Adult Sensory Processing Disorder

Updated on January 16, 2017
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.


What Is Adult Sensory Processing Disorder?

Adult Sensory Processing Disorder (ASPD) is a relatively new category of sensory disease, although the problem itself is far from new. Those adults who grew up in the days before this problem was identified were often subjected to unending discipline for their rebellion, bad attitudes, and plain old contrary behavior.

While many people have distinct likes and dislikes, those with Sensory Processing Disorders are generally hypersensitive to one or more of their senses. For example, a person with ASPD might experience any of the following:

  • Soft touch “hurts” their skin
  • Certain textures make them very uncomfortable, Styrofoam, man-made fabrics, or mud are prime examples.
  • Certain sounds may make them irritable and jumpy. Even listening to music for extended periods of time can cause crankiness, inability to concentrate, and frustration.
  • Smells and flavors can cause intense responses

There are hundreds of symptoms of Adult Sensory Processing Disorder. Some are very obvious and common, while others may be less so.

How Do People With This Disorder Feel?

This is a complicated disorder, and it is different for each individual who experiences it. Basically, the term Sensory Processing or Sensory Integration Disorder is used to describe the inability to filter input. Imagine a giant computer screen that displayed everything that was going on on the Internet at the same time. The screen would be overloaded, and you would not know what to pay attention to. The response might be to become agitated or to shut down completely.

This is exactly what those with Sensory Processing Disorders deal with on a daily basis. Every sound is heard, every visual stimulus is noticed, a soft touch may feel like sandpaper, and an off odor may cause extreme nausea.


Many adults may have learned to compensate for this problem over the years. They may be so used to it that they don’t recognize a problem. Here are some common symptoms of adults with Sensory Processing Disorders.

  • Hyper sensitive to touch
  • Eating disorders
  • Lethargic and slow to act OR energetic and impulsive
  • Can’t complete tasks
  • Poor self esteem
  • Afraid of failure
  • Perfectionism
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Gets irritable in crowds
  • Gets irritable when sounds are repetitive for a long period of time (ie: music playing, whistles at sports events, etc.)
  • Unusually high or unusually low sex drive
  • Fussy about clothing, uncomfortable in many clothing items
  • Prefers to be barefoot
  • Dislikes bracelets and watches
  • Easily overwhelmed

What To Do If You Suspect ASPD

The most important thing is to find a doctor that understands this issue. You will need an occupational therapist experienced in working with people that had sensory disorders. There are several therapies available that have been found to work well.

When you are looking for an occupational therapist ask plenty of questions. It needs to be someone that you click with. Look for the following qualities:

  • Diagnostic evaluation to better treat your condition individually
  • Written evaluation and goals
  • One on one treatment
  • Includes spouse and other family members in treatment plan
  • Provides an effective treatment schedule of at least two times a week
  • Uses purposeful stimulation that helps patient accomplish everyday tasks
  • Listens

The University of Southern California has an excellent description of occupational therapy for sensory processing disorders.

A Personal Note

I understand this problem on a personal level because I am one of “those” people. I have been considered eccentric at best, and as a child I was often labeled at problematic when getting dressed would result in a meltdown because the outfit hurt my skin. I have at least one child who has this syndrome as strongly as I do. He wears flip flops all year—yes, even in the snow.

In the past there was a mentality that it was a discipline problem. If you told a paraplegic child to get up and walk and he didn’t, you would not consider that a discipline problem. You would recognize that he was unable to do so. In the same way children and adults with SPD cannot control their responses to certain things. Discipline is not the answer.

My hope is that you will use this article as a jumping-off place. Research some of the links below and understand the basics of this problem. If you have a child who you suspect has a processing disorder, or you know an adult who might, encourage them to get evaluated. Therapy can reduce symptoms.

For me, touch is key. Being hugged, getting massages, and being held are all key to my being able to handle other stimuli. Being with a spouse who understands these issues and is willing to work with my eccentricities has been key in my mental health. As in many things, understanding covers a multitude of problems.

