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Caring for someone with sensory processing disorder

Being a carer always poses some challenges, but caring for someone with sensory processing disorder can be particularly difficult. Their symptoms can be so variable. The disorder can affect any or all of their senses, which can become oversensitive or undersensitive or even both. There is also the added worry that, for many people, it is a lifelong condition that they will always have to manage.

These difficulties are compounded by the fact that there is still a lack of acceptance within the medical community that it is a separate diagnosable condition, and consequently little official support is available. Also the wider general public has often not heard of it. You might find yourself constantly having to explain the behaviour of your friend or family member, and you might feel judged by others because of the way they are behaving. If the person you are caring for is a child, their school may not understand their condition fully and you may have to regularly deal with your child getting into trouble because of behaviours caused by their disorder.

For these reasons, it can be very isolating caring for someone with sensory processing disorder. This can be made worse as you might want to protect the person you are caring for from sensory overload in the wider world by keeping them at home where it is quieter and calmer. Or you may want to avoid taking them out because it is too stressful for you if they get upset in public.

To help you with this difficult role, we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics.

If you are caring for someone with sensory processing disorder, it is quite likely that they are a child. In which case, you are probably used to having to help them with many everyday tasks already. But those with sensory processing disorder can benefit from some additional day-to-day support.

You may find that the person you care for particularly struggles with change. One way to deal with this is to minimise any unnecessary changes in their life. Other carers of people with sensory processing disorder have also found it helpful to make sure the person they care for has consistency, a set routine and clear expectations set for each task. Others have recommended making a visual timetable for their day.

One way to help your friend or family member deal with inevitable changes is by using something called ‘social stories’. These are short descriptions of the change that will be coming and why it is happening. They make the information you might want to convey more literal and concrete and remove any ambiguity around it, as this is something that people with sensory processing disorder can sometimes struggle with. For more information about social stories, take a look at this guide.

Alongside the normal, day-to-day events, you will occasionally encounter things that are out of the ordinary. Although it is not always easy to plan for these, it can still help to learn more about them in advance so that you feel more prepared. This will help you to stay calm and feel in control in what can sometimes be very stressful situations.

You can take a look at our guide 'Planning for emergencies as a carer' for more information.

It is very common to worry about the financial implications of looking after someone, and it can be confusing to understand the support that is available and how you can access it. The good news is we have got a full and comprehensive guide to everything from benefits to grants in our 'Getting financial support as a carer' guide.

Caring for someone with sensory processing disorder can be a big responsibility, but many people are still able to combine this role with paid external work as well. If you want to be able to do both, take a look at our guide 'Working when you are caring' for advice on how to manage this balance successfully.

Caring for someone with sensory processing disorder can significantly affect your relationship with them. You may now have to devote a much bigger chunk of your attention to them.

It can even be difficult to accept that you actually are their 'carer'. This can especially be the case if their condition has only become apparent slowly over a long period and you have taken on more caring responsibilities a little bit at a time.

Sometimes caring for someone with sensory processing disorder can improve your relationship with them. Some carers find that they become closer with the person they care for through spending more time with them. In many cases, however, it can put new strains on your relationship. This can be particularly pronounced when caring for someone with sensory processing disorder as they could well struggle with communication, making misunderstandings between you more likely.

Alongside this, becoming a carer can also have an impact on all of the other relationships in your life too, both positively and negatively. If you are caring for a child with sensory processing disorder, for instance, it can have a huge impact on your relationships with any other children you might have.

For advice and support on ways to manage these changes, take a look at our guide 'How your relationships can change when you become a carer'.

As a carer it is common to prioritise the person you care for’s needs over your own. But it is vital that you make sure you also look after yourself. Not only are your own needs important in themselves, you also need to stay well so that you can keep looking after your friend or relative too. Take a look at our 'Looking after yourself as a carer' guide for advice on how to keep yourself well.

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