Sensory Sensitivities in Teens

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Sensory processing disorder, also called sensory integration disorder, is when a person has difficulty taking in or processing information received through the senses. Children and teens with Asperger's syndrome often have various sensory sensitivities, either in one specific area, such as touch, or with multiple senses. Those with SPD usually overreact or underreact to certain stimuli. Both boys and girls can have SPD.

    The following are some examples of how SPD can interfere with daily life:

    • Freddy was highly sensitive to touch. He refused, even as a young child, to have anything stick to him. At line in the grocery store, cashiers routinely gave children stickers but he always said, "No." If a cashier tried to be nice and put the sticker on him, he screamed. When he got a cut, he refused to wear a band-aid; his mother bought band-aids with favorite cartoon characters but still he refused, letting a cut bleed down his leg rather than stick something on his skin. A compromise was found by giving him a wet paper towel; he would prefer to sit for 15 minutes holding the paper towel on the cut rather than use a band-aid. More recently, Freddy was dog-sitting his neighbor's dog while they were out of town. Freddy didn't mind the job most of the time. He enjoyed taking the dog for walks, playing catch with a frisbee and liked it when the dog slept at his feet. But Freddy couldn't stand having the dog lick his hand or give "dog kisses."


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    • Jonathan lived in an area where winter temperatures were usually between 20 degrees and 30 degrees. Some days were even colder and some were warmer. Jonathan hated wearing a coat. The long, tight sleeves made him uncomfortable and no matter what the temperature outside, he always felt uncomfortably hot inside the coat. After many years of reminding Jonathan to wear his coat only to find it left in the living room or the back seat of the car, his mother came up with a compromise. If the temperature outside went below 30 degrees, he needed to wear a warm sweat-shirt. If it was above 30, Jonathan could go without a coat.


    • Katherine was shopping for school supplies with her mother and kept asking if it was time to leave the store. "The noise is bothering me," she kept telling her mother. "What noise?" her mother kept replying. "That buzzing noise," Katherine tried to explain, but her mother didn't hear any buzzing noise and continued to shop. Katherine couldn't stand it any more and sat down with her hands over her ears. The buzzing from the fluorescent lights overhead were overwhelming to her.


    Occupational Therapy

    Occupational therapy (OT) is the most common treatment for sensory sensitivities or sensory processing disorder. This type of therapy helps your child or teen develop appropriate responses to stimuli so they can better function and fit in with their peers. An OT familiar with sensory issues in teens will work to develop specific exercises that don't feel "babyish" so the teen is more likely to participate. For example, OT can include massage, using an exercise ball when watching television, using weights or jumping on a trampoline. A trained OT can help to offer ideas your teen can practice at home.

  • 10 Quick Tips for Parents

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    • Prepare new clothes by cutting out all tags and washing several times before your teen wears the clothes
    • Purchase cotton or natural fabrics which are more comfortable against the skin
    • Buy seamless socks
    • Use white noise machines to help during study time or to help your teen fall asleep
    • Place padding under electric appliances to muffle motor noises
    • Let your teen know he can tell someone he prefers not to be hugged and shake their hand instead
    • Keep sunglasses around to help shield his eyes from bright lights
    • Accept food sensitivities and find alternative foods for those he can't tolerate
    • Allow him to pick out soaps, shampoos, deodorants, etc. so the smell is not overwhelming and distasteful to him and use perfume-free detergents
    • Make sure he gets plenty of physical exercise and teach relaxation skills to help him manage when he is experiencing sensory overload
Published On: August 22, 2011