sensory processing dysfunction

Public Restrooms: A Guide for the Sensory Sensitive

Picture this: you are out and about in this great, big world – away from the comfort and security of your own bathroom. Suddenly, it hits you.

bathroom 1

You gotta go.

Perhaps it was those two three cups of tea you had this morning. Maybe you ate a sandwich and afterwards, you remembered sandwiches give you tummy troubles. How unfortunate! Whatever the case may be, you know now that your destination is only one place: the public restroom.

Depending on where exactly you are, your public restroom experience will be either “pretty bad,”extremely bad” or,”oh lord have mercy on me.”

If you’re like me, most public restroom experiences fall into the “oh lord have mercy on me” category. This is because not only do public restrooms suck all faith in humanity from my soul, but they are also SENSORY-DANGEROUS SPACES. What constitutes a SENSORY-DANGEROUS SPACE, you ask?

sensory dangerous spaces chart

Luckily for you, I’ve spent my whole life figuring out the best way to deal with public restrooms as someone with Sensory Processing Disorder. I will now bestow upon you, dear friends, the skills and swift tricks I have mastered to survive these dreaded moments.

1. Know your options

Before heading to your death in a public restroom, stop and think. Do I know of a nearby restroom which offers a BETTER sensory experience? Can I make it there in time? If yes, go there. Always know your options before making a commitment.

Within my first week of college, I made myself into a restroom expert of sorts. In my mind I created a mental map of the entire campus and all its restrooms. Each one had a rating scale of how sensory-dangerous it was. I carefully calculated the time it would take me to run from one class, across campus to use the least sensory-dangerous restroom, and back to my next class without being late. (It’s actually really sad that I had to run through this anxiety-producing drill every day at school, but beggars can’t be choosers….or something like that.)

2. Use your tools

If you’re like me, you keep an arsenal of sensory tools with you at all times. For my particular sensory needs, this includes: ear plugs, bigger ear plugs, noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, and a Wilbarger brush.

Much like preparing for battle, one must gear up before heading to a public restroom. There is no shame in this!

3. Go during safe times

If it can be avoided, use the public restroom at times when you will likely be the only one in there. Just one other person can reak havoc upon your restroom experience. Tread carefully!

If it is impossible for you to use the restroom during slower times, then option three is a total waste of time. I’m sorry I even created this option.

4. All about technique

So you find yourself in the restroom with multiple people doing multiple things. I’m talking about hand dryers, hand washing, toilets flushing, doors slamming, kids screaming, people talking loudly on their phones (which by the way, has me all “WTF talk somewhere else”), and many more!

Your tools can only go so far. It’s not about the tools you have, rather, it’s how you use them. It’s time to explore the Techniques for Public Restroom Sensory Safety and Survival, or as I call it: TPRSSS, (pronounced “te-purrs”).

Technique 1: Wash ‘n Go

After you’ve done the business, it’s time to rid yourself of those pesky germs. But wait! Oh no! The restroom is crowded with people using those hand dryers that sound like commercial airliners taking off. For this technique, wash your hands and RUN. Dry on your own time – those hand dryers will wait for no one.

RUIN YOUR DAY

Technique 2: Be aware of your neighbors.

Are your fellow restroomers about to flush and unleash a windstorm of sudden, loud toilet sounds? Be prepared and mindful of your neighbors. Don’t let an unexpected flush or door slam set you off into panic mode.

Technique 3: The Cold Shoulder

In a moment of haste, you may have forgotten to wear hearing protection before entering the restroom. Fear not! In this situation, cover your ears and use your shoulder to take the place of one hand when that hand is in use. Observe the following diagram:

bathroom technique 1

Technique 4: Run, Forest, Run

Move quickly. You are a cheetah in the fast-lane. Slow and steady will not win the race for you when you’ve got sensory issues in the restroom.

Technique 5: Mental Stamina

Here’s the situation: you gotta go, but the restroom is crowded and way too overstimulating for you right now. But you’ve been here before. It’s time for you to use your mental powers to convince yourself that you really don’t have to go at all. Need to pee? Not anymore. Why? YOUR MIND TOLD YOU SO. This technique requires time and patience, but once mastered, it may be your saving grace in a desperate situation.

