Posts Tagged ‘sensory processing issues’

Approaches to change

I went to a college where I took a new class every 3 1/2 weeks.

I did a traveling study abroad program where we traveled to a new city and country roughly every two weeks.

After college, I did an AmeriCorps program where I worked on a team and changed projects (and locations, including places in the Northeast and the Gulf Coast) every 6-8 weeks.  In 10 months, I spent time in 5+ locations.

From ages 28-31, I lived in a communal home where regularly switching rooms – without much choice in the matter – was commonplace.  A lot of the activities in the house – which were based on a specific recovery and leadership model – reinforced accepting change, transitions, and transformation.

All these situations involved consistent change.

Somewhere along the way, I think I adopted the philosophy that adapting to situations would help me build resilience.  I chose activities and programs that I believed would help my personal growth.  When I first heard about my first AmeriCorps program, the representative at the job fair made the comment, “You have to learn to be flexible.”  I don’t know if I really took this in, or perhaps I believed that the program would help me grow and learn to adapt.  I do think that for some people, approaching situations this way might help increase their capacity to adapt and be flexible.  I think this is less true for me.

Two weeks ago, I sat in my occupational therapist’s new office with a weighted blanket on my lap, taking a few minutes to allow my nervous system to recover from the unfamiliar drive.  It was my first time driving to the area by myself.  My OT said she wanted to acknowledge how much effort and energy it had taken for me to get there – that doing something new and different is generally more challenging for people with sensory issues.

Looking back, I realize that transitions have generally been difficult for me, even from one activity to another, let alone a major life change.  I don’t ease into something new.  It takes time.  I realize now that I have more sensory tools, it takes conscious effort to self-regulate and adapt on my own terms.

I did all those things that involved so much change and newness, and in many cases, I thought it was in my best interest.  And while I can certainly say I learned from my experiences and have some positive take aways, there’s another part of me that’s like, damn, that was exhausting.  Those experiences definitely took an energetic toll on my nervous system.

Now, I know to prepare myself for change, to allow myself to go more slowly, and I’m more accepting when I feel drained after doing a new activity.

Now, I’m learning the street layouts of a new city before I move there in the fall; last week I spent time there with my fiancé so I can get acquainted with what our life there might be like.  I realize there’s a balance in not over-anticipating how this upcoming large shift in my life may unfold, but I can take steps.

I recognize that change is a part of life.  I don’t need to condemn or criticize myself for how I react to it.  When I consciously release any judgment on how I approach change, and keep sensory factors in mind, perhaps I’ll transition a little easier next time.

Friday link roundup 2/19


I found this on Facebook and it resonated with me.


Unapologetic Body Love:  A Nia teacher shares a body-positive story and message on Rebelle Society.

Why aren’t there more treatments for menstrual pain and other related symptoms? This article addresses the stigma and lack of research.

St. Louis native and poet uses her words as activism to address issues such as racism, personal and community healing, and love.

Today is a Day of Remembrance: on this date in 1942, the U.S. government gave the order to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

The New York City Ballet held dance workshops for children with disabilities. The video about the process is definitely worth watching.

My hometown, Albuquerque, is hosting Women and Creativity events next month. As part of it, they are inviting people to make art and poetry trading cards to exchange with other participants. You don’t have to be local to join! Go here for more information and to sign up (sign up deadlines are in early March).

Susan Cain, author of Quiet – the bestselling book about the power of introverts – discusses the new book she wrote as a guide for introverted kids and teens, and how it may also benefit educators and parents.

SPD advocate Rachel Schneider released her first book this week! Making Sense is a guidebook for people with sensory issues and their loved ones. Check it out!

Sensory gifts

As I continue to realize how much my sensory processing issues have affected me throughout my life, I acknowledge that it’s easy to fall into thinking how they have challenged and limited me. I recognize that these issues and experiences bring both gifts and challenges.  I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the gifts:

  • The incredible delight I can feel when my fiancé touches me, the way simple sensations can be exquisitely amplified.
  • The way music feels when I can concentrate on it and allow all my senses to come alive, as though every instrument is stroking me softly.
  • I love how I appreciate soft textures, how touching certain fabrics can soothe me.
  • Tasting something delicious can feel like a whole body experience.
  • I feel deeply and have a high level of empathy and energetic sensitivity.
  • When I retreat to restore my energy, I enjoy my own company.
  • I appreciate my rich and intricate inner world.
  • My sensitivities deepen my creative process as an artist and a writer.
  • I have developed excellent self-care skills.
  • I have gained incredible strength and insight in finding how to approach my life in ways that work for me.

