Hypersensitivity and Hyposensitivity: Understanding Sensory Sensitivities

Explore hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity in sensory processing disorders, treatment options, and coping strategies.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 15, 2024

Hypersensitivity and Hyposensitivity: Understanding Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory Processing Disorder Overview

Navigating the world with hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity can be a challenge, especially for those dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition that affects how the brain processes sensory information. It interferes with a person's ability to process and act upon information received from their environment due to the brain's inability to properly synthesize multisensory information. This means that individuals with SPD have difficulty recognizing and interpreting what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. As a result, stimuli can appear overwhelming or bland and indistinct.

This disorder is not exclusive to individuals on the autism spectrum; it can also affect children who do not have an autism diagnosis. Furthermore, children with SPD may display signs of either hypersensitivity (an extreme response to stimuli) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness to stimuli). It's not uncommon for the same child to exhibit over-responsiveness to certain stimuli while showing sensory-seeking behaviors with others.

Impact on Daily Life

The impact of SPD on daily life can be significant. Approximately 1 in 6 children experience sensory symptoms that interfere with everyday functioning. For those with Sensory Processing Disorder, their sensory preferences can severely disrupt normal daily activities.

High sensitivity in sensory processing can often lead to a rapid activation of the central nervous system. This amplified response to environmental stimuli can negatively affect the quality of life for the individual. Some studies have found negative, moderate, and significant correlations between high sensitivity in sensory processing and a poorer quality of life.

In the case of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they often have sensitivities to various stimuli. They may experience a mixture of over- and under-responsiveness, known as hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity sensory processing disorders, respectively. Individuals with ASD may experience overstimulation (hypersensitivity) or little to no response from a stimulus (hyposensitivity).

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder and its impact on daily life is key to developing effective coping strategies and creating supportive environments. The following sections will delve deeper into the concepts of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, their signs, challenges, and the specific risks and behaviors associated with each.

Hypersensitivity in Sensory Processing

Hypersensitivity occurs when an individual has an exaggerated response to stimuli in their environment. It's a common aspect of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a condition that interferes with a person's ability to process and respond to information they receive from their senses. This type of sensitivity can also be present in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), often manifesting as an over-responsiveness to stimuli.

Signs of Hypersensitivity

People with hypersensitivity may exhibit a variety of signs. Often, they show extreme or fearful responses to certain textures, sounds, light, smells, or tastes that might seem ordinary to others but are overwhelming to them. This heightened sensitivity is a result of a rapid activation of the central nervous system in response to environmental stimuli.

In the context of autism, hypersensitivity can present itself in different ways. For instance, an individual might feel compelled to touch every item they see, or they might listen closely to identify specific noises. Hypersensitivity can also manifest as excessive tearing of paper or a preference for noisy areas at home.

Challenges Faced

The challenges faced by individuals with hypersensitivity can range from mild to severe. At its core, hypersensitivity can significantly interfere with a person's quality of life. Due to the heightened sensitivity to stimuli, individuals can often feel overwhelmed, leading to heightened anxiety or stress levels.

Moreover, hypersensitive individuals may struggle with specific daily tasks or environments. For instance, bright lights or loud noises can cause extreme discomfort or fear, making it difficult for them to navigate spaces like supermarkets or busy streets.

In the case of children with autism and hypersensitivity, they might not feel pain or warmth, making them more prone to injuries. This lack of response to potentially harmful stimuli can pose a significant safety risk, necessitating close supervision and tailored care strategies.

Understanding hypersensitivity is crucial to providing the right support and care to those affected by it. With the appropriate interventions, it is possible to manage hypersensitivity and improve the quality of life for individuals grappling with this condition.

Hyposensitivity in Sensory Processing

While hypersensitivity is characterized by over-responsiveness to sensory information, hyposensitivity, on the other hand, is related to under-responsiveness. Individuals with hyposensitivity typically seek more sensory stimulation and may exhibit a range of behaviors and signs associated with this condition.

Signs of Hyposensitivity

Hyposensitivity can manifest in a variety of ways, often characterized by an individual's under-reaction to stimuli that others might find overwhelming. Common signs of hyposensitivity include a need to touch things excessively, always turning the volume very loud, or constantly putting objects in his or her mouth. Those who struggle with staying still for any extended period could be hyposensitive, trying to constantly seek movement stimulation.

Individuals with hyposensitivity may also have trouble distinguishing sensations like hunger and illness, or they might display under-reactions to pain. This under-reactivity can lead to seemingly fearless behavior, such as inappropriately touching people and objects or putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Risks and Behaviors

Hyposensitivity can pose significant challenges and risks, especially in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These individuals often seek out more sensory information from their environment, leading to constant exploration of textures and potential difficulties in managing daily activities.

For instance, hyposensitivity can lead to difficulties in wearing certain clothes or manipulating small objects due to the need for more tactile stimulation. Additionally, individuals might overreact to temperature changes, displaying a high tolerance or indifference to heat or cold that might be uncomfortable for others.

Understanding hyposensitivity's manifestations and associated behaviors is crucial for creating supportive environments and developing effective coping strategies. Recognizing these signs can also help in seeking appropriate treatment approaches, such as occupational therapy or sensory integration therapy, to manage and navigate sensory sensitivities effectively.

Sensory Issues in Autism

Sensory processing issues are a common feature in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These issues involve a variety of sensory experiences such as vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and movement, and can significantly impact how individuals interpret and respond to their environment.

