I’ve been basically dying to make this post for a long time:
See, I told ya.
The more I read online about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and the somewhat related, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) concept, the more I needed to explain the distinction between the two. I’m finding that people are diagnosed with (or more frequently, diagnosing themselves) with SPD, when really, they are more HSP.
So let’s begin by identifying what these two things are:
1. SPD, aka Sensory Processing Disorder (which I write about for pretty much every post) is a neurological problem where the brain’s sensory system does not function correctly. Meaning, when you perceive something in the form of sensory info, the brain is all “WTF.”
SPD involves your SENSES, your vestibular system, proprioception, motor control, balance, and spatial awareness. There is a dysfunction in the actual processing of sensory information.
2. HSP, aka Highly Sensitive Person, is a “character trait” created by Dr. Elaine Aron. As much as 20% of the population, she believes, has this trait which makes them a highly sensitive type of person. What does this mean though?
HSP’s are very in-tune with their environment. They are overwhelmed by the world in general, specifically emotional situations, and they often struggle to watch or read violent/upsetting things. They are considered shy, quiet, introverted, and anti-social. They are deeply moved by music, art, nature, and all things beautiful.
Here’s the important part: HSP’s also have a problem with sensory info, as it can overwhelm them. They can be sensitive to noise, light, touch, taste, etc. They can become overstimulated and need to withdraw from the world to recoup.
This trait for sensitivity is so closely related to Sensory Processing Disorder, that Dr. Aron also refers to HSP as SENSORY PROCESSING SENSITIVITY.
Good grief! Now you can see why Sensory Processing Disorder and Highly Sensitive Person are often confused.
Here is – what I believe to be – the difference:
I think Highly Sensitive People DO NOT have issues with balance, motor control, or body-spatial awareness. Their sensitivities are usually less, but more specific, meaning, they might be sensitive to a certain type of food, or a certain texture of clothes. The bulk of their sensitivities are more abstract, emotional sensitivities.
Their sensory system is probably not dysfunctional, rather, their brains are in a constant state of hyper-awareness and the world can become all too much…all the time. They are sensitive.
If a person is deeply disturbed by emotionally charged situations, or too much socializing, or being in a crowded room, I do not believe they have SPD. They are a HSP.
To make things more confusing, people can be BOTH SPD and HSP. I know this because I am both.
Now you’re thinking “Kelly, you’re crazy. You’re a crazy girl.”
And I’m like: “yea. YEA I AM.”
It’s ok to be both. I have both, and I’m decently ok.
I have learned to separate what I’m feeling and experiencing with SPD and HSP. I know the bulk of my overstimulation is SPD, and I know the sensations I feel that are a result of too much sensory junk because I feel spacey and unbalanced. I need to do my sensory exercises and sleep it off. This is SPD.
I also know when I am overwhelmed and upset by other things, like being around an angry person. I am overwhelmed by their intensity and I cannot separate myself from them emotionally. I need to get away from them and distract myself, or their emotions will make me ill. This is HSP.
What bothers me, and what I feel is not ok, is to assume a diagnosis of SPD when really, you’re just:
“I’m don’t like arguing or the smell of mustard. Country music makes me angry. I am introverted. I have SPD.” No, bro. You are probably a highly sensitive person.
“Loud noises make me cry, as do sudden bright lights, and I can’t spend more than an hour in the supermarket because I feel spacey and floaty. I don’t like to wear any clothes because they all make me want to crawl out of my skin, and I’m always bumping into things like a drunk weirdo. I have SPD.” Yes, bro. YOU PROBABLY DO.
Moral of the post: If you feel like you have Sensory Processing Disorder, GO TO AN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST. Get yourself a proper diagnosis. BUT, before you do so, look into Highly Sensitive Person traits, and perhaps you will find that you are more of an HSP and not SPD. It will save you a lot of trouble (and money). SPD is a disorder, HSP is a sensitivity/trait.
Here is the website for Highly Sensitive Person info: hsperson.com
As usual, feel free to post comments/discussion/ sappy love messages in a reply to this post.
