If you have sensory processing difficulties you could be hypersensitive to your senses, you could be hyposensitive to sensory input or you could be a mixture of both. Today we’re going to look at being hypersensitive which is being over sensitive to sensory input. Those who are oversensitive to sensory input are often called sensory avoiders because they are too sensitive they try to avoid any extra sensory stimuli. It is important to be aware that sensory avoiders may run away and hide from certain situations or environments. They are unaware that they are doing this as they are being led by their senses. This can become a safety concern.
Let’s take a look at the 8 senses and check out how to know if you are hypersensitive to your senses.
Anyone can be hypersensitive to light but around half of autistic people experience severe sensitivity to fluorescent lighting.
Fluorescent lighting is often found in places like shopping centres, schools, hospitals, dentists, and offices. These environments are already places that cause autistic people extra stress and anxiety. Therefore our sensitivity is often increased due to the environment we are in.
I am extremely hypersensitive to light. Bright lights and the sun cause me a huge amount of pain. Too much light can cause me to be physically sick and I get awful headaches due to this. You will often spot me walking around in the rain with sunglasses on. That’s not because I think I’m cool but because it’s one of my strategies against bright light. Bright light to me may also be completely different from you. I will often say to the person I’m with “wow it’s bright today” and they say “erm no it’s not!”.
This is because I am hypersensitive to light and they aren’t. It’s not just the sun it also happens when the sky is completely covered in clouds or the ground is covered in snow. Reflective light is a huge trigger for me, if something reflects from a mirror or electronic device into my eyes it will physically cause me pain. Full beam car lights cause me to be physically sick to the point that I drive at night with sunglasses on. Twinkling lights and moving lights also have the same effect and I can become dazzled and disorientated.
Being hypersensitive to sound means that you are oversensitive to sound. We often assume that people are oversensitive to loud noises but that is not always the case. You could be oversensitive to loud noise, unexpected noise or a certain sound. Usually, if someone is sensitive to the sound they will avoid that sound. They may avoid certain environments or flee an environment due to the effect of noise sensitivity. Being over-sensitive to noise can be both annoying and physically painful. Certain sounds may make you angry or annoyed. If someone is oversensitive to sound you may notice them covering their ears with their hands or as I’ve already said avoiding or fleeing a certain environment.
I have decided to put taste and smell together as they are both often associated with each other when it comes to being over sensitive. Being over-sensitive to taste and smell is not nice. Even the slightest taste or smell can cause you to gag and be physically sick. To someone who is not oversensitive, it might even be a taste or smell that you don’t even know is there. Being hypersensitive to both taste and smell can cause people to have restricted diets and eat bland foods.
Being hypersensitive to touch can seriously impact your daily life. You probably know someone who doesn’t like to be hugged, well being over sensitive to touch is that and much much more. Someone who is hypersensitive to touch may flinch when you walk near them. This might be because the slightest touch (a touch you may not even be aware of) can hurt someone who is hypersensitive.
People who are hypersensitive to touch often don’t like to wear clothes, this is because clothing can physically hurt. It’s a bit inappropriate not to wear clothes so what we tend to do is wear comfortable clothes. I pretty much always wear leggings, a hoody and a pair of Ugg boots. If you are hypersensitive to touch you may also struggle with showering as the water can be painful when it hits your skin.
Vestibular is our sense of balance, so being hypersensitive to balance can be better explained using the term avoider. As I’ve said above if someone is hypersensitive they are over-sensitive and called an avoider. So being hypersensitive to balance is essentially avoiding things that require balance. Someone who is hypersensitive will appear clumsy and uncoordinated. They may move slow and cautiously and look at the ground when they walk. A child may avoid or even be scared of the park.
Proprioception is our sense of spacial awareness and this goes very closely with our sense of balance. Again I’m going to look at this in a sense of avoiding as that’s the best way to look at hypersensitivity here. If someone is over sensitive they may avoid walking, preferring to be carried or pushed in a pushchair or wheelchair. They may avoid all weight-bearing preferring to be lying down rather than sitting or standing. The person may avoid holding cutlery or hold pens and pencils very lightly. They may avoid rough play and anything involving being bumped into. They may struggle with chewing and may not chew food properly.
Interoception is knowing and feeling what is going on inside of our bodies. Again I’m going to use the word avoider to help understand interoceptive over sensitivity. If we are oversensitive to interception we may do things to avoid feeling sensations. So a person may overeat to avoid the sensation of hunger. They may go to the toilet lots to avoid the feeling of a full bladder.
If you are oversensitive to sensory input you are known as a sensory avoider. Being over-sensitive can cause difficulty functioning in everyday life. There are lots of ways to help with being over sensitive and we will go into more detail in another blog. It is important to know that if your child is oversensitive they may respond to sensory input in a way that may seem inappropriate. It is often said that children with sensory difficulties are “overreacting or under-reacting”. Someone who is oversensitive to sensory input is not overreacting but responding appropriately for them.
We hope that this has helped you know if you are hypersensitive to your senses.
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