Links You May Find Helpful

You may find more information and help on the following sites. Don't just accept the information from one: research deeper and further to have the most information you can. Much of what is available is still based on personal experience and speculation. Much more research needs to be done.


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      Tina 10 months ago

      I like this article, have no disagreements what so ever, but I looked at al the comments and there are some very, vague and repetitive sounding comments peppered throughout the ones that are obviously genuine. It's just too obvious and kind of feels deceitful to me as a reader . :(

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      SandCastles 5 years ago

      People with Asperger's have sensory issues too.

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      Heynineteen 5 years ago

      I came across my 3rd grade class photo recently (I'm 42yo) and the first thing I thought was how uncomfortable the shirt I was wearing in the photo felt against my skin. Three pieces of material stiched together across the chest, 'touching me' as I still often say about well, things that touch me that I don't like. I forget how particular I am until I another person shares how particular they are. I take baths, not showers because I can't think while being continuously sprayed with water. I am THE pickiest eater I've come across. And don't get me started on hair. I can detect a single loose hair inside of my clothing and it will effectively derail my entire life until it's removed. Princess and the Peafor sure

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      Rudine Taggart 5 years ago

      I have had ASPD all my life. The biggest problem that I have is rearranging things in my home almost daily. It is as though I am trying to acquire the right feel but never can. This frustrates me. I would like to not do it at all.

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      RM 5 years ago

      I was diagnosed with this at 8 or 9 yrs old and still have it, because my parents never really researched it or figured out how to help me. I don't like being touched too much, especially by strangers, but I do hug immediate family. Loud sounds irritate me a great deal and crowds are overwhelming. I am slow to react sometimes to things, like my kids doing something naughty. I can't organize to save my life and my spouse often comments that I clean and do other things too slowly.

      I have always hated tight or rough clothing, and some days I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin I can hardly deal with it. When I get really stressed or overwhelmed, I tend to lose my temper or injure myself, just to take the edge off. I am always battling anxiety, social anxiety and depression. I have very few friends, probably because it's hard for me to make continual eye contact with people, and I really don't trust anyone.

      repetition bores me to death and I have trouble sticking with routines all the time, which sucks because I have an autistic child who needs that sameness continually.

      Some days the world is just too much and I want to just hide in bed or disappear. Things are too smelly, too bright, too fast, too loud, and too overwhelming. My own spouse's rapid talking and loud voice sometimes make me just shut down and tune him out.

      I feel often like I have nothing in common with people. I am creative, quiet, and obsessed with writing and medical research. I'm not hot looking, crafty, outgoing and bubbly, sexy (because I hate wearing skirts and dresses) or other things the women I know are. But I am witty, a good problem solver and independent thinker, a humanitarian, and intelligent. Despite the problem that most people think I'm weird or pathetic and don't like me, I care about humanity and want to help them.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      :) I am glad. Thanks for your comment.

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      Sarah 5 years ago

      Since being diagnosed with this condition, I have been looking for an article that clearly explains this condition without getting to complicated. Recently a man who sells newspapers outside my subway station asked me why I always wear open toed shoes (even in the rain) and why I always wear skirts and never pants. When I tried to explain SPD to him, he just scratched his head and said "so it's like a phobia?" and I tried to explain that no it wasn't. He then said "I have to wear closed toed shoes, or else I get a cold so I can't wear flip flops every day." I thought about explaining to him how growing up I almost lost a toe to frostbite from wearing flip flops in the snow, but I decided it was pointless to keep on about it. I also have always been described as "quarky" or odd. Often people thought that I was just stubborn, or lazy (which is not true at all). When in reality I knew things that seemed so easy for others were really awful for me. I couldn't figure out why people would do such awful things, until it became clear they weren't really experiencing the pain the way I was. Thanks for writing this article. It makes it so much clearer to me.

