Coping With Sensory Overload
If you have an a child with autism, you will invariably at some point hear the term, ¨Sensory Processing Disorder¨ (SPD).
¨The Out of Sync Child¨ by Carol Kranowitz, is one of many greats books on the subject and comprehensively addresses this condition, which can many times be debilitating for both parents and children, disrupting day-to-day life in a significant way.
Here is a description of what that term means, provided by the
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation:
“Sensory processing refers to our ability to take in information through our senses (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and hearing), organize and interpret that information, and make a meaningful response. For most people, this process is
automatic. We hear someone talking to us, our brains receive that input and recognize it as a voice talking in a normal tone, and we respond appropriately.”
Children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), however, don’t experience such interactions in the same way. SPD affects the way their brains interpret the information that comes
in. It also affects how they respond to that information with emotional, motor, and other reactions.
For example, some children are over-responsive to sensation and feel as if they’re being constantly bombarded with sensory information. They may try to eliminate or minimize this perceived sensory overload by avoiding being touched or being particular about clothing. Some children are under-responsive and have an almost insatiable desire for sensory stimulation. They may seek out constant stimulation by taking part in extreme activities, playing music loudly, or moving constantly. They sometimes don’t notice pain or objects that are too hot or
cold and may need high intensity input to get involved in activities. Still, others have trouble distinguishing between different types of sensory stimulation.
Sensory Processing Disorder is distinct from autism, although they often co-exist. The medical mainstream has yet to recognize
it and you won’t find it in the diagnostic manual. In addition, its
treatment is not covered by insurance.
I first heard about SPD when my son was in elementary school and was so riddled with anxiety, that life was truly harrowing. Every morning, I was a nervous wreck as I tried to find my son the perfect pair of socks. If the seams were too thick, or not lined up just
right, he would go into meltdown mode and we couldn’t get out the door.
The same went for labels on shirts. Cutting them with scissors often left a scratchy
remnant, only compounding the problem, and cutting too close to the seam would create a new hole in the garment.
And speaking of holes in shirts, my son would chew the front of his shirt until it was sopping wet and riddled with teeth marks.
When we finally made it out of the house, the onslaught of traffic noises caused him to physically reel to the point where I had shield him from careening into the street.
His psychiatrist kept upping the ante on the kinds and dosages of drugs he was prescribing him, but my intuition told me that if I could address his sensory triggers, his anxiety would be diminished.
But how is this done?
Fortunately, there are products that address these and other issues, bringing immediate relief to child and family. Seamless socks eliminate the daily morning meltdown. Shirts without labels make dressing no big deal. A specially designed, orthodontist approved chew toy for youngsters and adults lets them work their
teeth and jaws without ruining clothes and having to contend with the feeling of damp fabric against skin.
Noise-reducing headphones make an astounding difference both indoors and out. Filtering out cacophonous background noises affords an immediate sense of calm and improves functioning in public places. And
finally, a weighted blanket instantly comforts when the world gets to be just too much.
Sadly, a principle source of all these products, Sensory Comfort, is going out of business. But they are clearing out their remaining stock at big discounts and have provided links to their suppliers.
But whereas Sensory Comfort used to be the only game in town, a Google search of ¨Sensory Products¨
now turns up multiple new companies.
Take small, practical steps to help your child experience his world with greater ease and calm. Little things can make a big difference in their lives, and everyone close to them shares in their gains.