Sensory Processing Disorder when Gifted and/or Highly Sensitive

Girl with Sensory Processing Disorder, image by Tim Parkinson

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory Processing Disorder (which may be called Sensory Processing Dysfunction, Sensory Integration Disorder, or simply SPD), occurs when the sensory signals received by the brain do not get organized and integrated appropriately. This can cause misinterpretation of sensory input, which is why people with SPD perceive things differently than typically sensing people. Highly sensitive people might have only one area of sensitivity (for example, one type of overexcitability), or they might have any number of them, including them all.

Over or Under Responses To Stimuli

If you have SPD, the messages your brain receives might seem too much (too loud, too rough, too painful, too intense, etc.) or not enough (too quiet, too still, too light, too soft, etc.). As mentioned above, some types of SPD include sensory under-response. This could mean needing to touch things very firmly to notice that they are there, even to the point of bruising or needing music to be very loud.

Sensory processing, or as it is sometimes called, sensory integration (SI), describes how your brain receives messages from your nervous system, and how information is transferred from your senses to your brain, which then tells you how to move or respond. Most things you do involve sensory processing in some way, whether you are sipping a glass of milk, hiking a tall hill, or typing, your brain must process and integrate sensory input. This is often called sensory integration. Sensory processing issues are fairly common in children, but adults are often impacted as well. High sensitivity and sensory processing issues are also commonly seen in the gifted population and those with asynchronous development.

SPD Can Be Painful or Highly Challenging

The pain (or challenge) of SPD could look like having an overwhelmingly painful experience while a vacuum cleaner runs, feeling overwhelmed or in pain if there are too many children talking in a cafeteria, or a need for the music volume to be set very low. It could also mean removing all of the tags from clothing, or wearing either no socks or seamless socks, and being sensitive food texture, or strong scents. Counseling can help with understanding, reducing and managing the challenges associated with sensory intensities.