Peace Out homies xoxo
Thanks for clearing that up. I like to think of HSP as the Internet: all information all the time with almost no filter to sort through it. I’m not sure if I’m that sensitive to the environment (there are still things I don’t notice) but I’m definitely aware of physical details about myself that no one else would think about. And my sensitivities are definitely emotional at their core.
Interestingly, I only get sensitive to light and sound and start being really clumsy or when I’m really stressed.
The internet as a metaphor for HSP sounds pretty accurate! haha
Regarding your sensitivity increase under stress, that’s actually really common. The brain has more to process and deal with when you are feeling stressed out or having anxiety. Everything then becomes magnified – your state of awareness increases, all because you’re under stress and every little thing will make your brain go, “WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT IS THIS! WHAT’S OVER THERE?!”
I just have to say, again and again: Kelly, I LOVE your blog. You crack me up every single time. As always, well done (same goes for the previous post – funniest artwork ever).
Thanks Rachel – I appreciate it, again and again 😀
Reblogged this on That Burning Feeling.
I love it. You´re drawings are so funny.
This is great! I wonder if I have a combination of the two as well. My balance isn’t as bad as some, but I do tend to run into door frames, knock my foot again anything and everything, and I get that floaty feeling a lot. Would that mean SPD is a factor?
Hi Annetta, sorry for the late reply. For some reason I’m only seeing your comment now! In any case, you could very likely have a combination of both SPD and HSP. I would say that if you are finding that you are consistently knocking into things or getting “floaty” or an uncomfortable feeling when you are in a busy environment, then yes it sounds like an SPD issue. HSP is more emotionally-based, I feel. For example, I am DEEPLY impacted by the emotions of other people or an environment, and this has nothing to do with my SPD.
It can be a bit confusing, but it’s important to sort it out so we aren’t blaming one issue for a problem when really it’s another issue entirely.
Yes, I agree completely. Thanks for clearing that up for me! 🙂
Very interesting There might be HSP’s without SPD but I think many people with learning disabilities (SPD) and giftedness are HSP
Nice post. I’m a 37-year old man that has just recently discovered the concept of HSP, and that I am 100% one. Thanks for taking the time to explain, in a conversational way, the difference between HSP and SPD.
Thank you! I’m glad you are discovering the world of HSP! It’s never too late 🙂
This post is soooo interesting and awesome😄. It makes me wonder if I’ve SPD or if I’m a HSP. I’m more sensitive to certain senses but not VERY sensitive. Like, I get distracted by literally anything I see but I can tolerate bright lights. I also have poor coordination and I suck at sports. Is it possible that I might have SPD?
hey – check out my reply to you on your longer comment. I think it was on the School for the Sensory Sensitive post. I tried to answer your question about HSP/SPD there. Basically, I think you do have SPD, even if it is mild!
Thank you so much! I did read your reply but just needed an opinion if you do think I have SPD 😄. Keep up your great work 😄.
Hi Kelly, Wow I’m so relieved to have found you and your blog. I have a beautiful 21 year old daughter who has been showing lots of signs that are extremely concerning to me as her mother and which is greatly affecting her, myself, and my youngest daughter age 9. At first i thought my daughter might have OCD because in the past few years she has been very controlling of me and her sister. I’m going to run down a list of stuff that’s been going on and hopefully you can help me sort this out and help point me in the right direction.
* She says she feels my energy and asks me to move my hand from the right side of the steering wheel when shes in the car with me.
* Sleeps till 2 or 3 in the afternoon
* Always asks me to swallow when im talking.
* Everything has to be straight and in order. No doors left open.
* Cannot handle background noises such as me or her sister watching tv quietly while she studies.
* Has to have the lights very bright at night in the house
* All of this fits my daughter: HSP’s are very in-tune with their environment. They are overwhelmed by the world
in general, specifically emotional situations, and they often struggle to watch
or read violent/upsetting things. They are considered shy, quiet, introverted,
and anti-social. They are deeply moved by music, art, nature, and all things
* Doesn’t know how to make friends, very lonely
And lots of other things, but hopefully with this you can give me an idea of how to try to get some help.
Thank you and God Bless you for your Blog!
