Monday, December 31, 2012

Brains


Let's multi-task shall we?

You are doing it right now, as am I. As is my daughter. I am currently trying to keep my baby's flailing feet from hitting the keyboard while I try to type and she attempts to nurse. Her flying feet are a result of her trying to push her feet against my arm as she nurses. She loves pushing her feet against my arm, or the arm of the chair that we often nurse in.
Or against her Daddy's back when she nurses in bed.
Or against our hands as she sits in our laps, or against the footrest of her highchair.

Any opportunity where she can push with her feet, against anything, she pushes. She even pushes them against the mattress as she sleeps, which pushes her whole body higher and higher up the bed until BONK! She hits the headboard, wakes herself up and starts the whole process over again to fall back asleep. The headboard solution is relatively easy, we just wedge a pillow between the mattress and the headboard so when she propels into it, soft resistance is provided. No bonk, no wake up. But the constant pushing? That's a sign of something, a driving need that she can't seem to satisfy. The solution is proving somewhat elusive.

Our brains multitask all the time. The resistance my fingers receive as I type, the smoothness of the keys, the words I am reading on this screen, the brightness of the screen, the smell of dinner, the feel of the chill in the room, the sound of my family's conversation in the other room, the sounds of traffic, the occasional BOOM of a nearby firecracker, and so much more. My brain is taking it all in, instantaneously sorting, filing, processing, responding, and directing. At the same time it's focused. Sharply focused on the thoughts I wish to convey, how to spell convey, how this sentence fits into the greater work around it. Oh, and I have to use the bathroom. Okay that one can't wait, excuse me for just a moment.

Sorry. The point is most of us have a brain that performs these tasks nearly flawlessly, seamlessly deciphering intake and output without us ever realizing just how much our brain is truly doing. Our brain in an incredible, incomparable organ. To compare it to a super computer is like comparing removing a splinter to spinal surgery. Yeah. Our brains are alive! They need nourishment, they breathe, they can grow or even shrink. They are still a vast mystery, despite centuries of being dissected and studied and MRIs. Brains are amazing!!

Fortunately, not all brains are alike. Humans in general are not all that keen of the idea of being programmable pods. We appreciate individuality, etc. Unfortunately, not all brains are enough alike. See, as you read this you may have your screen at full brightness and it probably doesn't bother you. In order for me to spend longer than just a few minutes on my computer, I have to have the brightness set to below 50%. Same thing on my phone. Even then, too much time or to much noise around me while I work at those screens and I'm going to walk away with a pounding headache. Right now, my husband is in the other room showing the kids U-TUBE videos and the music is SO LOUD... to me. I feel the tension creeping up through my body. Thankfully, they just finished, I still will probably have to close my door to decompress, because now just the normal sounds of the kids getting ready for bed bother me.

My brain is over sensitive to light, movement that is perceived by my eyes, and sound, sometimes even touch and the way food feels in my mouth can make me really uncomfortable, irritable, nauseous. Sometimes I cry because my tension level gets so high. Or I loose my temper. I finally explode, release the pressure valve. I try to avoid this by going to take a long, hot shower in my bathroom with only the nightlight on and the door secured. The sound of the water helps drown out the sounds from the other side of the door. The nightlight or candle is a soothing light that doesn't overwhelm my eyes. And the hot water drumming on my back and neck just feels good. It allows me to start breathing deeply again, helps melt away the tension that is coiling in my neck and shoulders. It's like my reset button. Almost.

It's entirely possible that I have Sensory Processing Disorder, but if I do, it's very mild. To me my sensitivities are mostly just that, sensitivities. They don't cripple me, or create major disruptions in my life. I have learned to live with my "quirks" and lead a mostly comfortable, meaningful and enjoyable life. Imagine though the sensitivities I described multiplied by 100, or 1000! That is what some with severe SPD live with, and coping can be enormously challenging. Others are under sensitive, they may not feel pain when they get hurt, much less a gentle kiss. They may not register the sound of a fire alarm or wake up to one if they are sleeping! They may seem like they are in a fog, or in perpetual slow motion. Over sensitive or under, these individuals are struggling, and missing out. Life for them is not much fun.

Another form of SPD is manifested by those whose brains just never seem to get enough. Where a nice hug makes most of us feel good, they need a big, tight, bear hug. And then another. And another. And, sometimes, another! Then they need a LONG tickle fest/wrestling match/pillow fight. Then they need to ride their bike, really fast, around the block a few times while crunching on a pretzel stick, and blasting music through their ear buds. After body slamming the couch a few times they might finally feel "good". The same "good" we felt after our nice hug. This is called sensory seeking. Though not always quite as intense as this, this is the category in which my children exhibit the most characteristics of SPD.

From what I can discern from my research, my two do not exhibit these characteristics to the extreme, but rather they fall somewhere in the moderate range, perhaps even mild on some days. This is just what I can guess, obviously an Occupational Therapist could give a much more accurate synopsis and even clearly diagnose them. I genuinely hope that we have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise that an OT can offer, and put to work techniques that could make finding sensory balance much more attainable for our family.

In the meantime, we are trying different tools, toys, exercises and ideas to do what we can on our own. Several things we have tried have had AMAZING results. Some not so much. But we will keep pushing on. Literally. On everything.


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