Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Psychiatric Disorders

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 imput. 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 intergation 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 congitive 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 aggitated 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?

Theories on the Development of Disorder

When something, an emotion, an urge, an impulse, is so severely suppressed that a person becomes oppressed, we can often observe extreme opposite reactions. This is consistent with the laws of physics and the universe, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Except, one thing. I believe when it comes to emotions and behaviors, the opposing reaction is more like equal plus. The plus being an x-value holding place for a value with the meaning “a little more.” Determining that exact value in numerical terms may be difficult, since there is no numerical value for emotions.

It basically conveys the message that the situation perpetuates itself. Any potential absence of behavior or action can still be perceived as a positive value. Inaction can still be considered an action in this case, because there isn’t really such a thing as a complete absence of behavior.

This is potentially a huge factor in mental illness. Obviously, we are aware of the psychological damage abuse and neglect in childhood can cause, even throughout adulthood. It is thought to manifest in anxiety disorders, particularly Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. However, that does not account for people who did not experience what is typically considered childhood trauma.

Even as adults, we are susceptible to psychological damage. This is a fact that is well established through research involving war veteran and victims of sexual assault. However, we only consider extreme forms of trauma as something qualifies as such. Such is also true of childhood trauma.

Other qualifying trauma often happens over a period of time, and goes consciously unrecognized. This does not mean that it is also subconsciously unrecognized as well. In fact, the subconscious is likely keenly aware, but unable to translate to the conscious mind.

Once the conscious mind becomes aware that there is something amiss, the traumatizing behavior seems commonplace. The person has likely become desensitized to what was once a subtle, but generally constant external stressor. By then, it becomes internalized and often mistaken as an internal stressor.

Those are the seeds for maladaptive behaviors in both children and adults. At this point, unhealthy coping mechanisms have already been adopted as part of a person’s behavioral repertoire. This is directly the result of an extreme reaction to the accumulation of what may be considered subtle long term stressor(s).

The maladaptive behaviors are recognized as such, and perpetuate trauma through mistreatment of oneself. It can be behaviorally observed by an unusual response to certain unpleasant stimuli. Unfortunately, the subject is often unaware that their responses are abnormal. By the time it is either pointed out or realized by oneself, the original cause is well buried under layers of self-abuse / neglect.

The result of this is much larger than anxiety disorders. It reaches out to grab behaviors typical of a variety of psychological disorders. Behavior repertoires are often observed in personality disorders and mood disorders. it would stand to reason this is true, due to the nature of long-term external stressors, particularly subtle abuse and neglect.