Hello Teresa!! I’d so glad you’ve reached out to me regarding your lovely daughter. I’ll get straight to the point: Your daughter is showing signs of HSP, as well as some OCD, as you stated, however I think the underlying issue for her may be anxiety. HSP’s are prone to suffer from overwhelming anxiety being they “feel” the world so much. I’m thinking her control issues (keeping things in order, asking you to swallow when asking, controlling the lights) are directly related to obsessive compulsive behavior originating from being anxious. This anxiety keeps her mind and body in a heightened state of awareness, hence her not being able to tolerate background noises and such.
As for the socializing/friendship issue, I would tell your daughter to reach out to types of people that are often HSP’s (book club, artists, hikers, gardeners, musicians, etc.). At the same time, don’t force her into socializing because she may find the interaction and lack of control very overwhelming. I know this because I experience the same thing. I know that when I spend time with people, I usually must limit my time with them, or be in a place that I feel comfortable in. Generally, people are super understanding and will have no problem if your daughter says to them, “Hey, I can only stay for an hour or so today, just wanted to let you know ahead of time!”
Additionally, if you haven’t already, perhaps you should look into having your daughter visit a counselor/therapist once a week/month for some guidance. There are support groups online for HSP’s (I am part of the Facebook group!) and there are some great books out there, namely, The Highly Sensitive Person written by Elaine Aron. All these resources will help her (and you and your family) understand her and make life easier all around. Finally, if your daughter feels comfortable enough, she can always reach out to me personally here on my blog, or on my fb page, or through email.
I hope I was of help to you – take care, and thanks again for writing to me and for supporting my blog.
A lot of people als confuse hsp with autism (!) + there are people who confuse SPD with autism. Most of us have all the characteristics for a diagnosis of spd, but that’s only one part of the whole problem. I totally get how annoyed hij are with this. People that actually need help like with SPD are nog being taken seriously, or people who need it don’t get the correct diagnosis, and as a result, the help they actually need.
So true – not only is there a huge misunderstanding, but this misunderstanding impacts a person’s ability to receive treatment and support.
I was so upset about it that I made a YouTube video on the subject. Although I didn’t think I would ever do something like that. 😀
good for you! It’s important to get this information out there.
Thank you for this explanation. I was introduced to the concept of HSP long before that of SPD. I’m both. I’m empathic, emotional, sensitive to my environment, able to pick up on subtleties. I am also tactile defensive, among other things. It’s good to know that it’s possible to be (or identify with) both. I really appreciate you making the distinction.
I love your blog, by the way!
I think hsp is a subclass of spd. Spd has 3 types hypersensitive , undersensitive an sensativity seeking. The type hypersensitivity is exactly like hsp. My son has hypersensitivity spd and hsp and his occupational therapist says the spd is the clinical diagnosis and the hsp is the psychological diagnosis of what he has.
This is an interesting perspective regarding the SPD/HSP relationship, but I wouldn’t be so quick to group hypersensitivity SPD as being exactly like HSP. As I wrote in the blog post, SPD is sensory-based, while HSP is not. I can understand why your son’s occupational therapist said that SPD is clinical and HSP is psychological, but still, HSP is a more like a personality trait rather than a psychological disorder. SPD on the other hand, is definitely a neurological disorder. We often see them together because “sensitivity” is the general problem with both. Thanks for the comment!! 🙂
HSP is very much sensory based, it just doesn’t typically mean dysfunction (although under stress or trauma it certainly can become a problem). I’m not sure if you have read the Highly Sensitive Person book or taken a look at some of the research, but sensory sensitivity is at the core of what it means to be “highly sensitive”. We get sensory overload CONSTANTLY, like someone with SPD. Not only in humans’ but also other species. It is not purely emotional. In fact, many of the emotional aspects are a product of being sensitive to sound, light, touch, etc. In her book, Elaine Aron uses the analogy of a fruit sorting machine. The person who is not highly sensitive may process and sort information (oranges) by grouping it into 3 or 4 categories (like the orange sorting machine having 3 or 4 slots), while the highly sensitive person will sort into 10 to 15 categories (10-15 slots). Her and others who have studied this trait in humans and/or other animals suggest that it may be an evolutionary advantage to have a group like this. They are more aware of subtleties in the environment due to their sensitivities, which can help spot danger or food where others may miss it. They are also less likely to do the hunting or other activities that may overwhelm them, which is why it is good that their numbers stay in that 10-20% range.
