Have you ever been in a place that made you uncomfortable? That gave you a feeling like, I just have to get out of here!?
That’s how I felt last month when I was in Las Vegas. We went for my 9-year old’s cheer competition. That part of the trip was great. But, out of the two days we were there, the competition only took about 10 hours total, which left us with a lot of down-time. It was during that time that I felt extremely uncomfortable. Walking down the street, sitting in restaurants, navigating through casinos, it all gave me a very uneasy feeling.
I imagine that this is how many of my students and, in some cases, my own son feel a lot of the time. They are part of a world that they really don’t fit into, that provides them with too much sensory input to cope with, very similar to how I felt in Las Vegas.
My favorite book on the subject of sensory integration is The Sensory Sensitive Child. It is not a technical book. It is a book written for parents and provided me with tremendous insight and strategies to use with my son. This book was written by two women, mothers of children with sensory issues, who are also psychologists. This was the perfect book for me to read.
These women, while describing their own children, were describing mine as well. Within the book, there were several statements and reflections that resonated with me. They said, “…the child with sensory modulation difficulties experiences the world as an uncomfortable, out of control place in which it is hard to figure out how to respond…Our lives were full of argument and dissent about the simplest everyday things.” Wow, this is my life!
My favorite occupational therapist described it this way….imagine yourself in a restaurant, it’s crowded, there are many people moving and talking, and many things on the walls. Most of us, even in this environment are still able to carry on a conversation with those in our own booth. We can tune-out all the extraneous noises, lights, movements, smells, etc. Those with sensitive sensory-integration systems cannot. They hear every noise, see every movement. This makes focusing and functioning very difficult. It also can give them the “I have to get out of here” feeling. This is one reason why O may ask repeatedly when we are out, especially in an unfamiliar environment, “Is it time to go?”
Even for us, as typical adults, the longer we remain in an environment that feels wrong, the more agitated we get. And, consequently, the more we may say or do things that will enable us to get out. Now, my need to escape Las Vegas didn’t have everything to do with my sensory experiences, but it gave me an insight into how many of the children I interact with, feel daily. I also realized that there are many things that I have studied that I understood intellectually, but until having experienced them myself, I did not truly understand.
The authors of The Sensory Sensitive Child also describe a “dysfunctional sensory integration system” in which there is a “malfunction between the brain’s translation of sensation into meaning and action.” In other words, the brain is unable to adequately recognize sensation as either important or insignificant or dangerous or safe. This misinterpretation can lead to illogical or inefficient responses.
An example from my own life…O‘s recent struggle is visiting public restrooms. He has used public restrooms before. In fact, once he started using the “big potty” at home, I made sure that I had him using different toilets, so that he wouldn’t get too used to using one kind, in one place. However, recently he has become anxious about the sound an unfamiliar toilet makes when it flushes, often asking, “Is it going to be loud or quiet?” This creates extreme fear in him, so much that he will do anything to avoid using an unfamiliar restroom. This is one of those illogical responses. Obvious to us is the fact that the sound of the toilet flushing is not dangerous, but not to O.
The ironic thing about Las Vegas…when I posted photos, etc. on Facebook from there, it often stated my location as, “near Paradise, NV.” For me, Las Vegas is about as far from paradise as I can imagine! I was very grateful to be able to leave after one weekend, but was saddened for O and others like him who will never truly escape their dysfunctional sensory integration systems. They aren’t just visiting Las Vegas, they are living there.