What School Is Like For The Sensory Sensitive

It’s that time of year again, SCHOOL’S STARTING, and for the sensory sensitive, you know what that means…

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That’s right. Time to scream and run for the hills.

I thought I’d make a blog post about school, because for me and many of you reading this blog, school was an awful time. This post will be about my personal experience with school, but please realize that – like most things – our disabilities and experiences run on a spectrum. This means that my experience may be vastly different from yours, even if we have the same set of problems. Still, I’m sure everyone will relate to what I’m about to say.

Now that the mumbo jumbo is over, let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Preschool was a fun and exciting adventure for me. I got to leave my mom, and go to a land of noisy, confusing, miniature idiots. Preschool went like this:

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Ma left me with the idiots, but only for a short while until she figured out that preschool just wasn’t for me. So I stayed home and focused on more important things:

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Soon enough, kindergarten arrived. Ready or not, I had to go. Well, I didn’t always go. Guess who had the award for most school absences ever? Yea, it was me. You guessed correctly, good job.

This pattern continued for like, ever.

I had my reasons….

Meanwhile on the school bus:

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The students had faded to loud, swirly blobs that encompassed all my hatred of school bus traveling.

Meanwhile, in the classroom:

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Sometimes, I became desperate and mentally deranged. Things got violent, sort of:

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(Ok so, that last bit never happened. But you get the point… no pun intended).

Meanwhile, in the cafeteria:

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Then middle school rolled along, and hey, it sucked too! Especially in 7th/8th grade, where my sensory sensitivities escalated for some reason. I still don’t know why that happened, I can only speculate what happened in my brain:

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In middle school, I was diagnosed with Hyperacusis, which is the inability to tolerate normal sounds. When I say “normal,” I’m referring to the sound of someone’s voice, or the sound of a car/bus passing, or the sound of a chair being pushed under a desk.

My other senses were heightened as well – just as they always were – but my noise intolerance dominated my life. It was around this time that I turned to drawing as a source of coping.

In high school, life suckage reached an all time high. The expectation of me getting through the day was flawed and destined for failure.

The idiots from preschool were basically the same:

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I began to thinkΒ things:

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There was forced learning collaboration with students I’d wish to avoid at all costs:

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There was also lockers slamming, constant switching of classes, 7+ hours of constant sensory bombardment, and the expectation to perform academically, socially, etc. Β Also…FIRE DRILLS. I’m lucky to have survived, honestly.

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Looking back at my time in school, I see a blurry mess of anxiety, stress, homework, noise, and tiny moments of joy. I know the same can be said for everyone living with sensory sensitivities or full-blown SPD. Luckily, times are changing and society is becoming more aware and more tolerant of our unique set of circumstances and needs. Who knows, maybe one day I will start the first SPD Academy, and school will be a freakin’ great time for everyone.

xo kelly

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16 comments

  1. Oh dear, sounds like your “schooldays” must have been a real challenge ~ so very glad to read that you feel things are changing πŸ™‚
    P.S. Love your thought about opening your own private school!

  2. I know I’m a very late but I love your post. I haven’t been diagnosed with SPD but a have many symptoms . The symptoms aren’t nearly as serious as your though. I guess it’s mild SPD ( if there’s such thing).

    Anyway, I’ve just started realising why I do lots of things like the way I do them. I used to thing I was spoiled and weird.

    As I mentioned, I haven’t been diagnosed. I’m pretty complicated though. I’m able to tolerate loud noises but not multiple noises at once, I won’t be able to filter them and my brain will freeze for a second. In addition, my coordination isn’t very good so I tend to slam things and create loud noises which normal people themselves don’t like.

    I hate school and it’s always unexpected that I’ll either have a good day or day which I find horrible.

    I’m only beginning to discover SPD and I’ve got a lot to learn…and thanks so much for this post!

    1. Hi! Better late than never – thanks for sharing your story! I’m delighted to hear that you were able to relate to my post. SPD can be complicated and confusing, but you clearly are a proactive person, which is the best thing you can do for yourself right now.
      Check out my other blog stories – you may find them interesting as well! Take care! xo kelly

      1. Thanks so much for the reply πŸ˜„!
        I’ve read about SPD on Wikipedia. It said that it was characterized by SIGNIFICANT problems. I’m not really extremely sensitive. I hate touch a lot though. I used to scream and run away as a child when my parents tried to hug me. Now(at the age of 15), I jerk out of shock when someone touches me. I’m a very picky eater.i hate eating at other people’s houses since I’m unfamiliar with their food.

        I also read your post about HSP vs SPD. I wasn’t sure about some things. So, I wanted to ask you πŸ˜„. My sensory issues aren’t consistent at all and they don’t seem as severe as you described. My coordination is bad….bad,bad,bad. Forcing me to play sports is the perfect way of me being humiliated. I’m also ways getting advice or being shouted at for not doing things right yet, I still do things wrong. Some days are pretty good, some days are a nightmare. I usually get extremely stressed when playing sports…especially team sports.
        My spatial awareness is not so good, I guess. When I was a child, I always clung to my mom. My parents were also always protective and never let me go anywhere alone. Once, I earned their trust and they allowed me to be alone in a book store. I was terrified at first. I didn’t how to walk…it was scary to be left alone. I noticed that feeling occur often whenever I’m walking alone especially in a unfamiliar place.

