Sensory Processing Disorder (often abbreviated to SPD) affects how our nervous system processes and interprets the information we receive through our senses: touch, sight, sound, taste, smell and movement.
People with SPD might be HYPERsensitive (meaning they are far more sensitive to certain stimuli) or HYPOsensitive (meaning they are far less sensitive) – and it is significantly more prevalent in neurodivergent folks, especially autistic people.
As well as being hyper- or hyposensitive to touch, sound, sight, taste and smell, people with SPD also might experience:
🙃 Vestibular sensitivity (movement), in which certain movements cause discomfort or dizziness.
🤸 Proprioceptive sensitivity (body awareness), which can present as struggling with awareness of their own body’s position and movement.
Supporting Sensory Needs In Business
It’s common for people with Sensory Processing Disorder to seek out certain sensory experiences (such as touching materials they find comforting, playing music that calms them, or using weighted blankets) while avoiding others (such as loud noises, bright lights or flavours of food) to regulate their sensory input.
In a business context, if a person with SPD doesn’t feel able to regulate themselves by controlling their working environment, they are likely to experience overwhelm, meltdowns and – in the long term – burnout.
If you work with neurodivergent folk who experience sensitivities to certain stimuli, here are some ways you can support them when it comes to workplaces, events, meetings and co-working:
✅ Flexible environments – offer a choice of places to work and hold meetings. Some people might prefer quiet spaces, whereas some might prefer group or collaborative work where they can body double. If you’re running events, ensure different areas are available for attendees which vary in light intensity, volume, colours and stimuli.
✅ Noise management – understand that some people may need to wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs in certain environments. When arranging meetings, ask what kind of environment the person you’re meeting prefers – if there is a lot of background noise, they may be unable to process what you’re saying to them and might end up distracted or overwhelmed. If you are inviting someone into your space, respond positively to any requests to eliminate certain noises wherever it’s within your power to do so.
✅ Lighting adjustments – in a workplace or meeting room, this could be turning off or dimming lights, pulling down blinds or providing alternative lighting if requested. Overhead fluorescent lights are a common sensory trigger for people with hypersensitivity to light, therefore having alternative lighting such as lamps is an easy way to make a space more sensory-friendly. Additionally, if any of your lights flicker or hum, this can be triggering for those with sound sensitivity, so ensure these are turned off or fixed.
✅ Sensory regulation – offer sensory breaks during meetings, workshops or collaborative working and make sure people feel comfortable engaging in self-regulation activities such as walking around the room, stimming or playing with fidget toys. Letting people know that they can step out of a room whenever they need to is really important as it makes a big difference.
Everyone Has Different Sensory Needs
Remember, everyone who has SPD experiences it differently. As with all aspects of neurodivergence, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for accommodating people who have specific sensory needs. Ask the neurodivergent people you’re working with what their sensory needs and preferences are and do what you can to accommodate them.
When we feel accepted, understood and safe, that’s when we can create deep, meaningful and joyful working relationships with our colleagues, clients and collaborators.
Do you experience Sensory Processing Disorder?
If so, what do you want others to know about how to support you?