SPD For Dummies

By Paul Balius, 7/2003 (Edited by Dan Travis, 10/2010)

Do you know someone who seems to be really sensitive to things like sounds, being touched, wearing clothes, smells, eating food or some movements? Don't you think these folks are just "way too sensitive"? Or maybe they are just really "wound up" and just need to chill out, right? Maybe your right, but then again maybe there is a reason for how they are. If you know anyone like this, read on.

Many years ago, when I was a small boy (ok it was ages ago), I realized that something was really weird, I was unable to stand being around noises and movements that nobody else had a problem with. It was not like being annoyed, you know, like when the phone rings all night long from people trying to sell you stuff. Rather, it was like pain, an intense alarm, it had to be stopped, so I learned to stay away from these things. Since this time I have lived each day avoiding anything that caused me pain, I expect you do the same thing right, with avoiding pain? Otherwise, you're the strange one here. :-P

Many people have a similar story, maybe different senses were effected, and the amount they were effected may have been more or less, but in many cases the cause can be from something called SPD. Yes, you get to learn one cool acronym. :D

There are a few really great books on this subject, but to get you "wet" we will keep this short and simple. I will ask some questions you may be thinking, then answer them for you.

Are you some physco-babble-new age-incense burning-commune-hippie type guy?

Wrong (ok I burned incense once). Just a regular guy, wife, children, job, sports, mistress (kidding, no mistress). Like the outdoors, tools, girls, dogs - not in this order of course!

What the heck does SPD stand for?

SPD stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. Whoa, last big words I promise! Basically, it means the senses are screwed up (like touch, taste, smell, sound and sight). There are actually many other senses, not like the cool 6th sense stuff where I can read your mind (yea right, I am sure I don't want to know), but we can keep it to the basic five for today.

What do you mean the "senses are just screwed up"?

Well, they don't work like they are supposed to. I don't mean like wearing glasses to see better, or hearing aids to hear better. Rather it is like they are working too good in some ways, and in other ways it is as if they are turned on like a fire hose when all you wanted was a small drink.

OK, this makes no sense, can you explain it better?

Nope, sorry, we are done. Kidding, loosen up... :-) Basically, with SPD the senses can be over sensitive to things, but at extremes, sort of like Dolly Parton, except with the senses. It can go the other way too, some senses can be under-sensitive, ever see someone walk barefoot on hot coals? Also, with SPD, the flood gates can be open with the senses, it is like the handle broke on the faucet and we cannot stop all of the senses from spilling all over us.

Isn't this stuff just being too sensitive?

Yes, actually we all just love to whine... :-P... Sure, if ya don't got it, the only thing you can relate to it is your own sensitivities. Fair enough, that's why we had to write this just for you! Yes, some people are more sensitive, or are completely insensitive, expect this crosses into SPD and NSPD people alike (yup, you are the NSPD, or Non-SPD people). But with SPD the "physical senses" are tweaked, it is not an emotional issue, and it is not just being too picky and finicky.

Aren't you all just being Picky and Finicky?

You're not paying attention are you? ;-) Ok, maybe we are a little, but we are just trying to please our senses. You do the same thing, maybe just not to the extreme that we do. Think about it, what did you do today? What did you wear, eat, drink, watch on TV? Why do you like to be held? You are pleasing your senses, plain and simple. Us too, but our senses are tweaked, so we have to work harder at pleasing them. Maybe you are a "hard to please person", so you understand this. :-)

Isn't SPD just imagined, and not real?

Stand back from a brick wall about thirty feet, run as fast as you can towards the wall, hit it going as fast as you can face first, does this feel "real" to you? This is how "real" SPD is. Many people have SPD, it is well documented, it is real. There are some problems that are "just in people's heads", you may have a few yourself (kidding, relax), but SPD is a very real problem.

Ouch, that wall really hurt!

Sorry, just making a point here :-)

OK, What is this SPD thing?

SPD takes in normal senses in an abnormal way, then a person with SPD reacts to what they take in abnormally from the senses in a very normal way. Say that one twenty times. There are many senses that can be effected, and it is different for each person with SPD which senses are effected, and to what degree, but the reaction is very similar.

So why don't you just fix it, like I did my bloody nose (see above)?

With SPD, you cannot just decide to, nor can you just turn it off like a switch. There is no magic pill, no really cool Dr. Phil show that could talk it away, and no SPD dance that makes it go away in a flash. There are many treatments that will help, a few good books to help reduce the problems and the effects, and many ways to cope and improve life, but sorry, no magic pill yet.

You make it sound like such a big deal!

It can be, for some it is challenging, and for others it is just plain intolerable. For some they can cope, but suffer each day, for other's they cannot cope sometimes, and hide away in their own world. Think of a really bad day you had, maybe an accident, or you were beat up, or were really in the dumps. Every day can be a bad day if your senses are tweaked. No jokes here.

SPD sounds like just another mental problem!

There are many mental issues one could have, from the mild "talk to yourself a bit too much", "always down in the dumps", "meet my imaginary friends" all the way to the extreme "phsycho wacko eating live snakes" type of people. These are sad diseases, but different from SPD. With SPD the brain can be functioning very normally, maybe even more normally than you, but it is being sent bad information from the senses. I do not have any imaginary friends...     Yet?

So do you mean your senses send bad information?

Yes, sort of. We all have senses for many reasons, but in general it is how we get by in the world we live in. They keep us from bad things (don't get burned), and lead us to good things (hey cutie). They keep us healthy (yuck that meat smells really bad) and make us happy (kissing). With SPD these same things work with us too, in this way we are the same. Where it is different is with which signals from our senses get sent to the brain as an alarm, like don't get burned. And also, with the number of signals that get sent at one time. It can be like an eight lane highway full of cars going to one little diner, some waitress is really gonna get stressed!

Ok, you have SPD, you can't fix it, get over it.

Boy you must really be a charmer aren't you ? Easier said than done. Depending on how many senses are tweaked, and to what degree, the problems can lead to many other normal physical problems. Since with SPD the brain is receiving "alarm" signals, and "too many" signals, stress will set in, social activity will be avoided, careers will suffer, diets may be poor, the nervous system will be over worked, sleep is probably never enough, the body will just wear down. It can be like a soldier returning from battle, fatigue, trauma, nightmares - but the battle is still going on. Sure, not everyone has it to the max, good for them, but they have it more than you.

I think your just too easily annoyed!

I think you need some sensitivity training :-). SPD is not just being annoyed by certain things that hit the senses, rather it can be extremely painful. So you think, come on, deal with the pain. With SPD the pain is different, it happens more often, and does not heal so easily, and is harder to stop. It is not something to just "get over", it is something to defend against, like being attacked, and is happening every day, with the same painful ending if the one with SPD does not guard against it. The pain is without a normal source (like a smashed finger) but with the same reaction (I do not want to smash my finger).

Ok, so tell me about some of these sensory tweaks

Each person with SPD would tell you a slightly different story, but the theme would probably be similar. I will share some here in the next part, but if you know someone with SPD, watch them, or ask them, you may learn some things about them.

Don't miss Part II, coming soon. :-)

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