Nice and interesting post. There are many overlaps and similarities with some of these; SPD, HSP, OCD, ADHD, Autism. It’s been a long road for me with several discoveries and I’ve learned about many things along the way. I have a relation to a few of these, HSP/ADHD/Autism and now just when I thought I couldn’t possibly have anything else/more I strongly suspect I have SPD, that is if this will even qualify as a diagnosis – I’m afraid we’re not there in my country. I have briefly brought it up, but only the sensitivity problems not as an actual diagnosis as I haven’t read up on the actual disorder. Even the team that works to help me with my Asperger says; “That’s your Aspergers, it’s very common for autistics to have those kind of issues with sensitivity”.
More and more I realize even I myself have possibly misunderstood my sensitive symptoms, as strong as they can be. I’ve thought of it more as a HSP thing, which is manageable if you just don’t get overstimulated or too emotional. I discovered I was a HSP (at least I thought so) a good year before I got my Asperger diagnosis, and I read up on the trait for probably a years time. Now I’ve found that I struggle despite of that. Sometimes visual things like people in my pheriphal vision can make my skin itch, and I can barely touch things with my hands, and I just need people to not speak because it is like little needles poking me all over my body.
People facing me or looking at me makes my face become warm from the intensity of their gaze, and them moving about me or lightly bumping/brushing against me makes my skin itch. I just want to rip off my clothes as I hate wearing them, without them I feel so free and airy. It becomes quite handicapping and all I can think or feel is the intensity of all the sensory things that I process which all feel like I am not experiencing them in a normal way, but really oddly and almost like sensory things are hostile toward me or my skin and body too frail.
My first diagnosis was at 20 and that was ADD. As I continued searching for my difficulties and differences (we’re a family of ADHD people and some HSP I was still the black sheep by far) I found out about introversion in like late 2013, then that lead me to HSP in early 2014. I settled with this and felt no more need to search for anything else. But this year recently I got Asperger which describes me even better. However almost more than social issues I feel what gets in the way more, is actually sensory dysfunction, this is what I would say is what really pains me the most. I can feel this even by myself, not just with people. I realize if it was not for that I think I could manage the social and organizational difficulties, but with the sensory stuff on top I just want to be in a dark room with total calm.
I am medicated for ADHD and I have a special team as well as a group for my ASD, and I am now less sure of the HSP although I am the dreamy type and like sensually pleasing things, but that could just be personality. What I am very convinced of now is SPD as it seems a real thing now and as it turns out if I am honest this is what bothers me the most, even more than the ASD/ADHD stuff, which I am actually learning to manage and adapt to with knowledge and support. I rather enjoy it because it turns my life to something more acceptable for me, and more enjoyable. The sensory dysfunction is rather hell, and can actually prevent me from socializing even when I want to, which is surprisingly more now than it used to be in the past.
So despite my ASD I now want to work on socializing, and the SPD prevents me. My autism team actually doesn’t know that, so they might, logically, think that I struggle so socially because of my ASD. Same goes for my work place and family. The truth is I don’t struggle that much socially, but saying so seems counter-productive to the help I now get because of my Asperger (life-changing). But it’s not strange either. I worked on my social skills intensively in my 20s (now 28) to fit inn or “train away” whatever I thought was wrong with me, that I just needed practice and it would go away. And I wanted to improved so I pushed a lot. I also feel I know myself well now and even better with the knowledge of ASD and having learned to manage my ADD symptoms.
So really socializing wouldn’t be that hard if it wasn’t for SPD. I think I may have to say this to get them to take that possibility seriously, alas I am afraid they will say a) it’s not a diagnosis here b ) whats that c) thats part of your Asperger. This is a good team but they brush it away because ive already found so many things wrong with me, if i add another they will think im never happy and just looking for more excuses. At least I feel that way. 🙂
Hey Thomas – thanks for your comment. From the information you wrote, I would agree with you regarding your sensory dysfunction being the primary problem you’re facing. The team that is currently helping you are correct in saying that sensory problems are common with people on the autistic spectrum and/or with aspergers. However, if you find that socializing and communicating aren’t really your main issues, or they get worse when you are overstimulated, then I would suspect maybe you do not have aspergers afterall – SPD could explain all your symptoms. You sound very insightful and I wish you the best of luck. Keep encouraging your team to consider SPD – one day, it will become as accepted as autism (hopefully)!
