He sat in the backseat of the van all bundled up in his heavy winter coat, hat and his long pants. Just how you would expect him to dress in the middle of winter…but it was the middle of July! He had sweat streaming down his face and his cheeks were flushed…. Strangely he was happy as a clam, completely unaware that he was roasting. I had tried to talk him into putting on his favorite shorts and t-shirt but he cried and fought my every attempt. I let it go…. I’ve had kids who had a favorite outfit that just had to be worn everyday in spite of the ketchup stain or the fact that the outfit was now two sizes too small. As with most things in his life, this was different. These times of clinging to predictability were daily occurrences and were across the board. Why couldn’t he eat lunch that day…. because the peas were touching the chicken and he didn’t like the chicken because it had sauce on it. Why couldn’t he complete his math worksheet…. because his seat was too hard and the lights were too loud! Why did he push Johnny down on the playground when he ran up to the slide…. because he didn’t even know he was there! Why couldn’t he listen to music, BECAUSE!!! (He hated music!!)
Predictability is a big part of all of this but so is the sensory input. He had sensory integration dysfunction- an inability to properly regulate the sensory input the body receives or more commonly referred to as a sensory processing disorder. Sometimes he was over stimulated- like with music, lights, food textures or too many flavors, a persons hug, etc. But sometimes he wouldn’t even register the sensory stimulus- like with temperature, emotions (maybe not sensory, but he still didn’t register), facial expressions, etc.
It’s really quite amazing when you think of all of the many things that we take in through our senses, that our brains are able to shut so much information out. The ability to do so simplifies our lives and allows us to function. Imagine going through a day at school noticing everything: the hard chairs, your scratchy clothes, all the different paint colors and pictures in a room, all of the students voices at once. Then add on top of that what you don’t pick up: your teachers upset “warning you” look, the cafeteria’s hot food, your classmates “annoyed face”, the kid on the playground (no, you don’t even see him in line), the temperature outside. All of this is on top of trying to learn a new subject, please your teacher and your parents, peer pressure, etc. Then, imagine how exhausted you feel, coming home to do homework, chores, and still keep holding it together while your sister screams, your dad watches TV and your mom plays the piano, and you have to take a shower. It’s EVERYTHING! No wonder melt downs are so common!! The hard reality, is that just as much as math is an important subject, so is sensory regulation and they have to work hard at that too. I couldn’t possibly go into everything involved but there are therapies to help kids better regulate what comes in to the brain.
IT”S THE SENSORY CONUNDRUM!!!
What treatments have you found successful in helping to regulate sensory input??