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Hypersensitivity or Hyposensitivity?

There are new buzzwords surrounding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental health topics every day. It can be hard to make sense of what they really mean. An important one right now is the difference between someone who is hypersensitive and one who is hyposensitive. These terms are not interchangeable in fact they are quite the opposite of each other.

Hypersensitivity

Also known as Sensory Overresponsivity, is a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Meaning they will react strongly to things like loud noises, bright lights, well-defined textures, or even strong smells and tastes. Oftentimes the exaggerated stimulation leads to physical pain or discomfort. People who are hypersensitive may have strong emotional responses to these stimuli, like anxiety or distress. They will seek to limit the amount of stimuli they are receiving.

Hyposensitivity

Also known as Sensory Seeking, is a reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli. People who are hyposensitive may need more intense stimulation to perceive the feeling. This is often made apparent when someone doesn’t feel pain or temperature changes when most people would. Another common example is not noticing background noise when others find it distracting. A lack of sensory stimulation will often lead people to seek that stimulation by fidgeting with their hands or enjoying strong flavors and textures in food.

These conditions can manifest differently in each person, and not all individuals with these conditions will experience them the same way. Perhaps one individual is hypersensitive to lights, but hyposensitive to sounds. Oftentimes these conditions develop from neurodiversity like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), or ADHD. However, they can also be caused by environmental factors and past experiences. This is why understanding an individual’s sensory profile is crucial for providing appropriate support and accommodations to help them manage sensory experiences and thrive in daily life. It may be beneficial to get involved in sensory integration therapy or other interventions designed to address specific sensory processing differences.

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