Have you ever known someone who is incredibly picky? They could be a picky eater or have exacting taste in clothes. Maybe they'll leave a store if they don't like the way it smells or whine about hearing something you barely even notice.
These are some examples of symptoms expressed by those with sensory processing issues.
For those of you who have met me at conventions and asked why I started soaping, you probably were answered with something like, "Well, I figured I'd use this nose that causes migraines to good use." Or maybe I talked about how at least one of the four of us in our household would react poorly to all the soaps we tried from the store, so I decided to start making our own. Both are true, and both have the same root cause: not allergies, though those did play a role, but sensory processing problems.
Hubby and I have known almost since they were born that the girls were hypersensitive to sound. It's something that runs thick in my family. My mother, little brother, and I could all hear dog whistles for crying out loud. That wasn't surprising. We knew how to deal with it.
The thing is, although we knew other sensory hypersensitivities existed, we didn't really understand them so much. Even as Hubby began working with children on the autism spectrum, it still seemed like something very abstract.
Then we both took a job with another school in the area that specialized in helping children on the spectrum, and they brought in psychologists to train us before the school year started. A lot of that training had to do with sensory processing issues, both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to all seven, yes seven, senses. As the training went on, we began to recognize things we'd seen in people over the years, including myself and both of our daughters.
Now, I want to note right here, having issue with sensory processing does not necessarily mean someone is or is not on the autism spectrum or that they have sensory processing disorder. In fact, showing one or two of the "symptoms" is perfectly normal. After all, everyone's senses are different. Everyone's needs are different. The key is finding and understanding your needs in order to help yourself self-regulate to be as healthy, happy, and comfortable as possible.
The thing is, when one sense is either very overstimulated or quite under stimulated, it can throw off your perception of other senses. It can cause difficulty maintaining attention and concentration, and it can cause a lot of frustration for you and those around you.
Just as an example, I began having a lot of issues with joint pain and weakness over the last three or four years. I've gone to doctors about it. The early stages of rheumatoid arthritis was suspected but never really found, so a wait-and-see tack was taken.
You remember the earlier mention of seven senses? Those are the proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Proprioception is our sense of our joints and muscles and how much force we're exerting on them, and the vestibular sense lets us know where our body is in space and how it's moving. If your proprioceptive sense isn't processed correctly, you can think you're holding something tightly when you've just barely closed your hand around it, leading to dropping things. Or you can think you're holding a pencil normally and snap it because you're holding it so tight. Processing hiccups in the vestibular sense can have you crashing into walls or missing steps on a flight of stairs.
Aside from bouts of severe pain, this is a lot of what I was experiencing, so I began researching how to deal with sensory processing problems. I did even more so when I noticed the improvement in attention and behavior the girls experienced while they had a teacher who understood this sensory stuff better than Hubby and me.
I was skeptical, but at the same time it didn't surprise me when using these regulating techniques brought a stop to the instances of randomly dropping or "throwing" things without meaning to do so. I was rather relieved the number of times I smacked into the door jab when I thought I was dead center of the door or tripping while going up stairs diminished. What I didn't expect was the steep drop in pain I'd come to believe would never ease. Did it go away completely? No, but it's about a third of what it has been for the past eleven years or so and maybe a tenth of what I've experienced in the last three or four.
I've begun to read an increase in joint pain as my body's call for proprioceptive input. Personally, deep pressure on the middle of my back, to the tune of 40-60 pounds of steady pressure for ten to fifteen minutes works wonders. You'd think that would hurt, but for me, it's both calming and relieving. (I've nearly nodded off with a nine-year-old child standing on my back for crying out loud!)
I'm still a noob when it comes to sensory processing issues and how they affect our perception of and response to the world around us. The girls and I are still going through a process of trial and error to find what works to help us feel regulated.
Do you or someone you now have issues processing sensory input? What do you do to help?
Also, would you like to hear about the different things the girls and I try to keep ourselves regulated and whatever methods we hear about here on the blog from time to time?