    • starme77 profile image

      starme77 5 years ago

      Oh Wow! You hit the nail on the head with this one! Never heard of it before but it certainly makes a ton of sense to me! :) awesome hub - thanks for writing it :)

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      deniseh1006 5 years ago

      I have suffered with this for years. Unfortunately, not having medical insurance I cannot get treatment for it and I feel like I am at my wits end. I have a hard time making friends, concentrating, and a lot of the things about touch, going barefoot (I went barefoot in the snow once), hating wearin watches and bracelets, etc. I didn't get introuble, but only because my mom was an overbearing control freak that yelled at us for every little thing. I am married, but have a hard time talking about my feelings and I'm not sure what to do.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      It is more prevalent that it used to be.

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      ChronicPainX 5 years ago

      Very cool article. As a substitute teacher it's essential for me to know about various disorders in the event that I have a student with one.

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      Michelle 6 years ago

      I totally understand what this is about. My friend left her family and kids for 3 weeks to work with an OT and family coach one on one and get herself out of the extreme reactions due to her Sensory processing problem. It really helped.

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      Kathy Silverstein 6 years ago

      Sensory issues are, of course, also very common with autism and Asperger's, which I have. Sensory processing is a major difficulty in my life, and always has been.

      My biggest issues involve tactile issues, especially with clothing, and issues with smells. Other issues include difficulty with too much going on at once, and an aversion to loud noises. This is one of many reasons why I have never been to a bar or any kind of party in my life (and I doubt I'm missing anything.)

      It is important to engage the expertise of professionals to help address these issues, such as with occupational therapists and doing whatever you can at home with a so-called "sensory diet" - sensory integration exercises you can learn from online or an OT. Some OTs do work with adults as well. Since many people with sensory issues are also on the autism spectrum, I wanted to mention a website I found the other night with lots of possible resources for those with sensory and other autism related issues. It is at if anyone is interested. Thanks for the great and important article!

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      58.Maggie 6 years ago from Greenville,KY


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      TracyK 6 years ago

      I have this in the auditory sensory mode. Certain octaves, sounds and even voices make my whole body hurt. When I am by myself, do not have my kids with me, I am better off or can last longer in such environments. I have an appointment with an auditory specialist but I am wondering if I will need an OT as well. Thanks for the article.

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      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Fascinating hub! I did not know about ASPD. Thank you for this enlightening and informative article.

    • Auntie D profile image

      Auntie D 6 years ago from California

      I was not aware of this disorder and your article is very informative. I have a son who has Lupus which seems to share some of the symptoms. It is very frustrating for him because Lupus can also affect the brain. There have been times when he's having a "bad brain" day and some people think he's on drugs or drunk. I hope SML who implied it's all in the head and made up never has to deal with this problem.

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      Sandy 6 years ago

      Not it's not a load of crap. Not to a severe and debilitating level, but enough to know it's real. I cannot stand to rub burlap or to touch or rub many other rough fabrics (sofa, drapes) with the palm of my hand or tips of my fingers. I can't pull the car shoulder belt across my with the thingy as the vibrations from the cloth will go up my hands. I have to grab the cloth firmly and yank the thing over into position.

      What happens if I do rub these thing? The most horrible feeling in the world. Nails on a chalkboard times ten. I can't stand to hear or see anybody else do it either.

      There is no psychological reason on earth why somebody can't stand to touch burlap. This is real.

      At first I didn't know it wasn't normal. Then I thought I was the only person in the world. Then it recently got worse and I researched it. It's great to know I'm not alone and that it has a name. It is "tactile defensiveness" and it IS part of ASPD.

      AND I'm learning that a lot of my other eccentricities, which I just accepted, can probably be attributed to this as well.

      Extreme fussiness about food. I like potatoes well mashed, creamed, baked if "done" enough, can't stand boiled, roasted, scalloped, or lumpy mashed. Can't stand cooked vegetables. This is a texture thing and I don't go to dinner parties.

      There is also "oral defensiveness" which is an offshoot, that also contributes to food fussiness. Some of mine: Not willing to try new food. Hating many many foods. Knowing you will hate something without trying it. Serious gag reflex. Needing to be anesthetized at the dentist. I thought it was just a phobia.

      Here's another one: "Sensory discrimination" problems.

