Impact of Sensory Processing Disorder on Adult Behavior

All activities, whether figuring out what to wear, cooking a meal, washing the dishes, or hitting a hole in one require organization, planning, execution, muscle coordination and balance, and filtering out distractions. If your senses are well organized, you have good sensory integration and routine actions like the above take place automatically and effortlessly, accurately and efficiently.

But anywhere from fifteen to thirty percent of normal functioning adults experience a “traffic jam” in the brain that interferes with translating sensory input into meaningful thought and action. Their mind muddled and body uncoordinated, they are unable to focus in on and act on their world efficiently, purposefully and in an organized way. Messages get scrambled, over- or under filtered and you feel confused by the input, or you feel starved for or flooded with sensory information, and what seems simple and automatic to the normal brain becomes perplexing, irritating, effortful or impossible. Spontaneous behavior takes effort and energy and, in spite of best efforts, thinking and action is inefficient, excessive, or useless. The world swells with confusion and you feel off center, out of focus, missing a beat, detached, and innocently say and do things at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong way.

What’s Wrong with Me?

Such constant failure makes you feel stupid, clumsy, inept, embarrassed, self-conscious, humiliated, frustrated and guilty that you constantly disappoint. Your behavior reflects your confused, disorganized state and you appear frenetic, inappropriate, withdrawn, aggressive, self-absorbed, disorganized, or crazed. To function, you erect defenses, like avoidance, control, rigidity, and obsessive and compulsive behavior and people accuse you of being controlling, manipulative, and driving others crazy or being crazy. How do you explain to them or to yourself that you are doing your best to adapt to the world as your brain perceives it? How do you make sense of why life is a constant struggle when you don’t know what is wrong with you?

You can’t. Consequently, you feel deeply flawed: “I can’t do it;” “I don’t have fun like others;” “I’m not normal;” “People don’t understand me;” “People don’t like me.” Psychotherapists try to convince you that these negative self-appraisals are unrealistic and can be changed through more positive thinking and by changing your intentions to reflect greater competence. It doesn’t work. The negative self-appraisals are based on real neurophysiological deficits, not first and foremost on critical parenting or other causes of low self-esteem. As long as your senses keep betraying you, the deficits stubbornly persist.

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