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Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Autistic Adults – Part III: Additional Difficulties

spd p 3In the first two parts of this three part article series describing the symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as it appears in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders both hyper-reactivity and hypo-reactivity to sensory stimuli was discussed. So prevalent are these symptoms of SPD in those with Autism Spectrum Disorders that they were added to the [diagnostic criteria] (http://autism.answers.com/autism-spectrum/dsm-v-new-diagnostic-criteria-for-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd) doctors use to identify individuals on the autism spectrum. Hyper-reactivity (over-stimulation) and hypo-reactivity (under-responsive) sensory system issues are not the only areas that are affected by those who struggle with SPD. Adults may also struggle with sensory discrimination, sensory-based motor skills, emotional and social situations, and internal regulation.

Sensory Discrimination in Adults with Autism

Sensory discrimination issues can arise when autistic people struggle with this area of sensory processing. Difficulty with discrimination can include difficulty located things using your senses. This individual may not be able to identify objects by feel when their eyes are closed, have difficulty finding things in a purse or pocket without looking, or locating items in a cupboard, drawer, closet, or on a grocery shelf. Driving difficulties can arise due to problems recognizing, interpreting, and following traffic signs, difficulty judging distances resulting in continually “bumping” things (curbs, poles, other cars etc.), and merging into oncoming traffic.Disorientation is common as adults with autism who often get lost easily in stores, hospitals, school hallways etc. Background noise becomes a problem when trying to concentrate, watching TV/movies, and trying to remember or understand what people are saying. Adults with SPD may have difficulty following two and three part directions, or completing tasks when noise is present. They may talk too loud, or too softly (there may also be speech and annunciation issues).When proprioception is effected the individual may bump into things frequently, often push too hard on objects, accidentally breaking them, and have difficulty judging how much pressure to apply when doing task or picking something up.

Sensory-Based Motor Skills

Motor skills that are sensory-based such as learning to ride a bike or other moving equipment can be affected in those with Autism and SPD. These individuals may appear clumsy, uncoordinated, and accident prone, and have difficulty walking on uneven surfaces, or seem to lose their balance while standing still. They may be frequently bump into people and things, miss when putting objects on a table, and be messy eaters—spilling and dropping foods, and knocking over drinks.They may have difficulty with fine motor tasks such as button, zipping, tying, knitting, and sewing, or had significant difficulty learning to tie things. Difficulty with sensory-based motor skills may result in a preference for sedentary tasks, avoiding sports, frequently confusing their right and left sides, and difficulties with handwriting.

Does Sensory Processing Affect Social and Emotional Skills?

Yes, social and emotional issues commonly arise in those with SPD and Autism. Adults and children with autism often have a strong need for structure, disliking any changes in plans or routines making them appear stubborn, defiant, uncooperative, rigid, or controlling. Decision making is often difficult. Adults with Autism tend to prefer solitary activities, don’t always register and understand social cues or non-verbal language. They often have trouble relating to and socializing with peers, and have difficulty seeking out and maintaining relations—all of which has also been linked to the sensory processing system.

Internal Regulation

Internal regulation is another problem that can arise when dealing with sensory processing issues. It is not uncommon for an adult with SPD to have difficulty falling asleep, or getting on a sleep schedule. There may be physical symptoms present such as heart rate issues (unnecessary speeding when at rest, or not speeding up for tasks that require a higher heart rate), and respiration rates that are too fast or too slow. Autistic adults and children often experience hyper or hypo sensitive bowel and bladder sensations, where they either do not recognize the sensation when the need arises to empty either, or have a hyper-arousal (always feeling the urge to use the restroom). Other examples of internal regulation issues that are common in Autism and symptoms of SPD are irregular appetite sensations and temperature regular issues.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can affect all of the sensory systems in your body. Adults and children with Autism Spectrum Disorders are often also diagnosed with SPD. These sensory processing issues are one of the most cited concerns of adults on the autism spectrum. Sensory processing issues can cause you to be hyper (over) sensitive to sights, sounds, touch, smell, and, movements, or hypo (under) sensitive to these outside stimuli. Other issues include sensory discrimination, fine motor abilities, internal regulation, and social and emotional difficulties. See: Part I: Hyper-reactivity (over sensitive) to Sensory StimuliSee: Part II: Hypo-reactivity (under responsive) to Sensory Stimuli

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.