I am sure there are more.  What gifts does something that challenges you bring you?

Listening for sensory integration

This is my third week doing an Integrated Listening Systems program.  Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) is an multi-sensory program for improving brain function, and can be used with people with autism, SPD, ADD, and ADHD. It may help people process and integrate sensory information more effectively.  I’m renting mine from a local children’s sensory integration clinic.  The program involves listening to classical music on an iPod for hour-long sessions 3 to 5 times a week, and the headphones have a bone conductor on them that vibrates at various frequencies along with the music.  There are several different concentrations, and the first concentrates on sensory motor skills.  The equipment also comes with a book of exercises. 

iLS equipment

The music is mostly instrumental, and occasionally includes low-key chanting.  The vibrations from the bone conductor are pretty subtle at this point.  So far, I find the music soothing and the sessions are a nice break from the rest of my day.  The first few times, my ears started aching slightly towards the end of the session.  It’s sometimes more challenging for me to process additional auditory information afterwards.  Also, my energy level often drops after I listen.  I’m taking it slowly and keeping notes of my experience.

Since learning more about my sensory challenges, I’ve become more aware of how I rarely filter out or ignore background noise.  Hearing multiple conversations in a space can throw me off and make it challenging for me to concentrate.  This past Saturday, I briefly had a different experience.  While having breakfast with my love and a friend at a local diner, I noticed the noise of all the people talking, and then I focused back on our conversation.   I shifted my attention from one to the other without getting overwhelmed by either or both.  It was somewhat like an auditory version of zooming in and out.  It felt expansive.  While it’s hard to say if this was directly related to the iLS sessions, I definitely processed auditory information more effectively in that moment.

Sensory integration work often seems like a huge experiment. I don’t know how going through the iLS program will affect me in the long run. I’m remaining open and curious.  I’ll keep you all posted on any new developments. 

A sensory conference and gift ideas!

I had two things I wanted to briefly share:

A free online sensory conference on November 15!  SPD Parent Zone just received a generous donation that enabled them to offer their upcoming conference for free.  The conference has over 7 speakers, including Rachel S. Schneider of Coming to My Senses.  If you can’t watch it live, there will be a recording for later.  Go here to register!

I really like this idea.  This is short notice, since this offer closes tonight at midnight, but Mighty Girl is offering something called Advents for Good.  It’s an Advent Grab Bag, and the concept is to grab an item for each day leading up to Christmas.  They can also make great gifts, stocking stuffers, etc. for the occasion of your choice.  They say that the gifts inside are appropriate for ages 4 and up, and that kids and adults alike will enjoy them.  Also, 20% of the proceeds go to Intrahealth International to fund training for nurses to provide healthcare in under-served communities.  For more information, go here.

Sensory snapshots

Some recent realizations and snapshots:

As a child, I often had night terrors where I would scream, flail, babble, and sleepwalk.  I’ve had them occasionally as an adult during times of great stress [minus the sleepwalking]. I did a search online and discovered it may be common for children with SPD to have night terrors.  I don’t think there’s been official research on this, but I’ve definitely seen people discuss it in various SPD forums.

In high school, I would often freeze when a teacher called on me, even when I knew the answer.  I wanted to speak more in class on my own terms, but would often get so overwhelmed by the pressure that I ended up staying quiet.  I think this may have had something to do with the amount of internal and external pressure and being “on the spot” with everyone looking at me. I think I may have been feeling overstimulated and shutting down.  I struggled with this in college, too.  Now, it’s much easier for me to speak when someone asks me a question, and I still have moments [again, more likely when I’m under stress] where I find my mind blank and nothing on the tip of my tongue.

Recent pet peeve:  the video ads on pages.  I’ll be reading an article and suddenly there’s sound and moving objects on the screen.  My first reaction is to yelp and close either the a) page or b) laptop, so I somehow don’t think I’m their target market.

Last week, I was at a small bead store looking at crystal beads.  I noticed that the combination of the sparkly beads, the lights, and the ceiling fan made it visually challenging to focus on anything. The salesperson was nice and turned off the fan for me, and understood it was creating a mini-strobe-light effect (which she told her co-worker when she asked).  It occurred to me afterward that I was exposing myself by admitting that the combination of sensory information was affecting me.  I think I’m okay with that.