Thank you for this great information. We have three kids and our oldest is 20 and a sophomore nursing student. She has always been very bright, responsible, overly mature, very bossy and can be intolerant. We ended up having her treated for chronic migraines in high school and the neurologist put her on effexor. That initially helped, but after a couple years things started getting worse (emotionally unstable, with inappropriate emotional responses, laughing and crying uncontrollably, etc) so we had to start the nightmare withdrawal process. She has been completely off for 6 months. She still has days (especially around her period) where she just wants to stay in bed, feels sad and cries over little things all day, and feels intolerant/mean to her friends. She labels herself as crazy, but I really think that being highly sensitive just adds fuel to her anxiety. She gets straight As in college and yet we worry about her so much and hope she will be a functional adult that can handle the everyday stresses of life. My husband and I worry that we did something wrong while raising her. The more I read about HSP the more I want to talk to her about it when the time is right. Thanks for your great info!
Hi jennifer – really happy to hear you and your husband are on top of your daughter’s sensitivity issues, rather than dismissing them like many parents tend to do. I would definitely recommend reading the book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. It will be eye-opening and very helpful. Don’t wait to talk to your daughter about it – it’s always best to keep exploring and talking about how to make sense of these issues as soon as possible. Also, you didn’t do anything wrong with raising her, I can assure you of that. HSP is part of her biological personality. Also, if she would ever like to email me for any reason, please tell her she can do so any time. I’m glad my post was able to help you – thanks for writing to me. Best of luck – xoxo
Hi Kelly! I came across your blog by chance, while trying to define the difference between Highly Sensitive people and Sensory Processing Disorder. Here’s why: I’m a pediatric Occupational Therapist who’s been testing and treating children the past 30 years (!). I work in a highly specialized hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and have a vast amount of experience. My now-pensioned colleagues brought Sensory Integration testing and treatment to Denmark from the very first courses in the U.S. So I have seen how theory and practice have changed throughout the years. I’ve been “pondering” the question of whether a child has SI-problems or is a highly sensitive child the past few years.
I, myself, have “discovered” that I am “highly sensitive”. Not that I didn’t know it before, I just didn’t see the whole picture, as it were, and didn’t know it had a name. I always told people that “I’m wired differently”. Anyway, after I did the “required reading” about highly sensitive people, and getting the “A-HA” experience and knowledge about myself, which definitely has been an eye-opener, I haven’t made it the focus of my life. However, like in the U.S., the literature and courses have spread like wildfire, and there is massive confusion with the different definitions and diagnoses these days.
Previously, Occupational Therapists used Jean Ayres theory and test for Sensory-Integrative Dysfunction to help diagnose and treat children with SI-problems. Now, the description (or “diagnosis”) is Sensory Processing Dysfunction. I have a feeling that the words themselves are creating confusion as to what-is-what and who-has-what. The parents of the children I treat ask me to explain the difference. It’s been difficult….until right now, when I read your blog! Another A-HA experience!! So here goes: I believe High Sensitivity (as I feel it in myself) is NOT psychological, like you say, but is definitely NEUROLOGICAL!!! Like I said, it’s a question of how you’re “wired”. That is, various stimuli are registered quicker ,more intensely and more exactly than they are for other people. F.ex. I’m always the first to ask if it smells like smoke in a room, where most everyone else begin to comment on the smell at least 10 minutes later. Also, I have a tendency to say that something “stinks”, while others may just think it “smells”. There are a million other examples, as described in the various books.
When a child has Sensory-Integration Problems, he has problems INTEGRATING the various sensory information leading to adaptive environmental interactions, which is a very complex activity in the central nervous system. With the newer terminology, a child may have Sensory Processing Disorder. Here, he has problems PROCESSING sensory information. Sensory processing includes receiving, modulating, integrating and organizing sensory stimuli, leading to a certain behavioral response. Difficulties with integration and processing as the underlying problem can show themselves as behavioral, motor and/or learning disabilities, and can be treated by an occupational therapist.
