ADHD and Sensory Defensiveness

In ADHD, ADHD Adult, ADHD child/adolescent, School Psychology on Sunday, 16 September 2012 at 10:30

ADD and Hypersensitivity:
Is There A Connection?

Follow Up Report by Mary Jane Johnson

from http://www.oneaddplace.com

It has been several months now since I reported on ADHD and hypersensivity. Since that time I have heard from several ADD adults who suffer some of the same symptoms. One person sent me an article entitled “Social and Emotional Issues of Adults with Sensory Defensiveness “from the Sensory Integration Newsletter published by The American Occupational Therapy Assoc.

Many of these same hypersensitivities are mentioned in this article and I will quote from the article as well as what was shared by the readers who wrote to me. Sensory Integration Newsletter states, “Adults with tactile defensiveness commonly report strong clothing preferences and avoidances, and aversions to clothes with tags, jewelry….may also feel uncomfortable with wool or synthetic materials against the skin….and may be bothered by these aversions to an extreme degree….

“Along those same lines K. wrote in that, “I have to keep my shoes tied tight on my feet… If they are not tight I get frustrated… I find that I constantly re-tie my shoes as tight as possible, during the day.” And D. relates, “I agree completely about the elastic… I also do not like sleeves, high collars, knee socks that fall down, tags on the inside of shirts, anything touching my skin that isn’t soft or cottony, slacks too tight in the crotch… I hate panty hose… I don’t wear my coat in the car, I have a nice thin vest with lots of pockets that I wear while shopping.

“In regards to sensitivity to food textures M. shares, “My dad as a child couldn’t stand different foods to touch, so my grandmother bought him a compartmentalized plate… I had to do the same for my son… He stopped picking up wet finger foods or food that made his hands sticky… He wanted a different spoon or fork for each food… He wanted only bland soft foods and to this day there are very few foods he likes… My taste is more sensitive than the others in my family.” D. says, “I am also a picky eater, but I love spicy food. I can’t stand browned scrambled eggs and my fried eggs must be perfect.”

When it comes to heat and cold sensitivity, M. writes, “If it gets around 70 degrees I’m cold… That’s why we live in the desert… my hands and feet seem to always have had poor circulation… My hands get cold inside good leather gloves.” K. states, “…especially cold… I need to dress and keep the house warm as soon as cool weather moves in… If I didn’t love New England so much I would probably live in a warm climate year round.

“The remarks about hearing sensitivity includes: M., “clock in the living room because he could hear it ticking all the way in his room…My son can sleep through noises but certain frequencies hurt or upset him…I travel with a Sears ‘sleepmate’ white noise machine. I can’t sleep without masking the noise. I annoy the heck out of my husband by my ability to hear the TV at the other end of the house… I can’t have a ticking clock in the room where I sleep… My dad also has a noise machine.

” K., “…when trying to focus on things I can’t filter out noises…While typing this letter I can hear water dripping in the next room, the refrigerator turning on and off, and a car engine idling outside. “And D., “I enjoy loud music, but only when I feel like it. I think that’s why people think we are selfish at times.”

Sensory Integration Newsletter reports, “Social events… puts the person with defensiveness in an uncomfortable situation… Almost all subjects described the discomfort experienced when someone’s touch takes them by surprise… Many subjects describe shaking hands as unpleasant… When the touch or hug from comes from behind, it’s effect is multiplied because of the element of surprise… and many need to exert self-control to avoid striking out at the person who touched them.

“M. shares, “I don’t like being touched… even shaking hands is difficult… It’s taken my husband years to learn how to touch me without provoking a negative response… Touching my head or hair is a no no!” A twist on this particular hypersensitivity comes from D. who says, “I am happy to say the hypersensitivity to touch, in the romantic sense, is more often a plus than a minus.” And K. adds, “I don’t mind shaking someone’s hand, but forget hugging… Whenever someone hugs me, I tense up and my stomach gets tied up in knots… Being married my wife loves to be touched… I get all tied up when she hugs me or wants to be hugged or held… It tears me apart because I love my wife and yet for some reason want my space

“……..”Most subjects described feeling uncomfortable in crowded places such as crowded elevators, buses, or subways, restaurants, stores, malls… Shopping is difficult for them”, states Sensory Integration Newsletter. K. agrees by saying, “I have difficulty going into elevators, and detest having to go to malls, food stores, sporting events, etc… I get very over-stimulated, overwhelmed and irritable until I’m free from crowded areas.” D. states, “I notice that claustrophobia is more evident when I am somewhere I don’t like to be, such as in a car on a trip of more than an hour.” In some individuals there seems to be a connection between having ADD and being hypersensitive, as these cases indicate.


(Kinnealey and Oliver, © 2002)

Circle the item as T – true or F – False as it applies to you.






1.  T   F


I am sensitive and get bothered by smells that don’t seem to bother other people.

2.  T   F I am sensitive or bothered by sounds that don’t seem to bother other people.
3.  T   F I am bothered by looking down a long flight of stairs or going down an escalator.
4.  T   F I get car sick.
5.  T   F I am sensitive to movement.  I get dizzy very easily.
6.  T   F I am sensitive to and bothered by lights/contrasts/reflections or objects close to my face (that don’t seem to bother others).
7.  T   F I am bothered by some food textures in my mouth (or I avoid them).
8.  T   F It bothers me to be barefoot on grass or sand.
9.  T   F I am bothered by tags and labels in my clothes (or I remove them).
10. T   F I am bothered by turtleneck shirts, tight fitting clothes, elastic, nylons, or synthetic material in clothes (any of the above).
11. T   F I am bothered by the feeling of jewelry (or I never wear it because of this).
12. T   F I am very aware that certain parts of my body are very sensitive.
13. T   F I avoid putting creams and lotions on my skin because of how it feels.
14. T   F I have a sensitive scalp.
15. T   F I do not like being in crowded areas such as elevators, malls, subways, crowded shops or bars (or I never put myself in these situations).
16. T   F Growing up, I did not like to be hugged (except by my mother).
17. T   F I am often uncomfortable with physical intimacy because touching bothers me.
18. T   F I feel bothered when someone touches me from behind or unexpectedly, or stands too close.
19. T   F I was very active as a child (or I am now).
20. T   F I have mood swings more than other people.
21. T   F I do not go to sleep easily and wake up easily and/or I don’t sleep between 6 and 8 hours each night.
22. T   F I consider myself to be anxious.
23. T   F I feel I must mentally prepare myself for situations in which people are apt to touch me.
24. T   F It is important for me to be in control and know what to expect.
25. T   F I am perfectionistic, or compulsive.
26. T   F I avoid if at all possible, situations in which my senses will be stressed.

____________ Total Score (count up the number of “Trues”)


> 10   = definite sensory defensiveness

6 – 10 = moderate sensory defensiveness

< 6      = not sensory defensive



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