Month: July 2013

What the heck is Sensory Processing Disorder?

What the heck is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? Also called Sensory Integration Disorder, or, as I call it, “My brain hurts from all the noises and lights and junk. I can’t function or anything, so I’m just gonna go to bed.”

I have found that nobody knows what SPD is, or just how deeply it can impact a person’s life. So darn it all! I’m making a post about it.

First, what the heck is sensory processing?

All of our senses are processed through our nervous system. That is, information is collected by our senses and sent to the brain where it is processed and sorted. Once this is done, your brain tells you how to respond to that information.

Second, what the heck is sensory processing disorder?

The disorder part comes into play when the act of sensory processing goes haywire. The sensory information gathered by the nervous system is not correctly interpreted by the brain, which results in numerous symptoms and behaviors.

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What happens then?

Well my friends, if your brain does not know how to understand the information that it is being fed, you’d better believe that your response to it will also be quite messed up.

For people with sensory disorders, the resulting behaviors from a malfunctioning sensory system can vary tremendously. For some, they turn-inward and become still and quiet. For others, they lash out and have a loud, head-banging, arm-flailing meltdown.

Personally, my body shuts-down. I cannot talk (or make sense when I do speak), or walk straight. I am disoriented, irritable, crying, and feeling completely detached and ill. The environment becomes simply too much to process, so my brain tells me to just turn off for a while.

What’s it like living in a sensory world?

As you can imagine, living with SPD is, shall we say, challenging. All aspects of living on planet Earth require that you have a functioning sensory system. This is especially true in Westernized societies where sensory stimulation is considered fun and enjoyable. Of course, it becomes less fun and less enjoyable when your brain cannot process sensory signals the way they should. The world becomes unexpected, chaotic, frightening, and confusing. Basic aspects of life such as taking a shower, cooking dinner, seeing friends, working, going to school, watching television, or eating become a battle.

Imagine showering if the feeling of water dripping on you made you want to run for your life, or the water temperature feels painfully cold for you, but to everyone else and their brother, it feels fine.

Imagine going to school where the bus is bumpy and the radio is painfully loud, and the seats are shiny and feel different and ugly on your skin. The children are noisy and they move fast, and the teacher gives you white paper that hurts your eyes to look at. Your hand won’t hold the pencil, and the lines and words are jumping and moving. In gym, you are terrified of climbing the cargo net but you love crashing yourself into the blue cushy mats. In art, the thought of finger-painting makes you cry, but you love cutting paper or looking at shiny scissors.

Imagine you can’t get a job because the store has fluorescent lights and the customers are loud, and have screaming children. Your job requires you complete tasks for countless hours in a sensory-filled environment. Your clothes are itchy and too tight. The feeling of denim or fleece is awful, but you have to wear it. There’s a tag in the shirt that makes you want to scream.

Imagine you try to eat dinner but the smell of food makes you gag, and the feeling of the food in your mouth is unbearable. But you love to touch it with your fingers because your body tells you that that makes more sense, and it doesn’t hurt.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED…

Here I am now, age 22. My sensory disorder still plagues my life. When I reached my teen years, I found that therapy to help me cope with this disorder was virtually non-existent. They assumed that because I was 13 years old, I was able to do all the therapy on my own. I find this disturbing. It’s not like sensory problems go away. They can be managed and treated, but as of right now, this problem is not curable.

Even worse is the fact that the majority of people – both the general public and professionals – are either blissfully unaware of sensory disorders, or they don’t believe in them at all. Yes, you heard me. Many “professionals” do not think sensory problems exist.

When I ask people if they know about SPD, they respond either “no,” or the conversation goes like this:

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Yeah like karate. UGH. BOW TO YOUR SENSEI.

SOME MORE THINGS I’VE LEARNED…

SPD is unrecognized in many people, aka: loads of people living with this disorder go undiagnosed. These people – young and old – have struggled their entire lives being deeply impacted by the challenges of living with sensory issues. I also feel that the sensory components in autism are severely neglected. In fact, I believe sensory problems are a huge factor in autism and the reason why autistic people behave the way they do. Autism is not just about communication problems.

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People generally don’t know much about autism (like the gentlemen in the illustration above) even though a huge number of the population live with this neurological disorder.