So. My conclusion is that there is a clearcut difference between the description of being “highly sensitive” and the problem of having sensory processing disorder.
I couldn’t have said that any better myself. I completely agree – and I’m glad my blog post helped inspired your “A-HA” experience! It’s wonderful to hear that people such as yourself are learning and helping as much as you can in the field. It’s a relief to me especially, considering I grew up in the early stages of the world of sensory issues where so much was misunderstood. Thank you so much for your comment! Take care of your sensitive self! xoxox
Hi—this is a great description! I have some sensory issues (mostly regarding misophonia and synesthesia), and it looks like I’m a HSP. 🙂 Thanks for the awesome article!
you’re very welcome!
Great article! Very informative and entertaining. My daughter has recently been diagnosed with SPD and lately I’ve wondered if it might have some connection to my own sensitives – avoids crowds and loud or busy scenes, reactive to synthetic smells, highly sensitive to emotions, can’t watch the news, don’t deal well with criticism or negativity, feel like a reclusive introvert sometimes, love my children but often want to hide from the chaos, etc. However, HSP makes a lot more sense. 20% of the population is significant. I’m not alone!
As someone who was just diagnosed with SPD (at 47!) and who is waiting for her neuropsychology referral to go through, I’m glad I found this site.
It’s weird to have *reasons* for being, well, how I’ve been my whole life. I just thought I was a bit odd (and had very tolerant friends and family). I’m apparently very high-functioning, but I guess I hit a wall a few months ago — long story — and am now not-so-functioning at all.
Am very curious to see what’s around the corner for helping me cope, other than crazy amounts of anxiety, earplugs, eye-masks and pillows over my head. Am also surprised to see that my life-long (increasingly bad) vertigo/balance issues might be related. Is there anything that DOESN’T come from this sensory weirdness?
Hi there – glad you’ve found my blog! And to answer your question….nope, this sensory weirdness will never cease to get increasingly weird. The thing is, you will adapt and learn to embrace the weirdness, and it won’t be so odd after a while. xox
Thank you, and I hope so. Right now it’s just exhausting and scary, partly because I’m trying to stop repressing everything as severely as I’ve been doing for the last few decades.
Every now and then I get a flash of the fact that it’s also (somehow) kind of a blessing, but right now I’ll admit it mostly seems like a bit of a curse. I think I’m at the bargaining stage. 😉
I am researching HSP and SPD for my doctorate in the UK. The SPD strand have recently moved away from the concept of ‘disorder’ to ‘difference’ as it is a natural part of ‘neuro-diversity’. Anne Marie Lombard of http://www.sensoryintelligence.co.za (and UK) also incorporates both in her positive approach to sensory sensitivity, which is very helpful.
I agree that the emotional sensitivity element, of sensory processing sensitivity appears to be what distinguishes the HSP from the Sensory Processing Difference group most but there is considerable overlap and much more research required. In the meantime, I would recommend the sensory intelligence approach for both groups.
with kind regards
Linda Falkner (HSP and Educational Psychologist)
Hi Linda – thank you for this interesting information! I’m going to check out Anne Marie’s website on sensory intelligence too. Have a great day!
That is interesting. As far as comparison and correlation goes I would also ask how the neuro atypical like people with ASD relate to HSP and SPD. It seems unlikely that there are three different things, more likely that there is a “spectrum” of sensory sensitivity.
I agree Thomas. Much more research is needed to clarify issues. I am hoping to screen a large number of teenagers as part of my research which should give some pointers.