Before now, I didn’t know I could reserve a book at Barnes & Noble and pick it up at the register.  While I enjoy reading and getting new books, I often find the experience of looking for specific books at that store to be overstimulating.  Walking in, there are gadgets and magazines and best sellers and so much to take in visually that I often have to step back to remember what I came there for.  Since Barnes and Noble here is attached to a large mall, parking also can be challenging so I may walk in already feeling like I’ve been through an ordeal.  However, last Wednesday was much easier – it was the middle of a weekday and it had been drizzling, so traffic was comparatively low.  I did spend some time looking at some of the journals and things, and then I was able to go to the register, ask for my book, and check out.  I’m discovering I have about a twenty-minute tolerance at busy stores before I start  to shut down and wander around aimlessly.  Reserving the book allowed me the time to have some browsing time and leave before I got overwhelmed.

I got a weighted blanket!  I’m so excited!  It’s handmade, which cut the costs a lot once I found someone to make it for me (my sewing skills are very basic).  It’s so soothing and helps with anxiety during the day and sleep at night.  It was definitely worth the investment.

These days, I go in and out of acceptance. I have had sensory processing disorder all of my life, and I’ve only been aware of it fully for roughly five months.  My self-perception has been shifting – my reality hasn’t changed much but my perspective has.  After getting more information about my visual processing challenges on top of everything else, I felt more daunted.   I’ve had days where I’ve felt discouraged and like there was so much in my way, as if signs that said “go slowly” really said “stop.”   I’ve been noticing so much more, sensory-wise, and that doesn’t mean that it’s gotten worse, I’m just more aware.  I am acknowledging my challenges and limitations.  I know how to take care of myself better than ever before.  My preferred mindset is to see it like this:  I am trying to find the best possible quality of life for myself.  It may not meet my own or other people’s expectations.  I can create new and reasonable expectations for myself.  I can cheerlead myself on when I feel discouraged without pushing myself past my limits.  I am continually learning new tools and coping mechanisms.  It’s definitely a process, and I’m making progress.

Sensory processing issues and trauma

A friend recently asked me how my sensory processing issues and trauma interplay.

The truth is, it’s hard for me to fully distinguish between the two.  A sensory-based reaction can mimic a traumatic response.  I think sometimes it can *be* a traumatic response.  Perhaps more than sometimes.  Having sensory processing disorder can mean that I’m consistently in flight-or-flight mode, either responding or anticipating a response.  There have definitely been times when someone has suspected that I’m having a response based a past traumatic event when it’s been more sensory based.

Then there are times like this:

I have an intense reaction.  I tell someone about the experience.  They tell me I am not having the experience, or that I am exaggerating, or they somehow invalidate that experience in another way.  I then invalidate myself.  This can be traumatic in its own way, and at the very least, can lead to me undermining my own very real experiences.  This has happened quite a few times throughout my life, enough that I still at times find myself doubting my own perspective.

…and situations like these:

My sensory processing issues affected me as I learned to drive.  There was real fear, and it felt really overwhelming to be out on the road and dealing with so much stimulation on all levels.  Then I got into accidents and had intense reactions.  These experiences were traumatic for me.  From then on, trauma AND sensory issues affected my experience of driving.  (I do quite well with driving now, and it’s taken me a long time, some personal work, and a lot of acceptance).

My tactile defensiveness have affected how I experienced touch.  I remember how challenging it was in the early stages of romantic and sexual relationships, where I would get overstimulated.  It felt like something I had to push through to “make it okay.”  Writing that feels a bit heart-wrenching, because who wants that?  I experienced sensual touch as both overstimulating and pleasurable, and it sometimes felt like I was at war with those parts of myself.  Once, when a person pressured me and violated my boundaries, I experienced that as traumatic.  There have also been times where even the softest, most well-meaning touch has felt like too much, and repeated times of pushing those limits definitely affected me.

So, overall, my answer is:  For me, I think it often begins with a sensory-based reaction.  When something I interpret as traumatic happens, it piles on top of that and increases the intensity of my triggers and responses.  In the end, it’s something I address and heal within myself through therapeutic work, acceptance, and acknowledging my experiences as valid and real.

Creating a sensory-friendly Halloween: my own experience and tips

I’ve been reading comments from parents of children with sensory processing disorder and realizing that Halloween might be a challenging time for kids with SPD:  there’s the comfort of the costume, the high activity level of parties and trick or treating, dietary concerns, and so on.

I personally have never been into scary movies, ghost stories, or haunted houses.  My vivid imagination and tendency to startle easily make those kinds of activities less than enjoyable.  Also, I find bloody and gory costumes and scenery downright disgusting, and the more realistic those are, the more visceral my reaction tends to be.  I’ve always enjoyed the dressing up part of Halloween.  I have always been a huge fan of comfort and preferred homemade costumes – I didn’t the texture of many of the store-bought ones.