When researching autism, I found hardly any information about the connection to sensory problems. Everything was focused on communication and social skills. I recently read Temple Grandin’s newest book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. I was delighted to FINALLY see that she too noticed a huge lack of discussion about sensory problems in autistic people. Temple Grandin, you stole my hypothesis!!

I believe autistic behaviors stem from sensory overload (or under-load). Meaning, autistic people behave the way they do (social problems, little to no communication, meltdown, stimming, detachment/zoning out, need for routine, etc) as a way for their mind/body to cope with the sensory processing malfunction.

THIS, I feel is the most neglected part of autism, and it is neglected because sensory processing disorders are neglected across the board.

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Any thoughts/comments on SPD or related issues, leave a reply below. I love to see feedback or discussion! 🙂

xoxo kelly

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Food Shopping

Going to the store to buy food is always an adventure.

But is it a fun adventure?!

NO.

Why?

Let’s take a trip to the local grocery store.

First, there’s the list. Gotta make a list, or nothing’s going nowhere. The process is complicated though, because Momsy likes to please everyone and nobody knows what they want.  I’m never hungry, Shannon searches Pinterest for a vague recipe, like Guacamole dip, and Dad wants Beer. Also, Chips. So it’s like this:make the list

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After the list is finally made, it’s time to go to the store. I’ll volunteer to go because Momsy’s tired because she sleeps only 3 hours a night. Also, it takes us nearly two hours to make a list. So off I go.

When I first get to the store, I’m optimistic that everything will go my way.

But after just a few moments, my confidence is crushed. Then it is thrown in the garbage.

There was this:

carts

And then, there was this:

babies

With the people noises, the fluorescent lights, the squeaky floors, the colors, the smells, I KNEW I had to stay focused. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t make it out of there alive. The family needed food. It was do or die.

focus

I figured the best way to do this was to pick an item on the list and just focus on that item. Nothing else would matter until that item was in the cart. Yes. This was my strategy.

So I took a gander at the list.

list

And there it was. PASTA. That’s easy. I got this. I GOT THIS.

As I make my way to the pasta aisle, I see that the choices are enormous. There are different brands, different shapes, different colors; whole wheat, whole grain, whole lotta choices.

pasta

But then it hit me. The pasta aisle was HUGE. The shelves were towering over me. I started to sweat, and my eyes felt hot and squinty. It was like that time Frodo Baggins decided to go on an adventure to Mordor with his bro Sam, and it ended up being not-so-fun for either of them.

It was all too much. This was the end. This was the end of the end.

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In a panic, I just grabbed any pasta and dashed out of there to the next aisle. However, I’m barely around the corner when I sensed a familiar presence; an unwelcome presence.

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And then I saw it.

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IT WAS THE EVIL BABY. It was following me. Somehow, I knew it could sense my fear. I was straight-up terrified.

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I didn’t know what to do.  So I smiled.

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PUT SOME PASSION INTO IT, I thought to myself.

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My face hurt from smiling at the evil baby, but my efforts were futile, so I decided to make a run for it. I had nothing left to lose.

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After my half-mile sprint across the store, I hid behind a cart of baked goods and reviewed my options. Evil baby screamed in the distance. It was his battle cry.

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The fluorescent light glared down upon me. Everything else was dark and cold (probably because I was near the frozen food aisle, but still, it was very dramatic and tense). I huddled myself behind the bread and the light revealed my hiding spot; like a criminal during interrogation. I was nearly done with the food shopping. Somehow, I managed to gather my items during my sprint.

I stood up and gathered my last items. It was time for checkout. I had to be swift.

The problem with getting on-line to pay for your food is that there are usually about 10 possible registers you could go to, but only 2 or 3 are actually open. Not to mention, it’s overstimulating to be waiting there.

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So not only am I not overstimulated from the workout that is food shopping, but now I have to wait on a line with noisy people doing noisy things with noisy machines while the speakers in the store shout noisy things at me.

I waited on line #2 for what seemed like half a century, and when I finally get up there, I’m relieved. Of course, the pimply adolescent male at the register informs me that he is now “closed.”

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No he wasn’t closed. His light was still on. I decided to address this contradiction. I thought it would be best to address him by his name, that way, I’d look like I meant business, while still being sincere. So I glanced at his name tag.

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Ok. So the dude had a weird name. I’m gonna roll with it.

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Well, “Blake,” obviously didn’t give a flying poo about me or the fact that I was near sensory meltdown. Thankfully, another store employee said something like, “Blake, just help this young lady then you’re done for the day.”

