.
  • Poor balance and coordination.
  • Extreme reactions to loud sounds.
  • Extreme reactions to bright light.
  • Overly sensitive to touch.
  • Very low pain threshold.
  • Gagging caused by certain food textures.
  • Anxiety.

Children that are oversensitive to sensory stimuli may have a fight-or-flight response to their triggers. This could involve a ‘panic’ response like screaming, fighting, or running away, which may seem disproportionate to what has happened.

At the other end of the scale, are those that are under-sensitive to sensory stimuli. Common signs or symptoms of a child that is under-sensitive to sensory stimuli include:

  • Thrill-seeking
  • Failure to recognise personal space.
  • Putting inedible things in their mouth.
  • Very high pain threshold.
  • Constantly jumping, running, spinning, or bumping into things.

These children may seem hyperactive or clumsy because they are constantly in motion and seeking sensory input.

Signs of sensory issues in adults

Adults with sensory issues may have learnt coping mechanisms to deal with their sensory issues or may go out of their way to avoid their triggers. They may also feel disproportionately upset or anxious when they encounter a sensory trigger.

Getting diagnosed with sensory issues

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is not an officially recognised medical diagnosis and those that suffer from sensory triggers, particularly those without any other linked medical diagnosis, may struggle to find help or treatment for the condition.

If you feel that you or someone you know has sensory issues, then an occupational therapist can assess your symptoms, diagnose SPD, and provide occupational therapy to help treat the disorder.

You may also benefit from completing the 1-day masterclass in autism and sensory training that we offer here at Care Business Associate Training. Our training session helps to explain more about sensory perception and describes techniques that can be used to help those with sensory issues to cope better.

Book a place on our autism and sensory training course online or find out more information about the course by speaking to our team on 01772 816 922 or by emailing admin@cba-training.co.uk.