        I’ve also got a floppy, jelly-like body. My posture isn’t very good. And speaking of the T-Rex, when I was younger ( about below 10) I used to walk everywhere with my hands…just hands in that t-Rex position almost all the time when I was in school especially if I was walking without a friend.

        Finally, I LOVE your blog…it’s so awesome! πŸ˜„πŸ˜„πŸ˜„

      2. Hi again! Firstly, I’m not a professional on the subject, but I have lived with this for basically forever, so here’s my opinion/best answer to your question. From what you said, I feel you do have sensory issues. Just because they aren’t severe or consistent doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! Many people just have one part of their sensory system, like touch, that is very sensitive while everything else is fine.

        With my HSP vs SPD post, I tried to make it a point that sensory issues differ from HSP when things like balance, coordination, or motor skills become a problem, as in your case. You could also have both, but I do think your sensory issues are there even if HSP isn’t.

        I don’t know if you have ever been to an occupational therapist, but if possible, talk with your parents/guardians and see if you can make an appointment to speak with one. They will be able to test you and see for certain. Also, they will give you some advice about how to manage your specific sensory needs. Also, I don’t remember if I told you in my last comment, but you should try to get the book Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight by Sharon Heller. It is super helpful for those of us with sensory needs, no matter how mild or severe.

        If you ever need any more advice, words of wisdom, support, etc, please feel free to contact me through this blog, or my fb or twitter page, which is linked on the blog.
        Take care! And thank you for your kind words!

  3. YES. You need to start an SPD academy. Preferably before the end of this year, so I can go there for high school. πŸ˜›
    (I’m kidding, but that would be seriously awesome.)

  4. Thanks for this post. My six year old daughter has global SPD and is strong sensory seeking. She’s been through a full SPD evaluation, but honestly, I don’t know the full range of sensory issues that she struggles with because she’s only six and I’m still confused and in the process of learning about it. So if my own post makes no sense, please forgive me. She started kindergarten last year. At the end of each day, she was a complete wreck. She’s such a good kid and would hold it together most of the day, but when pick-up time came, she would fall apart. She struggled with circle time and classroom noise and lining up, etc. And because the school is new, there’s no playground equipment. Which is disastrous for a sensory seeker. Because I was not in the classroom each day, and her teacher had no idea about SPD, I had a very difficult time knowing how she was struggling and how she was coping. Her emotional state improved with each passing week, but she didn’t make any real friends until the end of the year, probably because most days she was just struggling to cope or acting out in strange ways. She starts the first grade in three weeks and I’m scared for her and for me. My question for you is how well does a sensory diet both before school and after school help during school. For example, doing heavy work, etc, for ten minutes in the morning help. I’ve already bought a teething necklace (she’s a chewer) and a sensory seat pad for the upcoming year. And I’m considering a trampoline, etc. But my husband thinks I’m wasting money. He’s a wait and see what happens kind of dad. And I’m a lets do everything we can to prevent her from total misery at school kind of mom. We work with an OT, but honestly, I feel like the advice is so mixed and unclear. What would you recommend for making school a better experience?

    1. Hi Tara – Thanks for your comment and question. It’s sounds like you’re a very proactive mom, which is great to hear. I think it’s important that you continue with OT, but if possible, consult an additional OT for another perspective on your daughters situation?

      From you comment, it sounds as if your daughter is trying her best to behave well all day and then loses it at the end of the day because she has built up sensory “yuckiness” and it explodes. This was the case me with me too (but I am a sensory avoider).

      To answer your question, I would go with your gut and try out as many sensory feel-good techniques and exercises as your budget will allow.

      Before school, your daughter may find it helpful to swing, bounce, or run around, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. You could set a timer and have her do her “routine” in that time frame (“do 15 jumping jacks before the school bus arrives!”). Kids generally love things set to a clock.

      After school, same thing. I would emphasize deep pressure this time, like the trampoline or using a Wilbarger brush (you or your husband can help her with this if you don’t already). Another idea would be to create a sensory space in a room or in a little tent. Fill it with colorful lights, fidgets, music, etc.

      Most importantly, you need to ensure that the school itself is a sensory safe place. For example, when I was in 2-5th grade, during lunch, a woman would yell over a microphone to get the students to quiet down. This became a daily source of anxiety for me. My mom spoke with the school counselor, and they stopped using the microphone for my lunch time. In middle & high school, I was taken outside BEFORE fire drills, so I didn’t have to be afraid of when they were going to happen. It was little things like that that would prove to be big helpers throughout the day.

      Is your daughter aware of what things/situations cause her the most struggle during her school day? If you can pinpoint them, then perhaps her teacher, or school counselor/psychologist can work with you do alter the situation to make it more comfortable for her. For you, I think it’s most important to define what exactly needs improving and crossing off things that work and don’t work. Sensory issues can be very vague, hence the OT’s unclear advice. Although I think you’re off to a great start with the necklace and seat pad. She might enjoy being able to fidget with something in her hands at her desk too.

      I hope I was able to help answer your question. I was your daughters age when I was diagnosed with SPD, so your story hits close to home. Please feel free to keep in contact with me. I’d be happy to answer any more questions you have.

      Best, Kelly xoxo

      1. Thanks so much for the feedback and helpful suggestions! Your blog is truly a wonderful source of information and support. We will let you know how my daughter’s upcoming year at school goes.

  5. I seriously ADORE this blog. It’s just so interesting to hear from someone with an issue like this. Honestly, I don’t really like socialization either… unless I somehow misjudged you and you DO like social interaction, in which case good for you!

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