Sensory Over-Responsivity and ADHD

Sensory Over-Responsivity and ADHD: Differentiating Using Electrodermal Responses, Cortisol, and Anxiety – Free full-text /PMC2885866/Mar 2010

This study describes a symptom of ADHD, sensory over-responsivity (SOR), that also seems prevalent with EDS: oversensitivity, both physical and emotional.

Deficits in sensory modulation have been linked clinically with impaired attention, arousal, and impulsivity for years, but a clear understanding of the relationship between sensory modulation disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has proven elusive.”

The phrase “deficit in sensory modulation” describes what I feel when I can’t tune out anything going on around me and get snagged on every feeling passing through me. It’s very hard to make my feelings “shut up and behave.” 

Additionally, sensory over-responsivity (SOR) has been linked to anxiety, and anxiety has been linked to ADHD.

Results substantiated links between SOR and anxiety, in both TYP and ADHD children. Results suggests that ADHD should be considered in conjunction with anxiety and sensory responsivity; both may be related to bottom-up processing differences, and deficits in prefrontal cortex/hippocampal synaptic gating.

The above was from the abstract – excerpts and annotations from the full article continue below:


understanding the central nervous system processes linking sensory modulation disorders (SMD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has proven challenging.

in order to distinguish SMD from ADHD, and/or clarify the relationship between the two, a more thorough understanding of the central nervous system processes as well as behavioral symptomatology within and between the disorders is necessary.

Sensory over-responsivity (SOR) is a type of SMD characterized by responses to sensory stimuli that are faster, longer, or more intense than what would be expected with typical sensory responsivity

Another way to examine diagnostic connections between ADHD and SOR is through links with anxiety.

Anxiety is a co-morbid condition associated with 25–33% of children with ADHD; higher rates have been noted in children with ADHD and co-morbid disruptive behavior disorders

It has long been theorized that anxiety is the result of

  • faulty information processing,
  • as well as a hypersensitivity to information and
  • stimuli in the environment.

I don’t believe all these links to “information” describe worrying, and have little to do with real generalized anxiety. My anxiety is a strong visceral feeling immune to any particular thoughts.

I can think about the same things, understand that my situation has not changed from the time I still felt OK, and “know” that my anxiety isn’t called for, yet still suffer from a pervasive sense of dread, a dread of the future.

Therapy has little chance against such a powerful adversary even more potent because it is wordless, without thought, just a sickening absence of solid ground.

Research in both pediatric and adult populations has produced preliminary evidence of links between SOR and anxiety.

These investigations indicate that sensory over-responsiveness should be a consideration for children with ADHD; that it may distinguish between subgroups of children with ADHD; and that it is seen in the absence of ADHD.

Further, SOR and anxiety have been linked, and anxiety and ADHD have been shown to co-exist.

Here, I’m skipping long and detailed explanations in the “Materials and Methods” and  “Results” sections and picking up at the Discussion section of the article.


ADHD has long been viewed as a heterogeneous diagnostic group.

We successfully classified children with ADHD into two groups: with and without SOR.

SOR could be described as a “tonic” or steady state characteristic. It is a response to every day sensation that is of greater intensity or longer duration than would be expected given the nature of the stimulus

Our data indicate that SOR and ADHD can be linked, but importantly that they are seen separately.

Not surprisingly, anxiety was identified in children with ADHD. This link has been documented by many earlier investigators.

In the current study, children with ADHDs differed from typical children on all anxiety subscales, indicating a very broad link between anxiety and SOR in this subgroup.


This study suggests that ADHD should be considered in conjunction with anxiety and sensory responsivity; both may be related to bottom-up processing differences, and deficits in prefrontal cortex/hippocampal synaptic gating.

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