What Does Sensory Processing Disorder Look Like in Adolescents and Adults?

The population that often gets overlooked and is misunderstood

Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is often discussed in articles about children, but it is less frequently mentioned as an issue that adolescents and adults experience. SPD, unfortunately, is not simply a condition that one outgrows; it is typically a lifelong disorder that an individual can learn to effectively manage through appropriate therapy and strategies they can glean from it. Read on for some more information about how SPD presents in older populations and some suggestions for improving sensory dysregulation.

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Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What To Do If You Are Sensory Defensive In An Overstimulating World.

This title says it all! This book provides strategies for anyone experiencing signs of SPD.

Product: Weighted blanket

Weighted blankets can be quite effective in helping to reduce some of the anxiety that individuals with SPD experience when the sensory environment is overwhelming to them. Read on for more products and strategies that can help!

For other product ideas that target improved sensory processing, oral motor and language skills, please ask to “shop” at CTC’s very own product table, located within our clinic!

Sensory Processing Disorder Vs. Sensory Overload

What’s the difference? And what can help?

Here at CTC, we talk a lot about sensory processing. But what exactly is it? Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is a condition in which the brain has difficulty processing and responding to sensory information. These senses include the five senses most are familiar with– visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), olfactory (smelling), and gustatory (tasting)– as well as: vestibular (how our body interprets movement), proprioceptive (our sense of our body position in space) and interoception (our ability to feel internal sensations in our body). While occupational therapists directly treat sensory processing disorders, all disciplines of therapy are familiar with this disorder and are trained to recognize when a referral to an OT is necessary to diagnose and treat this condition. At our clinic, of course this occurs with children. But what about teens and adults? What does SPD look like in older populations?

Adults with SPD, like children, may exhibit a variety of sensory difficulties that have a negative impact on their everyday activities. Some of these challenges may include:

  • Hugging; being touched; holding hands
  • Wearing tags or coarse fabrics
  • Loud noises (e.g., noisy restaurants, emergency vehicles, fireworks, etc)
  • Going to the beach (e.g., sitting on/stepping in dry or wet sand)
  • Smelling perfumes or colognes
  • Wearing shoes
  • Sticky hands
  • Haircuts/hair brushing

Today, many adults with SPD have gone their whole lives “under the radar,” as they may not have received any treatment for their issues as a child and had to develop their own unique set of coping strategies, if any. Or, adolescents or adults may have received treatment as a childhood that was beneficial to them, but as their social situations and living spaces changed, new sensory challenges arose. These individuals often develop a lack of self-confidence, especially if they don’t understand why they experience the world in the way they do. They may avoid social situations that trigger their sensory responses, such as restaurants and bars, the beach, the movies or parties, which can often make friendships and relationships more challenging.

We’ve all experienced sensory overload at some point in our lives. As a student, it may be trying to focus on an exam when the ticking clock sounds like a roar. As a professional, it may be attempting to complete an important assignment while your inbox keeps dinging with new messages and requests. As a parent, it might occur when your kids won’t stop bickering in the back seat when you’re trying to focus on driving. In all of these scenarios, the brain has a difficult time managing incoming sensory information. The result? Feeling incredibly overwhelmed.

Sensory difficulties may accompany a variety of disorders, including autism, ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD, although anyone can experience sensory overload without a specific diagnosis. Considering our current society, it’s no wonder that everyone can relate to sensory overload! We are constantly inundated with information from television, email and our social media accounts. So do we all have SPD?

ADDitudemag.com defines SPD as, “a neurological condition that interferes with the body’s ability to receive messages from the senses, and convert those messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.”


Summertime Activities for Happy Kids

Take advantage of outdoor fun all month long!

Sea-themed Sensory Play

Pick some shells and rocks on your next beach trip, or buy seashells at a craft store and collect rocks around your neighborhood. Help your child to create their own “sea” by placing these items in a water table along with scoops, pails…and sand, if you’re adventurous!

Make Healthy Popsicles

An easy, affordable way to bring some joy to your kiddos this summer? Popsicle molds! The combination of flavors you can make using healthy ingredients such as fresh fruits and your milk of choice are endless. The best thing about popsicles when playing outside at home? A quick rinse with the hose is all that’s needed for clean up!

Summer Scavenger Hunt

An easy, free way to provide some summer fun is as simple as putting together a list of ítems that you and your child can search for in your neighborhood. Some suggested ítems? Ant; flag; bike; flower; sidewalk chalk; picnic blanket; and umbrella!

In the simplest of descriptions, when sensory responses such as this disrupt and overwhelm a person’s everyday life, SPD is considered to be the culprit. Teens and adults who identify with these feelings should always seek out a formalized assessment from an occupational therapist (OT), who will determine if SPD truly is the underlying cause for these issues.

While everyone experiences SPD in different ways, there are some general coping mechanisms that are worth incorporating to see if they are helpful in reducing the load of sensory input. These include:

Headphones / Sunglasses

Noise-cancelling headphones may help those who are triggered by loud noises or distracting background noise. For those sensitive to bright lights, always keeping sunnies on hand is a simple way to reduce the sensory load.

Weighted blankets

The input of a heavy blanket, which are now widely available for purchase at a variety of retailers, can help calm the nervous system when it is hyper-stimulated.

Essential Oils

While many individuals with SPD are put off by any potent smells, some find the scent of natural oils calming or uplifting. Experiment with smelling a variety of oils (unless this triggers your anxiety) to see if you connect with one. If so, it’s easy to fill a vial with your oil of choice and a carrier oil which you can rub on your wrists and inhale throughout the day whenever you feel overstimulated.


Simple, predictable routines often benefit individuals with SPD, in order to reduce the demands of the environment as much as possible.

Comfortable clothing

In our post-Covid culture, comfortable clothing has certainly made a comeback. From a fashion perspective, this can work in the favor of those with SPD, who are often triggered by irritating fabrics and tags.

Stimulating Activities

While SPD is often characterized by hyper-stimulation to environmental input, many adults actually experience under-stimulation. In this case, stimulating activities such as running or martial arts may benefit their level of sensory regulation.