BRAIN POWERS ACTIVATE

In conclusion, restrooms are a sensory nightmare. But, with the right techniques, you CAN survive the experience.

As I lay awake at night, pondering the insanity that is life, I imagine a world where people with Sensory Processing Disorder can use public restrooms with ease. I dream of quieter toilets, and paper towels for hand drying, maybe even less fluorescent lighting! Let us end the reign of restroom misery!

One day I will enter a public restroom less like this:

bathroom fear

And more like THIS:

make way peasants

xo kelly

Got any other sensory-related restroom advice? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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The Real Restroom Dilemma

Last summer, Momsy and I attended an Arts and Crafts Fair. After bopping around from one crafter to the next, we needed a bathroom pit stop. Luckily for us, there were actual bathrooms at this fair – not a porta potty in sight. Unfortunately for me, those bathrooms were very noisy, and included my least favorite thing ever: air-powered hand dryers.

At the bathroom building, I informed Momsy that I did not, in fact, have to pee.

I lied.

i lied

Was my bladder going to explode if the internal pressure was not released at that very moment? Probs not. But there was no way I was going into the noisy restroom.

I waited patiently outside for Momsy, watching women join the long line for the restrooms, then watching them exit after several minutes. The roar of the hand dryers, women talking, and the toilets flushing collided with the quieter sounds of the world outside as I stood baking in the bright sun, like a cookie.

Walking past me came a woman pushing another woman in a wheelchair. The woman in the wheelchair was missing her one leg below her knee. The pair were heading towards the restroom line.

Suddenly, a young volunteer working at the fair asked the woman, “are you headed to the bathrooms?

The woman in the wheelchair replied, “yes.”

The volunteer said, “oh, come this way, this the employee bathroom, but you can use it.”

The two women thanked her casually and followed her past a security gate and into another small building.

That moment resonated with me. The woman in the wheelchair was clearly disabled – anyone could see both the wheelchair and the fact that half her leg was not there. The volunteer did the right thing by trying to make life easier for her by accommodating her needs and allowing her to use a separate, less crowded bathroom.

I began to imagine if I had asked that same volunteer if I could also use the private bathroom. I envisioned myself explaining – in my awkward-while-trying-to-be-confident manner –  about my sensory processing disorder, and how the normal bathrooms were very uncomfortable – in this case, impossible – for me to use.

I could see her making that “ehhh” face, the one where she isn’t buying it, but she doesn’t want to look like an absolute idiot either. She responds with something along the lines of “well, you see, that bathroom is for employees only. I’m sorry but I don’t really work here. I’m just a volunteer, and I don’t think it would be allowed.”

the ehh face

If I was a true badass of disability equality and advocacy, I might say something along the lines of, “But I noticed you allowed that other disabled woman to use that restroom. I was hoping I could also be accommodated because of my special needs.”

Next, perhaps, she would create some kind of excuse for her decision, like “I allowed that woman to use the other restroom because her wheelchair would be too big for the regular restroom.”

OrI didn’t want her to have to wait on the long line.”

Or maybe even, “She is in a wheelchair so she has a disability. You are clearly a fully-functioning person because I cannot see any visible sign of a problem. So you cannot use the other bathroom because you are a liar and you are trying to mooch the system. SHAME….SHAAAAAAMMEE.”

Was there a small chance that this volunteer would allow me to use the private restroom after I politely explained my situation? Of course. But that small chance was probably very, very small. And for some reason, I would end up feeling guilty asking for this accommodation in the first place.

The whole moment made me think about every person with an invisible illness or disability or condition. Our lives are spent trying to make the best of a world that doesn’t seem too eager to accommodate our particular needs. Whether those needs are closer parking spaces, equal treatment in school or at work, or the need to use a different restroom when one is available.

As a teenager, I used to wear brightly colored earplugs to visually remind those around me about my condition (aside from using them for hearing protection, too). Without them, I’m certain most people would have completely forgotten about my severe sensitivity to sound and things would have been more miserable then they already were. I used to jokingly tell Momsy that I wished I was in a wheelchair because maybe then people would respect and understand my needs once they saw a visual sign of a problem. How sad is that?

