When you think about it we ALL have some sort of sensory issues. Personally, I can’t stand the smell of most perfumes and had to hold my breath and run through the fragrance sections of the department stores when I was a kid. At home, I hated going into the bathroom after mom had gotten ready for work… the smells of her shower gels, lotions and hair stuff would almost automatically send me into a massive headache. But that reaction is more rooted in the chemicals used to make the scents… most which I seem to have a reaction to.
But my reaction to sunlight always requires a pair of sunglasses! And my husband, Stef, scraping a fork on the bottom of our stainless steel pans will give me goosebumps and make my hair stand on end IMMEDIATELY. Yet I know from school that the sound of fingernails on the chalkboard did nothing. Totally didn’t send up a single “bump” on my arms or even tickle the hairs on the back of my neck. So why is this? And when does it become a problem?
Well for most people certain sounds, smells, the flickering fluorescent lights, are not something that they have to deal with regularly. If they are, most of the time they will just remove or avoid them… like me telling Stef to use wooden cooking utensils!! “Like seriously, don’t scrape the bottom!!” But when there are many issues or as it was explained to me years ago with Ted… “if the issues don’t affect your day to day living or interacting with others, then its okay, however, if they are, you should look deeper and try to overcome them.
I think it comes down to filters. How many filters do you have and how well are they working? Some things are physiological, like my sensitivity to light. I actually found out that there are little white spots on my lens that sort of scatter the light like a star burst when it passes through. So for me, there is really only a “fix” and that means sunglasses pretty much all year round… yes, I can even be caught wearing them on cloudy days!! Now I also have a bit of a sensitivity to sound, but then again Power tools ARE really loud.
However, Oskar and Ted (when he was little) had a sensitivity to sound that was much more intense. Oskar will cover his ears when someone is crying, but earlier on, he would cover them just when one of his sisters were talking! Ted was the same and would even become VERY irritated by some classmates that had a “Squeaky” tone to their voice. Lucky for Ted, he could communicate to his teacher enough of his issues to make sure they were never sitting side by side. Today Ted is still not a fan of loud sounds and he will be the first to tell you that his sisters talk too loud or even too much! 😉 But when he was in JK he could not attend an assembly or stand in his class choir without wearing headphones. Today he sings in a choir, loves music and has no issues with the barrage of noises in public places.
So for kids like Oskar and Ted who had LOTS of sensory issues and not many working filters, our plan has always been to work with an Occupational Therapist who can implement Sensory Integration therapies. The goal is to slowly find ways for the body to adjust and create filters to help deal with the constant influx of light and sound from the environment around them. This takes a lot of time and should be done in a caring way so that the child doesn’t feel threatened or in emotional or physical pain.
Ted had a lot of sensory issues with food textures, so working with teeny tiny crumbs that we just touched to the outside of his lips was the starting point. Sitting on the crunchy, picky grass was also hard, so we started with different fabric textures and would slowly increase, eventually one day going outside and putting a barefoot on the edge of the grass – success! Even holding a hand was hard for Ted, each sensory issue was dealt with in a slow and methodical way, at Ted’s pace of course. As you hopefully saw in the documentary pushing too hard will just result in more behaviours and mistrust… essentially not respecting Ted as a person and what he is going through. All that will bring is more emotional stress and perhaps even trauma.
Think of it like entering a pool that is maybe too cold for your liking. You can just jump right in and get a total shock to your system or you can ease in, letting the water level slowly cover your body, less shock and eventually you become accustomed to the temperature with little stress.
Oskar still has some visual sensory issues and we are doing some Biomed and other therapies to help him physiologically, but you can see in the documentary that on his own he continues to find new ways to cope with this issue. We are not sure if it’s entirely sensory or if he is using his visual senses to deal with other more challenging issues he is trying to overcome. Check back in here and I’m sure you will see the journey more clearly and how well he is progressing!