I have never been diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder, but based on my own reading, I’m sure I have it. I have most of the symptoms of adult SPD, as stated in the aforementioned link, and I can recall having many of the symptoms listed for preschool to school-aged children, as well. In particular, I am most affected by my sensitivity to touch and sound.
There is a growing understanding of the term “high needs baby”. I personally find the link between high needs babies, Sensory Processing Disorder, and gifted infants to be obvious. However, the “gifted” part seems to be all too often overlooked by the parents of these children. They focus on the sensory issues and how to get their toddlers into occupational therapy to “fix” them. I have to ask, why? As an adult who has dealt with these symptoms all my life, why should I have been “treated”, forced into “normalcy”? Why can we not accept that these are simply traits, shared by millions of humans, all on the sliding scale of “normal”?
While, yes, some of my symptoms have been more difficult to handle, most of them would have been severely helped purely through acknowledgment (especially on the part of my parents). And yet, other traits I possess are indispensable. My ability to smell has prevented electrical fires. My ability to hear has saved my children from harm. I’m grateful that I didn’t have these senses dulled. And this is why I won’t seek a diagnosis for myself or any of my children (who all four have varying degrees of SPD, I’d guess). I will, however, do my best to understand their senses, and to help them develop their own coping mechanisms when necessary, as I have. But also, I will help them to embrace these differences.
If you are the loved one of someone diagnosed with SPD, or you suspect they could be, let me give you a glimpse of what it’s like to NOT have my seemingly nonsensical comfort zone in place…
Last night, our power was out for the better part of 8 hours. It was hot and muggy. It got dark, and I decided to attempt to sleep. My older kids didn’t want to sleep in their rooms, because they were scared. They opted for the living room, in front of the big window with a streetlight next to it. I told them a few times “you must be silent, there’s no way I can sleep if you talk, and there’s little chance I’ll sleep even if you don’t”. I wasn’t exaggerating. I laid there in bed, a multitude of sensations overwhelming me…
I’m hot, so very hot
My feet are hot, I can’t sleep if my feet are hot
It’s too hot for clothes, but the textures on my bed are so very irritating and distracting without the soft, familiar barrier of my “comfy clothes”
My pillow isn’t even positioned correctly under my head; I can feel the wrinkles! It’s so irritating, it’s painful!
Ok, I’m as comfortable as I can be. Just relax, breathe in and out. Focus on breathing, fall asleep
Crap, that cricket’s chirping was annoying, but now it stopped and my brain can’t focus on it’s rhythm anymore
Now I hear traffic…cars, trucks, motorcycles…I can distinguish each type of vehicle
I can even hear the music drifting out of their windows as they drive by, over a block away
I hear people laughing and talking in their yards, doors shutting, dogs yipping, cats meowing
There’s the cricket again, focus on this blessed insect..
Now, the baby is fussing, he wants to nurse
There’s no way I can fall asleep with him attached to my nipple
I feel every movement, no matter how minute
He squeezes my skin, wiggles his feet
It’s usually a peaceful, blissful moment… but right now, with all this other madness, it’s torture
I don’t want it to be, but it is
Then, the toddler turns over toward me and her feet brush up against my backside
I want to scream!
It’s like sandpaper has just rubbed up against my skin
Or maybe stinging nettle
My instant reaction is to roughly move her feet aside and scratch the offended area, to negate the sensations on my skin
Breathe, breathe, relax, breathe
I put a blanket barrier between her feet and me, to prevent any more unwelcome touching
The baby is finally done nursing, now to focus on that cricket again
Oh, how I wish I had my fan, too drown out all these noises, and cool off my sweaty self…
This is how the next hour or so went, until the power came on again. The next time you have the opportunity to either comfort or get upset with the child in your life with SPD, remember to put yourself in their shoes, first. (Or not…most of us would rather go barefoot!)