Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordy Wednesday: Sensory Overload

Welcome to Wordy Wednesday!
Today's Word:
Sensory Overload
Ever heard of "the straw that broke the camel's back"? Well, that camel probably had SPD and was already in "sensory overload" when that last straw was dropped on his back.  Sensory overload is a state of either gradual or acute bombardment to an individuals senses that causes them to be over-stimulated. This can occur to any one, sometimes. But for individuals with sensory problems, this is all too often a regular (sometimes daily) occurrence. 

Tuning Out

The average person's brain has been trained from in-utero to filter information it receives and to ignore information that the brain deems either non-threatening, not useful, or sometimes both. For example, the sound of a ceiling fan spinning. Everybody with normal hearing hears this sound. However, most people never notice it because their brain has trained itself to ignore it. It's not a threat, and the sound is not useful to the task at hand, so the brain classifies it so fast that a person will likely not ever realize that that sound is present.
The same situation occurs with your eyes. Every person can see the end of their nose, and not just when they cross their eyes to try and look at it. The tip of our nose is constantly in our field of vision, but from probably before we were born, our brain learned to ignore it and only "show" the visual information that is important.
Individuals with sensory challenges very often have difficulty with too much input, or too much of the wrong input and not enough of the beneficial. Some have difficulties with only a few sensitivities, sound, for example. This means that in situations where there is a lot of chaotic noise, say a monster truck rally, the individual with auditory sensitivities may have their hands over their ears the whole time, and may even be really agitated, crying, or jumpy, or punchy for a while after they leave. They are in overload.
Some people experience overload from all of their senses and it can build for days or weeks, causing the person to become more and more irritable, uncomfortable, perhaps even withdrawn.

Pain and No Gain

Overload feels terrible. I know. I'm in sensory overload a lot. I more often than not feel like a tightly wound spring by the end of the day, ready to explode on the next elbow, finger, or whine that enters my bubble of personal space. I am so tense so often that I regularly suffer from painful tension headaches that creep up my neck and up the back of my head. Then I'm in a state of even higher sensitivity, especially to light and sound. I have a lot of trouble keeping my temper in this state, and my voice will sound very irritated. It's not a pleasant place to be at all.
I was both surprised and not when I read over this list of symptoms of sensory overload. I exhibit almost every single one. Sigh...
It's very difficult for me not to get into overload. It would require quiet all the time, and everything being in it's place. And really soft lighting all the time. And not ever having to do anything I didn't want to. Not a chance with my brood of seekers. But I can find ways to soothe my system, and my brain, even when I can't shut out all of the stimuli around me.


Imagine what life might be like for a child with sensory issues though. They are constantly being told what to do, what to wear, where to stand or sit, when to sleep, and who to talk to. We as adults have the luxury of knowing that a situation might just be too much for our senses to handle. But children often haven't developed this ability and even for those who have, will the adults in their life listen to them? Will they respect the child's limitations even if it means foregoing something enjoyable to them?
The adult world is much kinder to adults with sensory problems in general that it is to children, primarily because those adults have been allowed to avoid or limit triggers, and usually can choose their own surroundings and even schedules. Children most of the time have no such luxury. Thus their overload much more often continues to escalate until it enters full on meltdown.
This is a severe and involuntary reaction to a swamped sensory system. It's intense, and scary, and can also be very loud and painful, and that's just what the child might feel. Adults have meltdowns too. Sometimes they come more in the form of withdrawal and tears than thrashing or screaming or bolting. But no matter what, it HURTS. And it can take a long time for our systems to get back to "normal'. Normal for us, anyhow.
Even seekers like mine can overload, and then meltdown. It's really a challenge to find the right balance between just right and way too much. Especially when they are seemingly enjoying themselves.
For now, we keep on experimenting, trying to find techniques that can help everybody in our family to achive sensory balance.
Thanks for reading everybody. Anyone who's interested can go here to get more meltdown info.
Wishing us all a very balanced day.

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