Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Mental Disorder

Lulu newSensory Integration Dysfunction and Mental Disorder.

Most of my research in the past has been centered around affective disorders, theories surrounding the causation of dysfunction, and the cognition / behaviors that sustain it. I am broadening my horizons to include many mental health disorders and developmental disorder, particularly autism.

I have had a theory for awhile that hinged almost completely on curious connections I’ve made between bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder. Doctors ruminated on the potential for my father and bipolar disorder. By the way my parents describe his mother, it didn’t seem surprising.

We’ve always assumed that my “affective disorder” (assumed Major Depressive Disorder in my teens) was a result of my father. Assumptions are changing around parents house in light of serious mental health symptoms popping up on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother has “dementia”, politely termed to describe her psychosis. And my aunt who cares for her has developed paranoid delusions. She has isolated herself, because she is sure that the family is “against” her and consorting with one another behind her back.

These things don’t come out of nowhere. They become present after certain events happen, whether they are biochemical or a result of external stressors.

So, why is it that two parents with suspected “affective” disorders bear one child with moderately severe classical autism and another with bipolar disorder? Another generation passes. Two parents, one with an affective disorder and another with a mental health disorder, both with psychotic features, bear a child with mild Autism Spectrum Disorder : Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified?

I’m not at liberty to speak in detail about my husband’s disorder. I have determined that it is up to him; it is his own business, and it is best for his mental health to know that I am only vaguely referring to it as a “disorder”. I will leave it at that.

We have actually been speaking now, sometimes at great length concerning symptoms, dysfunction, and identifying with one another. Many of these symptoms seem to revolve around sensory disturbances. For me, I’ve gone to great length to describe times of sensory overload caused by a removal of a “sensory filter”. It’s a chicken and the egg conundrum. Does the emotional disturbance make me more susceptible to the sensory integration and processing dysfunction or vice versa?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of literature on sensory integration dysfunction and mental health disorders. However, there is a wealth of it, as it is considered a component of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

It is thought that the main feature, besides pervasive behaviors, is sensory integration dysfunction / disorder. It is observed that children with ASD fall into categories of sensory “seekers” or “avoiders”. Seekers are thought to have dampeners on sensory input. Avoiders are opposite and have a sensory overload. But, in most cases, there is usually a combination of the two. Some seeking and some avoidance. Unfortunately, avoidance is considered the most recognized behavior, as it is considered the most dysfunctional.

I can only speak for me. In episodes of hypomania, I become a seeker. One would think there should be an avoidance, but in hypomania, I cannot get enough. My brain eats it at hyperspeed and processes it just as fast.

However, mania is a different story. Often, sensory stimuli overloads an overly active mind. It makes manic symptoms worse. Sometimes, the racing thoughts become fragmented and my thinking becomes disordered. My speech becomes disrupted and incoherent, because the integration of external stimuli cannot be effectively integrated. And an overload occurs.

In psychotic states, the sensory stimuli becomes confused and distorted. Places and people may become foreign and strange. Hallucinations can occur, distorting sensory stimuli even further. And delusions are fed by misinterpreted stimuli.

Mixed states are the worst. As everyone knows, a mixed state is probably the most unstable a person with bipolar disorder can get. Sensory stimuli is integrated, but poorly. The cognitive associations are often misinterpreted and can spark even worse symptoms.

A sensory overload is common in this state. The internal struggle is enough to shy away from anything stimulating, because of the cognitive inability to process it properly.

I’m still working on interpreting mixed states, the dysfunction, and how I experience it. The problem I face is that many new symptoms I did not expect surfaced at the same time.

Moving to depressive states. I find that I am often very easily overstimulated, though my mental state is dulled. My mind suffers a certain retardation of cognitive and physical function. The problem the occurs is the foggy state makes the processing of stimuli difficult. It deepens emotional distress when presented with too much. I simply do not have the processing speed.

So, there are several functions that cause the dysfunction. There are a few facts that remain. I am an auditory avoider when I am unable to process external stimuli due to agitated or foggy states. I am a tactile seeker in these states, with the explicit exception of psychosis. In (hypo)manic states, I am a motion seeker, as it calms. In depressive states, I am a motion avoider, but a visual seeker. Contrastingly, I am a visual avoider in (hypo)manic and psychotic states.

I could go on from there, but I won’t. I am more inclined to seek input from others. Examine your behaviors of seeking and avoidance. What do you find?

© Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


4 thoughts on “Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Mental Disorder

  1. Very interesting, Lulu! I have never thought about the degree to which I seek out or avoid various stimuli, but it definitely impacts the way I work and live. I have a really hard time with distraction from auditory stimuli most of the time, and motion is also incredibly distracting regardless of mood state – but I associate most of that with ADD more than anything else.

    This is particularly interesting in light of last night’s DBT group focusing on self-soothing with the 5 senses. I said that music is almost always a bad idea for me if I’m in an emotional state because it amplifies everything, positive or negative. Others around the table seemed surprised, but we haven’t talked about individual diagnoses – it may be that I’m the only bipolar in the group. Since I have to think more about self-soothing for my homework this week, maybe I’ll have more insights into the issue soon…

  2. My current psychiatrist, at about our second appointment, started to question me about sensory disorders. I said a few things to him, things I didn’t really think meant much, personally, but he immediately had some very “ah-ha” moments (and he is is also a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has been at this for years). The more I have examined things, the more I realize I probably did (and still do) have a moderate-to-severe sensory disorder. But I’ve never investigated it more in depth, and I have to say that honestly, I was a much happier, healthier child growing up without any knowledge or understanding of this.

    Of course I realize that there are different degrees and manifestations. My issues primarily expressed themselves as intense anxiety. They still do. But now that I’m a grownup, I can understand and make choices to alleviate these stimuli, and even remove myself entirely, if need be.

    I understand why it’s important for you to understand this area, especially in regards to your son’s development. But I can honestly say that for me, ignorance was the better choice when I was younger. And as for now, I’m not interested in exploring another label or cause. It’s pretty easy for me to deal with. I get overstimulated, I retreat to a non-stimulating environment, and at worst I take a Xanax.

    I truly hope you are able to discover solutions for everyone in your family that help all of you to stay healthy.

  3. I once read something that compared autism to paranoia, saying that an autistic person and a paranoid person view the world in opposite ways. I have heard that autistic people find it very hard to understand or sympathize with the fact that other people have thoughts and feelings, and what those feelings and thoughts might be. A paranoid person on the other hand is too well aware that there are thoughts and feelings hidden in the heads of others and just thinking about this fact can be enough to make them more paranoid. I’ve got schizoaffective disorder and have had paranoia on and off for years. It’s weird because when I was younger certain people actually thought I might be autistic. Considering that the 2 conditions are seeming opposites I find this really bizarre.

    I can relate to what you’re saying about sensory overload. Last year I went so manic I just couldn’t understand what was going on. Couldn’t understand what people were saying… they didn’t seem to understand me either. Weird weird weird!! 🙂

    • It’s a theory that I’m looking into with others as I share experiences with sensory dysfunctions. My mother reported audio sensitivity, and my brother (who actually is diagnosed with autism) is so audio sensitive that he wears cotton in his ears. Can you imagine having a sensory dysfunction all of the time? Just from what I experience with audio sensitivity is enough to drive me to the bed with a pillow over my head. No rhyme intended.

      My son, who has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, has been classified a sensory seeker, unlike my brother who is sensory avoidant. Even my son has an audio sensitivity. I come from a family of musically inclined people, so it makes sense that it’s just a haywire part of our DNA. What didn’t make sense to me was the fact that it spanned across the board, across all disorders and each levels of dysfunction within those disorders.

      Hence, I have this theory here.

      I should probably amend this with something. It wasn’t until recently that I started having identifiable hallucinations to go with my overbearing delusions. I’m not in great shape right now, and I probably need a different set of medication. But, what I am experiencing right now seems to be a far cry from my original Bipolar II diagnosis. Either, I’m really deteriorating at a rapid rate, or there was something we were really missing at the time of my diagnosis.

      Anyhow, I was reading what is defined as a hallucination, and it seems as if my doctors were too dismissive when I came in with complaints of sensory dysfunction. Apparently, a hallucination is any distortion in the senses, producing effects that are not real. I’ve always known that what I was seeing and hearing wasn’t real. I just never knew the source.

      This brings me to the core of the sensory dysfunction. When I am certain states, especially of hyperarousal or dissociation, I see things. I hear things. It’s not people, so apparently that doesn’t make it concerning.

      But sometimes, every once in awhile, I get this delusion that all of that noise in my head is coming from the outside. I can hear people’s thoughts. (My mother has recently copped to the same odd belief.) I don’t know, it’s still a theory in the making.

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