      Some of those that I have: Get disoriented and/or lost easily in stores, buildings, hiking, etc (I am terrified in places like Walmart and large malls.) Difficulty reading and understanding a map, bus schedule, directions. (I have a hopeless sense of direction though there is another disorder that covers that on its own which I maybe have.) Difficulty organizing and grouping things by categories, similarities, and/or differences (I have a paralyzing amoung of difficulty categorizing).

      This business of a sense of direction is so bad that other people simply don't believe me. Again, I never connected it with rubbing burlap, and it may instead by Developmental Topographical Disorder.

      So you could pooh-pooh away my food fussiness and dentist phobia as psychological, and my sense of direction as not bothering to try, but SPD is the ONLY explanation I've ever seen as to why I can't rub rough cloth. And finding out about is is the first time I knew I wasn't the only person in the entire world with this.

      Something is a disorder when you have a cluster of symptoms, even if most of them could be shared by anybody, and if it disorders your life significantly. Now, my hating burlap does not disorder my life. But hating the dentist has done a lot of damage and continues to do so. Being so food fussy is a big problem. Getting lost all the time is a big problem.

      I'm going to pay attention to some of my other quirks that I have just accepted all my life and try to figure out if they are part of this as well.

      As for the personality issues, anxiety, depression, low self esteem, perfectionism, and a lot of the others on the list. I have many of them. Whether they have anything to do with this or not, I don't know. I do know that since childhood I have periodically had this feeling wash over me that I am not a real person. I can't explain it any other way. It's almost a physical feeling. And I feel that way mentally in a more general sense most of the time.

      Stuff that a person has been experiencing since earliest childhood, like knowing you don't rub your hand on the sofa, cannot be described as just an adult wallowing in psychological issues

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      SML 6 years ago

      Wow. This sounds like a load of crap. For the most part, all the symptoms are psychological, meaning that it's all in a person's head. I think this is just a poor pitiful excuse for people to feel sorry for themselves not confront their psychological issue by creating unrealistic thoughts in their head, unrealistic thoughts that become strong enough to lead to physiological changes in the body. Go out, be active, eat healthy, and don't feel sorry for yourself.

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      Jackie 6 years ago

      There still is a sense that this is a problem that affects only children. It is extremely difficult to function in society haaving a sensitivity to sudden loud sounds. People simply refuse to believe you have it.

      Going to a restaurant and asking not t o sit near children, is always trouble. The parents tend to have complete ignorance of the fact their children do make sudden loud sounds. You are considered a child hater, because it's assumed you have a problem with children. Hardly anyone, is willing to realize it's due to my sound sensitivity.

      I'm tired of people suggesting wearing earplugs 24/7 is supposed to be some sort of magical fix for my condition. I need to still hear people, earplugs interfere with that. Most of my troubles are due to other people refusing to behave appropriately. If your child is crying and making noise in a restaurant, take them outside the public space till they calm down. Don't want to do that, hire a babysitter.

      I'm tired of hearing how parents are victimized by a world that doesn't understand that babies cry, and there's nothing that can be done about it. Any attmpt to place responsibility on parents these days, usually are turned around into an attack upon their child, in hopes of shaming the person with the valid complaint and an attempt to get them to leave.

      I know not all parents are like this, I just want to illustrate that this is my reality with a sound sensitivity condition. I spend most of my time at home, because it's stressful to go out when sounds hurt you physically. I think there should be some sort of card that you can show to people, that says you have this issue. Maybe then peoplewon't think that it's something they can ignore.

      One of the more amazing comments I've heard, is I'm making my condition up for attention. I would like one day, where I didn't feel everyone was looking at me because I had a reaction to a sudden loud sound I couldn't help. Like yelling, "Oww!" really loud. I do not want attention, I want t be able to participate in society without being assumed to be some kind of monster, because I can't tolerate the loud yells of kids.

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      Patricia 6 years ago

      Is there a support group for people struggling with this disorder.

    • Madison22 profile image

      Madison 6 years ago from NYC

      Awesome hub! My son has this, and often it is so difficult to explain because you are right, it may seem as a lack of dicipline. I try to accomadate him sensory issues as much as I can, because I can see the pain he goes through from being so misunderstood. I must blog this, thank you!!

