Treatment for Adults

Children are not the only ones to experience sensory challenges. Adults have sensory challenges too! Some adults may find themselves in need of intervention especially because awareness of sensory processing has increased in the recent years and because research is expanding beyond children to include adult populations.

Adults Can Have Sensory Challenges

  • Some children who benefited from OT when they were young find that sensory challenges may re-surface during adolescence or during times of stress.
  • Some adults did not receive intervention for sensory differences when they were young, and thus find themselves unable to function when they reach adolescence or adulthood, when demands and expectations for greater independence increase.
  • Others may have lived with unidentified sensory differences all their lives, and have felt misunderstood for many years, and so choose to seek treatment once they learn that sensory processing may be an underlying factor to the functional difficulties they are having.
  • Some adults experienced trauma in their past and experience sensory challenges as a result of that trauma. Trauma changes the way a person’s nervous system functions and sensory strategies may be helpful to people experiencing trauma-related sensory symptoms. Some people who experienced trauma when they were younger are now ready to work on recovering from that trauma as an adult, and OTC therapists will work with trauma survivors to address sensory symptoms as long as they have a counselor or primary psychotherapist to work with along the way.

Sensory processing challenges impact one’s ability to complete every day activities such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, and working. Sensory challenges may also have a significant impact on relationships and how people choose to spend their spare time, thus significantly impacting a person’s overall ability to live a satisfying, happy and joyful life. Many adults with sensory processing challenges feel isolated, overwhelmed, confused about why they struggle the way that they do, and may be anxious about participating in activities that many other people seem to do easily or in activities they wish they could enjoy. Many adults with SPD have built up walls or rigid ways of interacting in hopes of helping themselves feel better, and by the time people with SPD reach adulthood, they may feel depressed, anxious, and/or fatigued much of the time.

More research is needed to identify prevalence and the most common sub-types of SPD in adults along with the most effective way of helping adults to manage sensory challenges in their everyday lives.

Signs and Symptoms

This checklist (compiled by the STAR Institute) is not a diagnostic tool and should not replace the advice and guidance of a trained professional. When completing the checklist please consider the past 6 months.

Adolescent/Adult

___ I am over-sensitive to environmental stimulation: I do not like being touched.
___ I avoid visually stimulating environments and/or I am sensitive to sounds.
___ I often feel lethargic and slow in starting my day.
___ I often begin new tasks simultaneously and leave many of them uncompleted.
___ I use an inappropriate amount of force when handling objects.
___ I often bump into things or develop bruises that I cannot recall.
___ I have difficulty learning new motor tasks, or sequencing steps of a task.
___ I need physical activities to help me maintain my focus throughout the day.
___ I have difficulty staying focused at work and in meetings.
___ I misinterpret questions and requests, requiring more clarification than usual.
___ I have difficulty reading, especially aloud.
___ My speech lacks fluency, I stumble over words.
___ I must read material several times to absorb the content.
___ I have trouble forming thoughts and ideas in oral presentations.
___ I have trouble thinking up ideas for essays or written tasks at school.

Download this list as a pdf

Treatment Options

Treatment for SPD in adults is individualized to each person and the set of functional challenges they are having. It may include use of specialized therapy equipment in the sensory gym, but most definitely incorporates education about SPD and discussion of daily routines and roles and how to compensate for and use strategies to reduce the impact of sensory challenges in their everyday life. At OTC, every adult client receives a home program of strategies to try and some adults are coached on how to use integrated listening systems to support improved sleep, and decreasing defensiveness. Treatment also involves adding activities that may help a person’s nervous system re-organize and brainstorming how to remove or reduce sensory triggers they may encounter in a day. Therapeutic or adaptive equipment may be recommended for home and therapy becomes an ongoing support for the trial and error process of finding what will work for each client.

All clients complete an initial assessment which typically takes one session of approximately one hour. Ongoing assessment occurs throughout the treatment process and standardized testing of various kinds may be recommended if the initial evaluation reveals the need.

Each treatment appointment lasts approximately 60 minutes and takes place in a one-to-one private office setting. Frequency of treatment sessions varies with each client, their preferences, and the acuity of their needs. Because sensory processing disorder is a neurological problem, and the brain can change at any age, frequency of service is a primary factor to consider. Neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change) may require more frequent visits than would typically happen for younger children because the brain is less plastic as we age. However, many times a strong home program can provide the intensity needed to make significant functional changes. Sometimes, treatment entails collaborating with other disciplines which means your OT with your permission, may bring another discipline into the session (nutritionist, therapeutic yoga, physical therapy, counselor) or your therapist may refer you to professionals from other disciplines. Home visits are provided when possible, to assist with modifications that may be needed in the home or environment.

Treatment outcomes vary and research regarding efficacy of OT for adults is limited, but every adult who receives treatment at OTC reports learning more about themselves and how to do things differently so they can live an easier life. Clients report relief, in finding out there is a reason they have been suffering, and are eager to implement the suggestions provided during treatment.

View more information and obtain resource about adults with SPD at the STAR Center Website.

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