I was overjoyed with gratitude for this person! I could’ve cried with thankfulness. Dear person, whoever you are, I love you.

And I was all like:

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And Blaeck was all like:

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After dealing with Blaeck, and the incredibly loud beeps at the register, I left the store with no additional encounter with evil baby.  Although, his demonic screams will forever haunt my nightmares.

I put the groceries into my trunk, got to my car, and got lucky with no horn/car alarm related incidents. It was just another food shopping adventure. Victory was mine. All in a day’s work.

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Thunderstorms

For all you people who just love thunderstorms, I envy you. In my body, thunderstorms are the worst. Take all the worst things ever, put them together and wrap them up in shiny paper, and put a bow on it, and you have thunderstorms. If you’re like me, anticipating a thunderstorm is like preparing for the Apocalypse.  You have your gear. You have your rituals. You have your safe spot (usually the dog is in your spot too because dogs know what’s about to go down and they don’t mess around).

Let’s go over exactly why thunderstorms are so dreadful awful.

The most obvious problem here is that the source of the problem is uncontrollable. I can’t control the sky. You can’t control the sky. Your creepy uncle who collects miniature ceramic horses can’t control the sky.

Thunderstorms are evil in their ability to be wherever they want, whenever they want.

First, the sky gets dark and ominous. When has anything good ever come from being dark and ominous? Let’s see….oh yes, nothing good has ever come from darkness and ominousness.

notgood thunderstorm

After the initial stage, when the storm has warmed up and stretched, the real fun begins.

The sky flashes with a bright, blinding light. I for one am only slightly happy about this because it gives me a warning. At the same time, I’m startled by the light – especially if the room I’m in is dark – and thrown off balance entirely. Something like this:

lightning

Then – the worst part – THUNDER. It’s loud. It’s sudden. It’s everywhere. It’s merciless. Thunder, like all sound, cannot be grabbed, pushed, or shooed away. It’s just there, in the air, being a jerk.

Regular people –  those neurotypicals – just love a good thunderstorm. They love to love it, and they don’t understand why I don’t love it. They’re all like:

thunder fun

Those people suck. There, I said it. Meanwhile, I’m like:

boomcrack

As I type this, a thunderstorm is warming up itself in the sky. The lights are flickering. My left eye is twitching. But most importantly, it’s time to make some important decisions. It’s time to look at my choices.

choices

Choice A: My musicians earplugs. I never use these because they are painful and ineffective. This shouldn’t even be a choice… I don’t know why I included it. *facepalm*

Choice B: Orange wax earplugs. Both effective and less painful. AND ORANGE!

Choice C: Noise-canceling headphones. A+ for comfort, but I’ll give them a C- for effectiveness. Thunderstorms are too much for these devices.

Choice D: aka, the best choice. These are my ZEMS.  If I could, I would wear these babies everywhere.

The only way I’ve learned to fight thunderstorms is by wearing my ZEMS. God Bless my ZEMS. They are awkward as hell, but bless ‘em.

ZEMs are worn by people with large heads who work near loud machinery or airplanes. They are also worn by me, and I definitely don’t have a large head by any means. These ear devices look like headphones, only uglier. They take the sound that is coming towards my ears and say “NUH-UH SOUND. NOT TODAY,” and then sound is like, “oh, my bad.”

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Above is a gentleman wearing his ZEMS. Nice job, mister. Way to go.

Choice E: My fingers. By shoving my pointer fingers into my ears, I can substantially decrease thunderstorm sound invasion. Further, my fingers make for good rapid-fire ear protection – perfect for those sudden moments of thunderstorm doom when there’s no time for making choices!

Choice F: Finally, we have choice F, meltdown/coma. F stands for failure, futile, freak-out, frenzy, and another f-word. When all else fails, my last choice is to just give into the thunderstorm and have myself a sensory meltdown. Choice F is not very effective, by the way.

So what’s a girl to do?

I often try to pretend to be a thunderstorm badass, but that can be hard to do considering badassery is probably the last characteristic I would pick to describe myself in any given situation. This is what I would look like if I was a thunderstorm badass:

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…and this is what I look like because I’m not a thunderstorm badass:

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Hiding under the thunderstorm protection blanket with my dog.

Speaking of awful noises from the sky, the 4th of July is coming up…like now. I should make a post about that because it’s Independence Day  the worst day of the year.