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Hypersensitivity in ADHD

Updated on December 14, 2017

What are hyper-sensitivities?

What is considered a true hypersensitivity and what is a perceived hypersensitivity in highly sensitive people are not the same thing.

Hypersensitivities are often referred to as allergic reactions in which the body attacks allergens a person physically comes in contact with. Unless of course, you hear someone use this term in reference to ADHD/ADD. Hypersensitivity is used to describe how different things physically affect the ADHD/ADD person.

ADHD or ADD is often diagnosed because of hyperactivity and/or inattention. It's not surprising that many people have no clue and few are ever made aware of all the lesser effects of the disorder. Though they may seem trifle to many, sensitivities are often abundant in those of us with the disorder.

The more correct term for what many are calling hypersensitivity is actually classified as SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). SPD is hardly recognized as a standalone disorder at this time. It is currently associated mostly with autism, ADHD, Asperger's Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome. Though true SPD is something you should seriously consider if you are ever told that you are not ADHD/ADD and have a child, or you yourself are experiencing these types of sensitivities worse than what the average person seems to struggle with. If you suspect something more than ADHD. Get the book "Out of Sync Child" by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.

Since originally writing this article in 2011, I have learned so much more. I now have a 3 year old diagnosed with SPD among other things that are still being evaluated. I'm compiling information, currently in order to write a separate article chronicling our experiences thus far. I'll explain, in detail, my experiences from pregnancy, to her premature birth and our journey since bringing her home from the hospital. I will link to it from this article when I have finished writing it for those interested.

In some cases ADHD mimics SPD and Vice Versa. You could also be experiencing a combination of both at the same time as I do.

It's important to find a doctor who understands ADHD. Upon finding one, ask questions about your hypersensitivities. Also find out what, if anything, they know about SPD. Formerly known as; Sensory Integration Disorder.

What are some of the sensitivities in those with ADHD/ADD?

To even attempt to list the many sensitivities an affected person may have would be to try to define every individual. It is not possible as everyone's central nervous system is often unique to every individual. and are not likely to cause the same symptoms in everyone.

However, there are a number of common sensitivities that are reported among those with the disorder.

1.    Smells. Intense reaction to various odors. Things that can trigger this reaction: Cigarette smoke (one of mine),  burnt foods (one of mine), car fumes (also one of mine). Pet odors, fragrances, perfumes, etc.

2.    Taste.

3.    Food consistencies cause problems in children and adults alike. Often thought of as picky eaters.

4.    Sense of touch. Textures like panty hose, synthetic materials, cotton sheets. Any of these can trigger the inability to touch them without disgust or causing skin to crawl. These seem to be an ongoing complaint. I personally have a problem with panty hose. Always have.

5.    Vertigo/ dizziness on rides.

6.    Pain when skin is gently touched. (also one of mine. I don't like to be petted gently. It actually hurts after a few seconds.) Example: Someone holds your hand and strokes the back of it with a thumb gently. This can be uncomfortable after a few seconds. The Central Nervous System relates it to be pain instead of comforting.

7.    Uneasiness being hugged/kissed. (Can sometimes be perceived as anti-social behavior and fear of closeness can cause ADHD persons to be more secluded in nature. This can come and go depending on emotional stability at the time.

8.    Feeling overwhelmed in public places like malls, over crowed areas, concerts, stadiums. Anywhere there are lots of people who can accidentally bump into you. Those affected with ADHD can often panic in these situations.

9.    Phobias. There are literally thousands of them. Fear of height, Fear of dirt, etc. Fear is a big part in ADHD. We all have some kind of phobia that may seem ridiculous to others. Here is a list of phobia's. Don't be surprised to look and find that you have a couple of these or that you find this list silly.

10.  Migraines. Enough said.

11.  Hot and Cold sensitivities. Sensitive to heat and being too cold.

12.  Movies can be too loud.

13.  Sometimes one does not like the beach. Sand between toes and the sun is to intense.

14.  Light sensitivities. Again being outside can hurt depending on the brightness from sun or snow.

15.  Sounds...This is a big one. Often sensitive to sounds others don't hear or notice. Refrigerator, electric lights buzzing, the sounds of someone chewing food or even breathing loudly. It triggers many reactions. Usually to distance one's self from the sound or find a way to ground it out with a noise that is tolerable. Can be a fan or music.

16.  Strongly flavored food. Either requiring it or disliking it to an extreme.

17.  Uncomfortable in jewelry. Most won't wear it.

18.  Feeling claustrophobic. Clothing can often cause this just as easily as small spaces or crowded rooms.

19.  Socks and shoes. Either they must be worn all the time or not at all. Depends on the sensitivity of the person.

20.  Hypersensitive to anger. Yelling.

After carefully researching what the medical profession describes  as being hypersensitivities in those with ADHD/ADD, the list can be quite extensive based on each individuals ability to process the senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing. Since these are all controlled by a malfunctioning CNS, it's reasonable to believe that most ADHD/ADD people suffer from such sensitivities to varying degrees. 

What causes these sensitivities?

The actual causes are unknown at this time. However, it is believed to be neurological in biology and genetic in origin. Whether sensory processing disorder is a disorder that accompanies another disorder like; ADHD, autism, etc., or whether it is a stand alone syndrome is still being studied. Also, there is no proof yet, that this problem is wholly genetically inherited. It is estimated to affect at least 5% of the population in some aspect. 

© 2011 AttentionFlux


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    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 

      3 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Interesting information here! I am both an adult with ADHD (the "inattentive" kind, not the typical "hyperactivity" type) and I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) a per Elaine Aron's work. At one time, I thought SPD was a problem for me... but my life is better explained simply by the HSP description. There is SO much to learn about ourselves!


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