Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Sensory Processing Disorder

I had no idea what sensory processing disorder was until I started reading up on it.
I never heard of the term before. It took awhile for me to wrap my head around the whole concept. And if I did not get first hand knowledge of it, I probably would deny that it even existed, as I'm sure many people do. I still have so much to learn on this subject.

Our senses: vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch . To ASD people, senses are perceived differently. Their senses can be magnified to the extreme, or be basically be non existent. In some people, their senses cause great discomfort , or they are even enjoyable. To me they are
like super powers.

touch - The seam that runs down the top of the sock is very irritating to Jacob. He would put on a sock, and take it off, put on another sock, take it would be time to go to school and he would be so frustrated and we would be late for school just taking on and off socks for the right feel. He could not tolerate the bumpy texture. To most of us, we put on our socks, then we go on to put on our shoes. But for Jake, the feel has to be just right, not too thick or too thin. Forget if his sock gets crumpled underneath his toes while he is walking. Jake will become unglued until that sock gets fixed. Underwear is never worn-no matter what type I buy, he will not wear it. Jeans are out of the question, they are too stiff and hard. Shirts and pants must be of very soft fabric. Other than clothes people touching him, for example, kids brushing up next to him in the school hallway , or a teacher putting a hand on his shoulder really upsets him. He takes personal offense to it rather than just brushing it off.
smell - Jacob likes to smell things, but dislikes A LOT of smells. Upon cooking dinner, he often gets an upset stomach. Cigarette smoke, or even the smell of other peoples houses he dislikes. To you and me, we notice an odor and often dismiss it, like a smell of a hotel room. But to Jacob he will constantly bring it up and complain about the smell. Sometimes it will make him physically ill. He seems to have a super power in his nose.
hearing - At school, he cannot attend to the teacher as he should. Mostly he cannot block out background noise to concentrate. He hears what we usually block out, such as the buzzing of the lights, squeaking of chairs, pencils tapping. All he hears according to him, is "blah, blah, blah..." coming from his teacher. Loud noises, gives Jacob a confused, nervous feeling, and sometimes he winds up with a migraine headache. Being in a classroom with 20 other busy students is nearly impossible. And riding the bus is a nightmare with 40 plus other children, screaming
vision - Bright lights seem to tire Jacob out quickly. He prefers low light, and a room without a lot of windows. Dim light seems to be calming.
taste - Jacob is not a real picky eater, but some things he used to do, up until recently was he would eat anything - a n y t h i n g, but now he will put odd things in his mouth like coins. His pencils are always chewed on. Even his shirt collars are stretched out and have holes in them. Jake says he likes the texture of paper in his mouth so we have lots of spit balls around the house.

Taking in too much of this stimulation leads to"sensory overload". In the beginning he could feel; confused, anxious, agitated, or overwhelmed. Overload could be shown as a temper tantrum, hyperactivity, having a "silent" meltdown and shut down completely, or aggression. Once into the overload mode, its very difficult and time consuming getting Jacob back to calmed down and down to earth. We have learned to find out what these triggers are, recognize Jake's signs in the beginning, and avoid the triggers them if possible, which has helped considerably to manage his SPD. Its nearly impossible for the person to control the triggers, however we can try to teach them to relieve their stress and what to do when it happens. For Jacob, we have not found what works yet, so he can control himself better in these situations, although I am always hopeful he can one day. Grocery stores and waiting rooms are some triggers. Other triggers: fire alarm, school bells, fluorescent lighting, older computer screens that flicker. As he is getting older, I am observing that Jake is getting better dealing with these sensory issues. Maybe I am just in tune with what his triggers are.

At home there is usually not a lot of stimulation and commotion. I try to keep peace, and my house is usually in order, which really helps. Summer usually goes pretty smoothly, but when school is in session there are many, many days he has been over stimulated and has a melt down at the end of the day. This school year we are trying to prepare and hope to avoid all these stimulation's -to avoid the breakdowns, bad behavior and shutdowns. We have much work to do as he goes into 5th grade soon. It has taken me to this year to figure out these patterns, connect the dots, and learn about the words "sensory problems", although I am still learning. In the past I would ask myself why does he have crying fits every time he came home from school? He couldn't tell me due to his speech and language problems just until the the last year or so,(more on language problems later), and the school would say they didn't notice and thought he had a good day. Come to figure out, Jake would be so exhausted from all the stimulation, he was having silent meltdowns in school, shutting down, then when he got home it would become a full blown meltdown. He no longer rides the bus because that just puts the icing on the cake. The tears and tantrums have cut down significantly the past year. I could not figure why he was having a tantrum, but now Jake can tell me what exactly bothers him, and I can help advocate for him at school, figure out a solution, or help him work through it. I have heard people with SPD can get therapy to help with this, and I am hoping we can try this with Jacob very soon. Coming from the "experts" studying Autism, (& not just my opinion), individuals with SPD are not trying to be difficult, their brains circuits operate differently than ours, and are just wired differently.
A good book about Sensory Processing Disorder is Learning in Pictures by Dr. Temple Grandin. I have had the pleasure to hear her speak on Autism. Interestingly Temple made her own "squeeze machine" as a therapy to sooth and calm her.