ADHD and Hypersensitivities

Little is written about ADHD and hypersensitivities, yet those of us who are touched by ADHD as adults or who are parenting ADHD kids know full well how it can affect us and those we love. Children with ADHD are notorious for being picky eaters. They complain about textures, food smells or having food touching on their plate. They often hate pants with snug waist bands, shirts with tags, socks with seams…and the list goes on.

Since distractibility is a cornerstone symptom of ADHD, being overly sensitive to ones’ environment only adds to the problem. There’s often the difficulty of filtering out noise, smells, etc., which leads to an increase in the distractibility.

According to Temple University researcher Kristie Koenig, Ph.D, OTR/L: “Many children with ADHD also suffer from sensory processing disorder, a neurological underpinning that contributes to their ability to pay attention or focus.” She and her colleagues authored a research study titled, “Comparative Outcomes of Children with ADHD: Treatment Versus Delayed Treatment Control Condition. In it, they explored whether ADHD related problems would decrease if underlying sensory and neurological issues were treated with occupational therapy. They note that children with ADHD “either withdraw from or seek out sensory stimulation like movement, sound, light and touch. This translates into troublesome behaviors at school and home.”

Not surprisingly, many adults with ADHD also suffer from hypersensitivities. But more often than not, they hide these discomforts as best they can, embarrassed by their differences and difficulties. Having spoken to hundreds of adults with ADHD, here is a short list of common hypersensitivities that have been shared with me:

  1. Strong negative reaction to perfumes; aversions to various odors such as cigarettes, burnt foods, car fumes, etc.
  2. Vertigo/dizziness on amusement park rides
  3. Uneasiness with being hugged/kissed
  4. Pain when skin is gently touched
  5. Feeling overwhelmed to the point of panic at malls, concerts, stadiums, etc.
  6. Phobias
  7. Hyper reactivity to sudden noise and touch
  8. Panty hose
  9. Synthetic clothes
  10. Car/boat/air sickness
  11. Migraines
  12. Temperatures: feeling too hot or too cold
  13. Movies: too loud, too overwhelming
  14. Crave being barefoot or conversely, need socks and shoes on all the time.
  15. Dislike beach and sand; sun too intense
  16. Uncomfortable wearing jewelry
  17. Acute hearing: hypersensitive to sounds others don’t hear: refrigerator, electric lights, people chewing, ticking clocks
  18. Strong flavors
  19. Difficulty with dental work
  20. Feelings of claustrophobia

Often, these hypersensitivities can create much difficulty. They can cause people to become not only irritable when faced with them, but even downright rageful. Relationships often are strained, particularly when the non ADD partner doesn’t understand the true nature of the pain and discomfort that is felt. Intimate moments can lead to disaster if the partner is unaware of the issues at hand.

Years ago, before I knew of my own hypersensitivities and ADHD, I had an interesting experience. In the dead of night, I awoke from the intense smell of skunk. Thinking our dog, which slept with us might have been sprayed, I woke up my husband and in a sleepy stupor, suggested we check the house for the offending skunk. Of course, he thought I was crazy, but I couldn’t doubt the strong smell radiating throughout the house.

After a quick search and finding nothing, we went back to sleep, with me nearly gagging from the horrific odor. A few hours later, my husband called me on his way to work to report that he saw a dead skunk lying in the road about a mile from our house

It’s important to understand that such hypersensitivities are commonly seen in ADHD – you are not alone!

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