When I get into bed at night I like wrap the duvet tight around and under me, curl up into a ball and rhythmically rub my feet together. It helps me to feel safe, relax and unwind before drifting off to sleep. I love the smell of Jasmine because it reminds me of childhood holidays and I hate the sound of polystyrene breaking. The feel of wet cling film makes me shudder as does the texture of kidney beans in my mouth. I love to have my feet rubbed, and my hair brushed and my nose stroked but I have very sensitive thighs and even the tiniest amount of pressure on them feels unbearable. I love to be in a group of people but I find a noisy crowd overwhelming, especially if there is also loud music or confusion. But I love to listen to loud music and sing at the top of my voice when no one can hear me.
Katie likes me to hold her in my arms and spin round and round and round. She likes to run her fingers over rough surfaces but doesn’t like the touch of scrambled eggs. Hollie doesn’t like loud noises and covers her ears when there is loud music or fireworks. And Simon will always feel better at the end of a stressful day with a shoulder rub.
We are all sensory beings. We all use our senses to understand the world around us and our place in it. We all need sensory input; sounds, smells, taste, touch and sight. Some of that sensory input will make us feel good and we’ll seek it out. Some will make us feel bad and we’ll do our best to avoid it.
Scarlett has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). This means that the way her body and mind understands sensory input can sometimes be a little different to most people.
Scarlett likes to have pressure on her face and head, she feels that she needs this sensory input and will sometimes try to deliberately bump heads in order to get the feeling. To keep her from hurting herself or anyone else we find better ways of providing her with that feeling. Sometimes we press our chins together, it makes us laugh and feels good. Sometimes I squish Scarlett’s head using the palms of my hands as a sort of massage – never hard enough to hurt her, just firm enough for her to get the feeling she needs.
Sometimes she needs a bit more, a full body squish. We lie on the floor and I wrap my arms and sometimes my legs around her tight and we have a little wrestle and a cuddle and it sort of re-sets her, calms her down. In the same way Simon’s shoulder rubs do for him. I think this need for pressure on her body is why she likes to cuddle so much.
I also think this is why she finds bath time so challenging. We have to close the windows so the neighbours can’t hear her screaming and it can be very upsetting for all of us. I think that for someone who needs a lot of pressure on her body, being naked and so not even having the feeling of clothes while in a large container with only water lightly sloshing round is very uncomfortable. I often bath with her, I hold her tight while I wash her and that seems to help.
Scarlett likes to make a noise in her throat which sounds a bit like Chewbacca from Star Wars. It can be quite loud and if she does this in public people sometimes stare at us. I’m still learning what Sensory Processing means for Scarlett but as best as I can tell she is seeking that feeling in her throat and I think it settles her if she is feeling a little overwhelmed. We try to distract her by encouraging her to make different noises “mamama” “babababa” but we never try to make her stop because this is something that she feels she needs.
Sensory overload can make it difficult for Scarlett to enjoy or join in at a party. She has been invited to her friends birthday disco party in a couple of weeks. There will be loud music and lots of children running around. There will be sounds, sights, tastes, smells and touches. There will probably be games that she doesn’t understand. There are lots of ways I will help Scarlett cope with this – we will have body and head squishes before we go, I will stay close to her when we first arrive so that she feels secure and I will remove her hearing aid so the noise isn’t too overwhelming. Sometimes she dives straight into situations like this and I’m left wondering what I was worried about. Sometimes she needs lots of support.
I’m still learning about this, its a big and interesting subject. No two people are impacted by their sensory experiences in the same way and different strategies work for different kids… but understanding is an important step and this is why I thought I’d share a little of our experience.