Would it be tacky of me to walk around with a massive sign drapped over my shoulders, reading: PERSON WITH NEUROLOGICAL CONDITION. MAY REQUIRE SPECIAL SERVICES?

perosn with condition

I wish I didn’t have to feel that way, but that’s how much of our society thinks of differently-abled people, and that’s how desperate I am to make things easier.

As we left the arts and crafts fair that day, Momsy and I talked about it. I said, “What if a mother and her young, autistic son asked to use separate bathroom and were turned down, even after the mother explained her situation?” Momsy replied, “They would’ve had to use the regular restroom and the boy would’ve been very upset in there, and the mother would be frustrated and tired.”

I mumbled something like, “that’s not fair. Life sucks. Can we get ice cream?”

tps

And so we got ice cream, and I peed when we got home (in case you were concerned).

NEWSFLASH: Adults have SPD too

This post contains information that NEEDS to be said. Warning: the following may cause epiphany, sudden awakening of the soul, and Oprah’s “ah-ha” moment. Proceed with caution.

Approximately 93% – I just calculated that statistic in my mind – of all information on sensory issues, both in print and online, are geared towards children.

For a while, that knowledge left me feeling like this:

NOT SURE IF FRY

One of the main reasons I started this blog was due to the near absence of information and resources for adults with SPD on the web or in books. The only exception to this would be a few blogs, and Sharon Heller’s Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, which has become the bible for sensory-plagued adults. Unfortunately, SPD adults often find ourselves reading sensory books geared towards children, and attempting to relate the information to our adult lives. It can be awkward.

potty training

not relevant

Like many neurological disorders, sensory processing disorder does not go away with time.

A fun fact is that according to many medical “professionals,” children with sensory processing disorder just learn to live with their problems, or they simply grow out of the disorder.

At age 13, many people – including myself – were turned away from occupational therapists for the sole reason that we were too old to be treated for our sensory issues.

I remember asking my mom, with confusion, “What’s the difference if I’m 12 or 13? I still have the same disorder. I still need help for this.” Momsy didn’t know what to say, and she couldn’t have known.

Here is what I know: growing out of something is for clothing. People grow out of sweaters. People do not usually grow out of neurological conditions. They manage it and – in the case of SPD –  learn ways to live within their specific limitations. SPD can regulated with various therapies (occupational, physical, or psychological), but there is no cure for it just yet. However, this leaves us SPD adults with many problems.

same person

It leaves us feeling a strange sense of being “unwelcome.” Adults are not the target group, if you will, for awareness and research. SPD adults are very much ignored and neglected by the medical community. We often feel a sense of guilt for even asking for/seeking out help from professionals. We are given this look when we mention SPD to our doctors:

wut

This is not Hogwarts, my friends. SPD cannot be sent away with the flick of a wand, nor does it magically vanish when we turn 18. It is not fair or right that adults with neurological conditions such as sensory processing disorder are left in the dark simply because they are adults.

As an adult with SPD, I can assure you that my sensory problems are here to stay (for now). I’ve overcome many of my sensory struggles from my childhood – yes. However, newer and more overwhelming challenges have reared their ugly faces into my life as an adult with this condition.

Due to the belief that SPD is a disorder of childhood – WHICH WE GENIUSES KNOW TO BE FALSEanother belief now exists that there are no adults with SPD at all. Because of this idea that adults don’t have SPD, it is not recognized by our society, and therefore, we cannot get help or respect.

SO WHERE ARE ALL THE ADULTS WITH SPD?

I’ll tell you where they are. They are struggling to find their place in a world that doesn’t work with their sensory system.  Without acknowledgement from our community regarding this conundrum, we find ourselves turned off by the world.

helloworld

herrow

Moral of the story is this:

Adults with SPD are out there.  We are here! (Well, not really. We are actually trying to avoid the entire world while simultaneously being part of the entire world. It’s a tad complicated.)
Spread awareness and educate your fellow human beans that, in fact, adults with neurological condition DO exist. We need your compassion and respect in order to overcome our challenges.

xo kelly

Highly Sensitive Person vs Sensory Processing Disorder

I’ve been basically dying to make this post for a long time:Picture 34

See, I told ya.