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      stanwshura 7 years ago

      Adored your clarity and vividness. It's funny how many of the "soft" symptoms ("second-tier"/secondary/indirect) symptoms overlap from one DSM dx to another!

      Thanks for writing this. Call me a fan. )

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      Beyond 7 years ago

      I myself have SPD. I wasn't diagnosed until I was fifteen, and it's pretty much hell. It makes me happy, however, to see pages like this teaching others about it. I don't want anyone to have to go through life undiagnosed, because it's just about one of the worst things you can ever imagine.


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      JM 7 years ago

      I was just diagnosed with SPD. I am 37, and have struggled with some of these things for years, actually since I was a kid. I hate shoes, especially in stressful situations, and just can't/ won't keep them on. I am extremely picky about what type of socks I wear- thin, seam on top of toes- and don't like to touch food -it will get me greasy. Thanks for the helpful site.

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      Bill 7 years ago

      Thank you Mary. I think you have struck upon something that has bothered my Significant Other all her life. We will do more research for naturalpathic solutions. Thanks again..

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      Sarah 7 years ago

      Wow. I've been reading things about SPD for two days now (ever since I first heard about it), and I feel like a light bulb has been turned on, but an overly-bright or obnoxious one or one that I have to look at directly. lol I have had problems like this for YEARS, and it has caused me significant anxiety and depression throughout my adult life. To have an idea of how to deal with it, work with it... I'm sure you understand. It's priceless. Now I can tell my husband why I want hugs and massages all the time. Now I can tell my husband why heights and floating in water are so terrifying. Now I can drive over that bridge without feeling like the world is going to end. Well, maybe not. But maybe soon. And that is worth it.

    • embee77 profile image

      embee77 7 years ago

      Marye-This is an enlightening look at a condition that's more prevalent than most people know. I've studied it for years and have come to believe almost everyone has some of this. My experience is that people are either under- or over-sensitive to sensory input. Awareness of our body in space is a sense we don't usually think of, and it's very often affected, making the person uncomfortable in groups, unknown spaces, etc. I, too, have a little of it and was happily surprised to have a name for some of the things that bothered me my whole life. A lot of us are discovering things about ourselves. Writing helps me sort out my thoughts. I hope your readers find comfort in learning about this condition.

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      chris 7 years ago

      I am 35 years old and have suffered with this my entire life. However i did not know there was a name for it, or that it was in fact a disorder. i found out by accident talking with a counselor while explaining some problems i was having. she told me i should look into sensory integration disorder. my wife and i went home and looked it up online. we were floored! my wife looked at me and said 'chris, that is totally you.' i couldn't believe there was actually a reason for how i felt. i will tell you this, if you know a person who struggles with this disorder, you will never truly understand how horrible it can be. you are trapped inside your senses.

    • thims profile image

      thims 7 years ago

      This sounds almost indescribable as to how it may affect a person. Sort of like vertigo on a grand scale. Interesting.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      I think most people can relate to this because many of us have minor aspects of it but we can get past it. For those who can't, it's understndable how difficult it would be.

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      spiderspun 7 years ago from Utopia, Ontario Canada

      thanks, I am going to bookmark this hub. My daughter was dx with this in her first year in high school, which also was her first year of non homeschooling. The teachers read the psych report and acted like they knew everything it said, but the 4 years of high school and co op were so stressfull for her. I many time was in the teachers faces reminding them she has this condition. It was exhosting. At 20yrs she has lo self esteem and got nervous on a college acceptance letter because of the way teachers behaved around her in high school. She didn't take the college course offered

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      MaryBeth Walz 7 years ago from Maine

      That was a great hub - such important information. We have a child who has it, but not too severely. Our homeopath has given us a remedy which we give around once a month and it helps a lot.

      I'm so glad that there is more understanding of this disorder and how to help people with it. Once I understood how my daughter's nervous system processed information, it helped us to better deal with her.

      It must have been very hard and frustrating to be you as a kid with no one to understand you. I'm glad your son does!