As someone who works on the treatment side with adults with SPD, I have a slightly different perspective about SPD. I love the concept of Sensory Intelligence and I also love the idea of highlighting the positives of sensory sensitivities. However, there are two different schools of thought on sensory processing “disorder” vs. “difference.” One school of thought is that SPD isn’t a real thing, it’s just a personality difference. The other school of thought is that while everyone has preferences for different sensory inputs (some like it fast, some like it slow, for example), some people have a neurological difference that goes beyond preferences or differences. The problem I have with the first school of thought is that it invalidates those who really struggle to function because of their sensory “differences.” To me, there is a continuum of how much your sensory “differences” impact your functioning. For some, it has a barely noticeable impact, and they are able to be flexible, adapt, and cope with a small number of strategies (most “neurotypicals” do this automatically, without thought). For others, they experience occasional sensory challenges that may require more time or resources to manage. And for those who or more impacted, they simply cannot function very will in one or more areas of their life and they need support, time, and more extensive resources to manage their challenges.
So while I agree with everything you said, I have a “Yes, but…” to your conclusion about abandoning the term/concept of “disorder” in favor of “differences.”
Hi Sarah! Thanks for your comment. It’s always great to hear input from people in the sensory field. I agree with you on the continuum idea, or spectrum/degrees of severity. So, do you feel that Highly Sensitive Person is a less severe version of SPD or something entirely different, or non-existent? I don’t feel that the term disorder should be abandoned…in fact, I think for some people like me, SPD could be considered a disability because of how much it impacts my life. In my post, I was trying to pin-point the distinction between being sensitive vs having a sensory disorder, which is a very fine line, if there’s a line at all. While I believe there is a continuum of sensory challenges, I hear from people all the time who tell me they think they have SPD because they get upset when they argue with their friend. I try to find a nice way to tell them, “no, that doesn’t sound like SPD. You are a sensitive person, and that’s ok.” I don’t think people with these issues have a sensory disorder. What are your thoughts?
Excellent explanation of the difference. I was googling around, trying to find a simple commonsense explanation… yours makes so much sense. Thank you.
Thank you for this clarification! I think I’m a bit of both too. I cried at a soccer game recently because of the stimuli. When my wife runs her fingers up my arm to be close and cuddly, it feels like hot sandpaper. Loud cars driving by make me want to crawl into a ball, etc. Fun!
Yes exactly! Hot sandpaper is a very accurate description! 😛
I get overwhemed easily by crowded places ..loud noises…responsibilities( house chores)…kids crying ….i can crt and i have a constant feeling of wanting to run and leave all these mess behind and live peacefully controlling my life……i feel i can not control anything …i love being alone …however i can spend a day out in a mall and doing errands without getting overwhemed…i get overwhelmed by people noise cryiing kids and any sort of responsibilty…also any word can hurt me i feel pressurized by and issue even simple…am i HSP or SPD?
Hi Azza! Thanks for writing. Aside from your sound sensitivity and avoidance of crowds, do you have any other sensory issues? Do you have an aversion to wearing certain clothes, or eating food with a certain texture? Do you struggle with balance or motor coordination? If not, then you may be more HSP. Not to say that what you’re dealing with is any less difficult for you, it just may be different than full-blown SPD. You can also have degrees of sensory issues too. You may have mild sensory issues, but still be struggling on the sensory spectrum nonetheless. Does this make sense?
I am realizing that my son is very much an hsp. Not a spd. My question is, he also has a pretty big problem with focus and short term memory. Is this related or possibly something else going on?
Hi Lindsey! That’s a very good question, and one that I’m not certain the answer of. My best guess would be that it could very well be related, because with a sensitive mind, there is a lot of things going on at the same time! Especially in busy environments, it may be too overstimulating for your son, and he appears to be unfocused and unable to recall information because of this. HSP’s usually thrive in quiet, structured environments. Have you noticed he is worse in some places, but better in others? This might be the root of the issue.
This post was very informative, thank you! I already know that I am HSP, but I was reading about Asperger’s because a friend of mine has it, and I came across the topic/existence of SPD and wondered for a second if it was the same thing as HSP. So this, and the official post on the hsperson website, really helped to distinguish the differences, thanks again ^^ Blessings xx
You’re most welcome! Glad my blog was able to help you out! Cheers! :)xo
Thank you for writing this. I am the father of an angel who we are learning may have SPD or HSP or both. I have read on both but this helps me understand she may have one or both and how to tell what is going on better than anything else I have come across. thank you !
