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