    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

      The information you've provided is fantastic. I know of a child who exemplifies 80% of the symptoms you have listed. I am sure that his parents will find your information more than useful. Perhaps a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and expertise.

    • The Rope profile image

      The Rope 7 years ago from SE US

      A great personal viewpoint. Your experience must have been incredibly challenging as you grew up. I never thought about my difficulties with clothing fabrics in this category - interesting concept. "RMCrayne" worked in the field for years and has had some good insight as well. It has been incredibly interesting reading your hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 7 years ago

      These people are extraordinarily sensitive to their environment. If I were to make an educated guess, there are probably some excellent homeopathic plant remedies that would match the energy resonance of these people. Love, Debby

    • RonBarber profile image

      RonBarber 7 years ago from Billerica, Ma, USA

      Very interesting and sad disorder... I guess all disorders are sad... But I am glad that you have included some website - I plan to past these along to a friend... Thanks again...

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      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      Hmmm... this is a very new and interesting disorder. Thanks for introducing me to it! Nice hub.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 7 years ago from Philippines

      First time to read about ASPD. As I was reading, I did a good slow read, asking myself from time to time, if I'm showing any of few (not all please) of the signs. Thank God, they're at least insignificant signs of growing old. Makes me more careful now. I can disseminate this information in case I suspect someone close to me showing the signs. Thank you.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Interesting news of this disorder. Your sharing is much appreciated!

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      Mary 7 years ago

      Here's a link to an interesting and well-written article on sensory processing issues, from the developer of EASe audio CDs and video games which help people on the autism spectrum deal with noise and other issues.

    • Julie Lussier profile image

      Julie Lussier 7 years ago from Canada

      Thank you so much for the info. I have an 11 yo who has many of the symptoms you mention: high (hyper?-)sensitivity (you can't touch his hair), slow to act (for an unknown reason, he just can't "walk fast": he's either slow as a snail or he has to run, there's no "in-between"; and everything he does takes an eternity...), can't complete tasks, difficulty staying focused, easily overwhelmed, gets easily distracted by the slightest sound, and as a result of all that, low self-esteem. We've seen many specialists over the years: audiologist, child psychiatrists, neurologist, psycho-educators, ... but never with a clear diagnosis of what was the problem... So thanks again, we'll investigate that possibility.

    • Maddison81 profile image

      Maddison81 7 years ago from California, USA

      Very interesting, I had no idea that such a disorder existed. Thanks!

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

      This was very interesting. At first I did not think I had ever heard of it, but the more I read the more that seemed familiar. I think I had a friend in college with something like this.

      I really appreciate the info on getting help for it. Too many times we might think we have something but are afraid to go to doctor's because so many do not want to address such "odd" issues that turn out to be very real.

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      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I get new information here. I never knew about this before. Thanks

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 7 years ago from Oklahoma

      I have this, it's part of the reason I work from home. For years I had no idea what it was. I firmly believe this and many of the other disorders we have today are due to the chemicals we are exposed to in our foods and environment.

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      Hillary 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I never knew such a disorder existed either. Very interesting Marye and thanks for putting this out.

    • Cindy Riley profile image

      Cindy Riley 7 years ago from Marana

      Very informative article. I never knew any thing about this disorder myself.

      If you read my articles I have a grandson with Cystic Fibrosis, and after reading your article it makes me think he might have the same problem, I never knew there was such a disorder before now:

      Thanks for sharing with all of us!

      Have a great New Year.

      Cindy Riley

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      dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Thanks, Mary. I think what we can't do is put these people off in a corner and not interact. My wife may be slightly like what you described. She has problems with scents or fragrances. She is not, however, hypersensitive in any other way. Touch is no problem, etc. Thanks for this. Don White

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I have never heard of it and thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      This was very interesting to read. Thanks for introducing me to all of this. You wrote in a way that is very clear and easy to understand. I didn't know anything about this disorder before reading this!

    • PaulaK profile image

      Paula Kirchner 7 years ago from Austin. Texas

      Interesting Hub!