Thanks for your post. I’m HSP amd I think maybe my brother has SPD. I just started reading up on SPD today. I wonder what kinds of things an Occupational Therapist can help him with… I’m excited to learn more. Also, don’t forget, a decent amount of HSPs are extroverted (30%, I think). I’m not one of them but it’s what I’ve read. 😉
Just found this post. The first question would be the age of your brother. The approach may be different if he is a child vs adult. Child: approach is directed toward correcting the condition. With older children and adult the approach is one of developing adaptive strategies. Hopes this helps. I worked as a school based OT many moons ago
I love you. (Said in my best GIR voice).
You’re awesome. I can relate.
I loved this article. I believe I am an HSP. What I find to be extremely irritating is people don’t believe it’s a real thing. I get told to ‘toughen up’ and ‘not take things so personally’ nearly every day. My brother just today said some very hurtful things in regards to my belief in the HSP trait. Eff the haters! Hats off to you 🙌🏻
Hi Kelly, I write a lot about HSP, specifically kids, I’d like to link this to one of my articles if thats okay?
Hi! Sorry for the delayed response. Yes, you can link my blog post. Thank you!
I am impressed
I think I am a high sensitive person. The problem is that I suffering major depression as well and I am on antidepressant. Is that make any difference? I mean Is HSP sense the pain of depression more than non-HSP who have depression?
I also would like to draw how brain in HSP people
Good question Ola. I’m not sure if depression experienced by a HSP is more intense than a non-HSP. I think it depends on the person and their situation. Although, if I had to guess, I would say that HSP’s are more likely to suffer from depression because they experience life more intensely in general.
OMG thank you for this post. i think have BOTH disorders, so much so that i feel like a freak sometimes.
At work they play music really LOUD and it gets me so irritated i can’t focus. (if it is country music, i get so angry i want to literally stab someone)
Not to mention, it’s so cold in the office that i shut down physically and mentally,
a ton of Smells give me headaches. anything around my neck makes me feel like i am choking. UGH stop the insanity.
and i hate being around too many people, i hate confrontation. i hate argumentative people.
at the end of the day and on weekends i spend all my time sleeping i think just to recuperate
What can you do when you don’t have total control of your surroundings?.
thank you for posting!
OMG thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!!!!
It’s hugely helpful and I just can’t believe how things like this happen sometimes. If you’re curious about me, I just started trying my hand at blogging. You are the second person I’ve told about it, after my therapist.
Thanks for your comment! Glad I was helpful – and yes, please blog! It’s always good to share your words with the world – to create community!
A few years ago I thought there was something really wrong with me. i thought I was going crazy. I regularly needed to go sit in my car alone with no noise during my lunch hour because i couldn’t stand the noises in my office anymore. People constantly talking, phones ringing, machines working. On the way home from work I wanted NO sound. No radio, no phone. I have to wear sunglasses, even on cloudy days because intense light greatly disturbs me. Smells are awful. My husband insists on cooking breakfast on Sunday mornings ( and I am not a breakfast person) and it wouldn’t bother me at all except he fries bacon or sausage and the smell infuriates me. I can hardly stand it. in my church when people sing and use microphones sometimes I have to get up and go out because I can’t stand the excessive noise. I have always been a “loner” type person. My parents always said I was an adult instead of a child because i enjoyed adult company more than playing with children. I am very empathetic and many times get very upset about situations others are going through. I stumbled upon the book The Highly Sensitve Person one night and basically sat up reading it all night. I felt so relieved to find that there are other people who feel the same way. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and all of the comments.
Cindy, thank you so much for your comment. You are not alone – so many of us share your story, with its triumphs and challenges. xo
This is great. I just realized that there was a connection between the 2. Now how to protect yourself.. that’s my quest as a mom with a child exactly like you!
Given the similarities between both conditions, is it possible that HSP is just a mild case of SPD? Like in both are part of the same spectrum?
I’ve often wondered the same thing, but we may never know. We can think of them as being part of the same spectrum, as the overlap is so great.
Thank you…. I’ve searching the internet for this article. I was a pediatric Occupational Therapist
During my training figured out that I have SPD.
Started reading the Hypersensitive Child and realized that I have some features of HSP..,, try desperately to avoid pressure cooker situations.