Sensory Sensitivities in Autism

In the context of autism, individuals often exhibit a mixture of over-responsiveness (hypersensitivity) and under-responsiveness (hyposensitivity) to sensory stimuli. Hypersensitivity refers to an extreme or adverse reaction to sensory stimuli, while hyposensitivity involves little to no response to stimuli that would typically elicit a reaction [3].

People with ASD may also exhibit sensory-seeking behaviors, which involve a heightened desire to seek out or engage with specific sensory experiences. These behaviors, however, can differ greatly among individuals.

Sensory sensitivity refers to how a person’s senses react to stimuli. In individuals with autism, sensory sensitivity is often heightened, leading to an intense experience of sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. This heightened sensitivity can result in difficulties processing and responding to environmental information, which can significantly impact daily life.

Effects on Individuals

The effects of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity can profoundly impact the daily lives of individuals with autism. Over-responsive individuals may experience sensory overload, resulting in distress and discomfort in various settings. On the other hand, under-responsive individuals may have difficulty engaging with their environment or may not respond to potentially harmful situations due to a lack of sensory input.

A common coping mechanism for individuals with autism dealing with sensory issues is 'stimming,' which involves self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping, rocking, or spinning. These behaviors can provide a sense of calm, stimulate or decrease sensory input, or help manage anxiety or excitement.

Understanding and respecting these behaviors as necessary coping mechanisms is crucial. Providing a supportive environment that allows for safe stimming and caters to an individual's sensory needs is vital for their well-being. Family members, educators, and friends play a significant role in creating such environments and should be educated on the nature and needs of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity in autism.

Treatment Approaches

When dealing with hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity in individuals with sensory processing disorders, various treatment approaches have proved to be effective. These therapies aim to help individuals adjust and adapt to their sensory regulation needs. Two of the most recommended treatments are Sensory Integration Therapy and Occupational Therapy.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy is a core treatment approach for individuals with sensory processing disorders, including both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. This therapy involves movement and physical contact, and it is designed to help individuals adjust to sensory regulation [3].

Sessions are often conducted in specially-equipped sensory gyms that have specific equipment designed to facilitate sensory integration. This therapy can be particularly beneficial in helping individuals sort through varying auditory information. It can guide individuals to focus on the origination of sounds, and become comfortable with hearing them at different frequencies and volumes [5].

Occupational Therapy Benefits

Occupational Therapy (OT) is another effective treatment for children struggling with hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity. Occupational therapists use physical activity to enhance a child's ability to process sensory input in everyday environments and meet their sensory needs [4].

In addition to physical activities, OT also involves cognitive-behavioral therapy and speech therapy. These therapies can help improve sensory processing, speech, tolerance to overwhelming experiences, and overall sensory needs. Working with an occupational therapist is highly recommended for children with sensory issues, offering them a well-rounded approach to managing and overcoming their hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity.

It's important to remember that each individual is unique, and treatment approaches should be tailored to their specific needs and sensitivities. Both Sensory Integration Therapy and Occupational Therapy offer a range of techniques and strategies that can be adapted to provide the most effective therapy for each individual. Always work with a professional to ensure the best outcomes when managing hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Managing Sensory Sensitivities

When dealing with hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, it's crucial to develop coping strategies and create supportive environments to help individuals navigate their daily lives effectively. These strategies and environments can help them manage sensory stimuli effectively and improve their overall well-being.

Coping Strategies

Coping strategies can differ depending on whether an individual is hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory input. For instance, 'stimming' is a common way individuals with sensory issues cope with their environment. It refers to self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking, hand-flapping, or spinning, often utilized as a means of self-regulation and coping with overwhelming environments. Family members, educators, and friends need to understand and respect these behaviors as often necessary coping mechanisms.

For those with hyposensitivity, coping strategies can include sensory-seeking behaviors, which involve a craving for sensory stimulation. Examples include repetitive rocking, spinning, licking or biting toys, rubbing textures, and dropping objects to hear sounds.

Supportive Environments

A supportive environment plays a crucial role in managing sensory sensitivities. This includes creating spaces that allow for safe 'stimming' and accommodate an individual's specific sensory needs. For instance, a quiet and calm setting can be beneficial for those with auditory hypersensitivity, while a sensory-rich environment with various textures and sounds can support individuals with hyposensitivity.

It's important to remember that each individual's response to sensory inputs can vary greatly, and their environment should be tailored to their unique needs. This might involve adjusting lighting, noise levels, and the arrangement of furniture, or providing specific sensory tools and toys.

In schools, for example, teachers can incorporate sensory breaks throughout the day or provide fidget tools to help students manage their sensory needs. At home, families can create sensory-friendly spaces by considering factors like lighting, noise, and tactile elements.

Providing a supportive environment that respects and accommodates sensory sensitivities can significantly improve the daily experiences of individuals dealing with hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. It can help them feel more comfortable, enable better self-regulation, and contribute to their overall well-being.


[1]: https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/signs-and-symptoms-of-sensory-processing-disorder

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8432132/

[3]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/what-is-hyposensitivity

[4]: https://www.autismspecialtygroup.com/blog/autism-sensory-issues

[5]: https://chicagospeechtherapy.com/the-differences-between-hyposensitivities-and-hypersensitivities-in-sensory-processing-disorder/

[6]: https://www.integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk/blog/sensory-hyper-hyposensitivity-autism/

[7]: https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/coping-with-sensory-processing-issues

[8]: https://nevadaautism.com/sensory-issues-and-autism/