The more I read online about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and the somewhat related, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) concept, the more I needed to explain the distinction between the two. I’m finding that people are diagnosed with (or more frequently, diagnosing themselves) with SPD, when really, they are more HSP.

So let’s begin by identifying what these two things are:

1. SPD, aka Sensory Processing Disorder (which I write about for pretty much every post) is a neurological problem where the brain’s sensory system does not function correctly. Meaning, when you perceive something in the form of sensory info, the brain is all “WTF.”

Picture 33Picture 35

Picture 37

 

 

SPD involves your SENSES, your vestibular system, proprioception, motor control, balance, and spatial awareness. There is a dysfunction in the actual processing of sensory information.

 

2. HSP, aka Highly Sensitive Person, is a “character trait” created by Dr. Elaine Aron. As much as 20% of the population, she believes, has this trait which makes them a highly sensitive type of person. What does this mean though?

HSP’s are very in-tune with their environment. They are overwhelmed by the world in general, specifically emotional situations, and they often struggle to watch or read violent/upsetting things. They are considered shy, quiet, introverted, and anti-social. They are deeply moved by music, art, nature, and all things beautiful.

Here’s the important part: HSP’s also have a problem with sensory info, as it can overwhelm them. They can be sensitive to noise, light, touch, taste, etc. They can become overstimulated and need to withdraw from the world to recoup.

This trait for sensitivity is so closely related to Sensory Processing Disorder, that Dr. Aron also refers to HSP as SENSORY PROCESSING SENSITIVITY. 

Good grief! Now you can see why Sensory Processing Disorder and Highly Sensitive Person are often confused.

Picture 41

 

Here is – what I believe to be – the difference:

I think Highly Sensitive People DO NOT have issues with balance, motor control, or body-spatial awareness. Their sensitivities are usually less, but more specific, meaning, they might be sensitive to a certain type of food, or a certain texture of clothes. The bulk of their sensitivities are more abstract, emotional sensitivities.

Their sensory system is probably not dysfunctional, rather, their brains are in a constant state of hyper-awareness and the world can become all too much…all the time. They are sensitive.

If a person is deeply disturbed by emotionally charged situations, or too much socializing, or being in a crowded room, I do not believe they have SPD. They are a HSP.

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To make things more confusing, people can be BOTH SPD and HSP. I know this because I am both.

Picture 39

Now you’re thinking “Kelly, you’re crazy. You’re a crazy girl.”

And I’m like: “yea. YEA I AM.”

It’s ok to be both. I have both, and I’m decently ok.

Picture 40

 

I have learned to separate  what I’m feeling and experiencing with SPD and HSP. I know the bulk of my overstimulation is SPD, and I know the sensations I feel that are a result of too much sensory junk because I feel spacey and unbalanced. I need to do my sensory exercises and sleep it off. This is SPD.

I also know when I am overwhelmed and upset by other things, like being around an angry person. I am overwhelmed by their intensity and I cannot separate myself from them emotionally. I need to get away from them and distract myself, or their emotions will make me ill. This is HSP.

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What bothers me, and what I feel is not ok, is to assume a diagnosis of SPD when really, you’re just:

“I’m don’t like arguing or the smell of mustard. Country music makes me angry. I am introverted. I have SPD.” No, bro. You are probably a highly sensitive person.

“Loud noises make me cry, as do sudden bright lights, and I can’t spend more than an hour in the supermarket because I feel spacey and floaty. I don’t like to wear any clothes because they all make me want to crawl out of my skin, and I’m always bumping into things like a drunk weirdo. I have SPD.” Yes, bro. YOU PROBABLY DO.

Moral of the post: If you feel like you have Sensory Processing Disorder, GO TO AN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST. Get yourself a proper diagnosis. BUT, before you do so, look into Highly Sensitive Person traits, and perhaps you will find that you are more of an HSP and not SPD. It will save you a lot of trouble (and money). SPD is a disorder, HSP is a sensitivity/trait.

Here is the website for Highly Sensitive Person info: hsperson.com

As usual, feel free to post comments/discussion/ sappy love messages in a reply to this post.

Peace Out homies xoxo

kelly