What I didn't anticipate was how much little things would bug me. Like not seeing my own signature when I sign something. Or how some picture books are much harder to see in cosy, getting ready for bedtime light. And how impossibly small the print on most plastic bottles is.
I'm an adult. I understand what is going on. I can buy plenty of reading glasses so that they are always at hand. I know to move to better light; take deep breaths; be patient. And yet, I am often frustrated and grouchy when what I used to be able to see so easily is now out of focus. Which made me think, what must it be like to have a sensory input problem if you don't understand it, don't have words to describe it, and don't know how to fix it?
Sensory Integration Disorder isn't well known or understood by most parents. All of our senses (sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell, balance, and motion) take in information from our environment and that data goes to different parts of the brain for processing. Each sense is processed in different parts of the brain, and some senses are processed in multiple parts of the brain. It is quite complicated, yes?
For some kids, the sensory data gets mixed up or misreported. Other kids struggle with under- or over- sensitivity to things like light, touch, and sound. If they are over-sensitive, they might avoid the things that flood their senses, like going to the grocery store. If they are "hypo" sensitive, they can be sensory seeking, such as preferring tight clothing, or loving being under heavy blankets. But the adults in their world might not know what is up, especially in young children who are not adept at communicating that their senses are out-of-sync with their environment. Usually, their communication looks like irritability, reactive behavior, stubbornness, willfulness, day dreaming, or even tantrums.
What is important to understand is that the reactions of kids with sensory issues are very logical and appropriate. How would you feel if you were trapped in a room with a radio blasting at high volume? Or if you had to wear shoes that were too loose, but everyone told you that you didn't know what you were talking about? Or if people pressured you to eat their favorite food, but to you it tasted soapy or bitter. If your sensory input was different than other peoples', and you noticed that when you said anything, your experience was discounted or rejected, you'd be pretty grumpy and overwhelmed too. You might even throw a tantrum once in a while.
Fortunately, the QAE staff is well aware of sensory issues leading to disruptive "downstream behavior", and that it often interferes with learning. This year, the SEL committee has been purchasing many sensory support items both to support kids with out of sync sensory systems, and with helping all kids experiment with tools for being calm, alert and ready to learn. Items include sound dampening headphones, weighted items, balance boards, and brain breaks.
For more information about Sensory Integration challenges, take a look at the website of the National Sensory Integration Foundation (http://spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html). Or books like The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz and Lucy Jane Miller.
co-Chair, SEL Committee