Tag Archives: sensory diet

Sensory Overload and Sensory Cravings

My friend Ibby posted this video on her Facebook timeline (for those triggered by loud noise, flashing lights and/or prone to seizures, do NOT watch or at least turn the volume way down and stand back)  

A twitter friend, after I reposted this video, wrote that this was why he wears headphones and I tweeted back that while Emma is sensitive to some noises, for the most part she craves noise and typically turns the volume up as loud as it can physically go on both music and favorite movies, much to the horror of our various neighbors.  Even though we live in New York City (a place that is, for many, a sensory overload), people get cranky when woken at 6:30AM on Saturday morning to the strains of Michael Jackson’s Beat it.  Even hard-core MJ fans protest at the volume Emma prefers and at that time of day.

My twitter friend tweeted back, “I like certain noises, Avenge Sevenfold. ;D  It’s noises other than the one I’m trying to focus on that are the problem.”  And this is exactly the important distinction that I often forget or have trouble understanding.  Unless you have sensory issues, like the ones depicted in this video, I think it’s really hard to fully understand how debilitating sensory overload can be.

A couple of months ago I went to do our weekly grocery shopping run at Whole Foods.  Typically I go every Saturday in the early afternoon.  This is a time that isn’t too crazy, the lines aren’t insanely long and often it’s even comparatively quiet.  As I stood in front of the check-out person, the cashier next to her began loudly unfolding a paper bag.  The noise was deafening, a kind of snapping sound followed by crackling.   I actually felt physical pain from the noise.  My cashier looked over and laughed and then another cashier did the same thing with one of her bags.  In response the first guy did it back and suddenly I was in the midst of a cacophony of bags being banged opened, like a series of gun shots going off.  It was horrible. I stood there stunned.  I became so disoriented I could barely think and then I felt a surge of rage. How dare they make this kind of noise with those paper bags! How dare they behave this way!  I looked around trying to figure out who I should direct my anger to and noticed that not only were they smiling, some were even laughing and so were the other customers.

They were having fun!  I was astonished.  What was so incredibly painful to me, was amusing to others.  As I left the grocery store I reflected on sensory issues and how overwhelming they can be. I thought about Emma and wondered what it must be like for her.  Does she feel this way when she needs sensory input and cannot get it or is told she must turn the volume down?  I know there are certain noises she cannot tolerate, like the cuisinart.  She hates the sound it makes and will only tolerate it if I allow her to control it and put it on “pulse”, the same goes for the electric mixer.  If one of us sings along to music she’s listening to she can’t stand it and puts her hands over her ears.  (I completely understand her doing this when I sing, I’m pretty much tone-deaf and it IS painful to listen to for even those with no sensory issues, but she does this to anyone who sings along.)

After watching the video I posted above, I was grateful for the ending.  Not because it changed anything or showed some obvious solution, but because it was one human being taking the time to notice another human being in obvious pain without judgment or condemnation.

As an aside – I would love to hear from those who need and crave sensory input.  What is that like?  What does it feel like?  Is there anything you’ve done that has helped you.  Any advice or ways we can make your life more tolerable during those times?

Emma – 2007 – Auditory Integration Therapy

Em

Dionne Warwick, Somersaults and Feelings

Every morning after her breakfast, Emma listens to music, which she dances and sings to.  This morning she played Dionne Warwick.  Emma has choreographed specific dances for specific songs and in one she has even incorporated a series of somersaults; it’s a kind of Cirque Du Soleil goes disco moment.  When one of us dances with her she will sometimes dance with us while laughing, but just as often will turn her back or, as she did last night yell, “No Mommy.  Sit down!”  So horrified was she by my undulations.  At other times she will hold an arm out in front of her with her hand held like a shield blocking her eyes from us, although I think from her perspective we are the ones being blocked from her.  We’ve made a game out of this and will dart around her so that we are within sight while Emma shrieks with laughter.

“She wants to engage with others,” one of the many specialists noted during an evaluation when Emma was just three years old.  “No one can teach a child that.  You’re way ahead of the game.”

When Emma was first diagnosed I read about how autists are unable to understand emotions and have little if any desire for interaction.  I then reached the conclusion that were this true Emma didn’t feel the full range of emotions we neuro-typicals do.  But I quickly found this to be false.  In fact, I would say the opposite is true.  Emma feels the full range of emotions available to any of us in high-def.  I have seen the look on her face when she thinks she will get to see one of her cousins, but is told they are not coming after all.  Emma’s feelings get hurt, she feels tremendous disappointment, she prefers being with her family more than anything in the world, she finds comfort in specific people just as any other child does.  She has favorite friends at school whom she seeks out.   If anything Emma is an extremely sensitive child, just as her brother is, the difference is she isn’t able to talk to us about her feelings, at least not yet, and the way she conceptualizes situations may be different, I don’t know.  What I do know is that Emma feels a great deal.  Her feelings are easily hurt, she feels tremendous frustration, disappointment, sadness as well as happiness, joy, excitement, anticipation and love.

Before Joe took the kids to a giant indoor water park two weeks ago, Emma said, “I’m so excited!  Mommy and Daddy come too?”  Her full range of emotions were obvious in those two utterances.

Regarding our IEP meeting yesterday – thank you to all who reached out.  These meetings are never fun and this one proved to be no different from the rest.  We did insist that Emma’s sensory issues be noted, though we were told the words “sensory diet” could not be used as they were a specific methodology and therefore could not be included in the report.  We found this somewhat baffling as a sensory diet is not a “methodology.”  It’s a bit like saying someone’s wheelchair is a “methodology,” but rather than quibble with them, we made sure specific references were made throughout her IEP, which should help, if anyone actually bothers to read it.  At least they didn’t say – “Oh yes, I see here that she eats a limited number of foods,” which was what was said to us several years ago during another IEP meeting when we spoke of the need for a “sensory diet.”

I will end with a series of Prepper acronyms WTSHTF (When The S**t Hits The Fan) at least we’ll have our BOB (Bug Out Bag – enough supplies to last a week or so) or at the very least our GOOD kit (Get Out Of Dodge) so that we’ll be prepared for TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It).  I am not making these up.  They exist.  I swear.  Gotta love that.  And for all of you as amused by The Donald’s (TD’s) “hair” as I am, he claims it is NOT a weave, though some have speculated that it’s a “double comb over” (DCO) which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, so I’m going with that theory.  I promise I’m done.  OAO.  (Over And Out.)

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book