I had written most of the previous paragraph in the past tense before I realized that most things that were true for me as a child still apply.  I think Halloween might be challenging for many people – regardless of age – with SPD (although it might be different for sensory seekers).  Personally, I would much rather have a quiet evening than go to a crowded event or throw myself into an activity where something or someone might jump out at me.  This year, my Halloween plans are to dress up for my morning Nia class, and later in the morning, I’m going to a coffee shop where they’re offering free drinks for anyone in costume.

Trying on handmade parts of my bird costume!

Trying on handmade parts of my bird costume!

I’ve found several articles with tips geared towards parents of children with SPD, including this one from The Sensory Spectrum.  I thought I’d create a short list of Halloween tips for adults with sensory processing disorder.

1.  Costume:  Create a costume that is sensory-friendly, with fabrics you know you like.  Simply:  if it feels uncomfortable, don’t wear it!

2.  Don’t carve a pumpkin if the texture bothers you. Don’t get close to anything with textures meant to simulate brains or eyeballs.

3.  If you’re going to a party or event, make sure you know approximately how many people are going to be there and what the environment is going to be like.  Go with a buddy if possible.  In any case, give yourself permission to leave or step away if you feel overstimulated.  Bring ear plugs in case there’s loud music and any sensory fidgets that might help soothe you.

4.  Avoid – or minimize going to – places (like haunted houses) that involve people jumping out at you or sudden loud noises.

5.  Give yourself permission to go or stay home if that’s what you need.

Happy Halloween!

On re-telling my story with sensory details

 I’ve felt overwhelmed this week because I got more information about my vision, which gave me a deeper piece to the puzzle of my sensory experiences – not only do I have poor binocular coordination, but also poor depth perception.  This leads to a number of things, but in short makes it very easy for me to get overstimulated visually.  I’m grateful for the information, and it’s also a lot to digest on top of everything else I’ve learned in the past few months.

Sometimes it seems like I am re-writing my own story, my own history
I know more of the hows and whys,
What I thought were tantrums were meltdowns
What I thought was shyness were often sensory shutdowns – like being put on the spot in a class and freezing and ending up saying nothing
Startling easily if someone came up unexpectedly or from loud noises,
Disconnection from my physical body related to feeling out of place in space, to not seeing distances accurately, to seeing much too much of everything;
and from tactile defensiveness, which came across as a traumatic reaction to touch.
When I experienced sensory overload often, it built up and led to breakdowns, which sometimes led to physical illnesses or depression.
Cringing at loud noises, gagging at strange smells
It all makes much more sense now.

I find this unsettling. I am aware that it also has the potential to be empowering.  I have information that has incredible explanatory power, a huge light bulb.  A huge light bulb that could lead to a key to discovering how to create a good quality of life for myself, on my own terms.

However, I also feel a deep sense of sadness, of grief
for all the years I tried to push these parts of me to the side
for realizing how hard I’ve been compensating – both consciously and unconsciously – and how exhausting that has been.

Now I feel like someone is squeezing my heart.  I am tired.  I feel discouraged.  I want to tap into the empowering pieces of these revelations, but they are not present for me right now.  There are no immediate answers. I am doing a lot to take care of myself. I need time with this.

Tactile toolkit

I remember an interaction with my then-girlfriend in high school. “I’m very textile.” “You mean tactile?”  She asked.

Yes, tactile. Whenever I’m in a fabric store, I spend more time touching than looking. I love the sleekness of silk, the fuzziness of fleece, the ridges on corduroy.

As someone with Sensory Processing Disorder and high tactile defensiveness, the materials I find irritating have the ability to set me on edge.
The materials I love have the potential to calm and soothe me.

I was talking to my occupational therapist about this recently, and she saw the look on my face and suggested that I include fabric scraps as part of my sensory toolkit.

So, while visiting my love, we went to a reclaimed art supply place and I found my first scraps of fabric and ribbon. He also gave me a wine gift bag he didn’t want anymore – with soft fabric and tassels!

I think the most soothing part of this bag for me are the tassels

I think the tassels are the most soothing part of this bag for me

fleece thingy

Soft fleece!

This yarn is so soft.  It feels softer when bunched up together like this.


I was just at a craft fair (as a vendor, and I browsed, too) and added this scrunchie – it’s a combination of chiffon and silk.

chiffon scrunchie

I’m hoping to gather more so I have a variety to choose from. I never know when I might need to take a time out to feel the soft textures of these pieces.

fabric assortment

It’s like my own portable fabric petting zoo!