The day I experienced sensory overwhelm

I want to tell you about a really emotional experience I had last month.

My hubby, daughter and I went to a brilliant exhibit called ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ at a children’s museum in Tel Aviv designed to give participants a sense of how it is to live without sight. It is described as ‘a fascinating social, moral and emotional journey’. And oh my goodness it was all these things for me.

Plunged into complete darkness, I had to rely on my senses of touch, smell, balance and sound. We experienced different scenarios such as being on a boat, in a woods, in a street, at a concert and a busy, crowded market.

It was in this latter space I became completely overwhelmed. There was jostling from the other participants, shouting from the excited children, wind being blown on my face and pungent smells from the fruit of the market. I lost the touch of my family and I felt immediately isolated. I felt my breathing shallow, I felt my legs go wobbly, I started to panic and I couldn’t help myself from crying.

I was fine once I re-established contact with my hubby who led me to a quieter area. The group moved to the next scenario which was a classical concert with calm music and I sat with my back against a wall. Safety.

Overall this was an incredible experience. It made me use my senses as I have never needed to before.

However, it also made me really aware of the difficulties some of our children face who, experience any kind of sensory challenge.

You may witness screaming, crying, panic, anger, fear.

But underneath that behaviour there is a real challenge.

Some of our children are sensory seeking.

Some of our children are sensory sensitive.

SOUND

Our children with ADHD may be hypervigilant and sound sensitive and may notice every sound. This can be hugely distracting in a classroom when they hear a buzzing fan or at bedtime when they are trying to sleep. This can be all too much at a birthday party, firework show or busy shopping centre.

Ear defenders can help but also encourage your child to remove themselves from a situation if it’s all too much. Let an adult know they don’t like it. Headphones and an MP3 player with calm music can distract.

SMELL

Similarly some of our children can be overwhelmed with every day smells. This may put them off certain foods or going to particular places.

Some of our children may seek out smells and will be sniffing random objects that may comfort them. A smell of a parent’s perfume on a t-shirt or pillow may aid sleep. Similarly smells such as lavender are known to have a calming effect.

TOUCH

Fidgeting and touching is a feature of ADHD which many are aware of. Constantly fiddling is the body’s way of creating an equilibrium and stimulating the missing neurons in the brain. Our children’s clever bodies are naturally doing what they need. So to stop them fidgeting is detrimental to their ability to pay attention and focus. Instead give things to fiddle with, allow doodling, keep hands busy.

Our children also get comfort from touching materials such as fur, sequins, velvet. Stroking calms the body and stimulates the brain.

Many children like the feel of wind or rain and so let them go out in all weathers. It may also explain why your child may like to stay in the shower or bath for so long. It may be a sensory pleasurable experience.

Conversely some children can not bear the feel of things on their body and will need labels cut out, soft seams and will take their clothes off at every opportunity. Many children like to kick their shoes off or not wear watches or jewellery. This is okay.

CHEW

Some of our children need to be constantly putting things in their mouth. They bite nails, pen tops, ends of jumpers. Again, we cannot stop this behaviour as they are satisfying a need. Instead give things to chew such as chewable pen tops, carrot sticks, ice, chewing gum, hair bobble on the wrist, chewy bracelet.

However a sensitivity may mean that some of our children do not like certain textures and then will resist certain foods. This is trial and error and may take patience. Getting your child to design a menu and help to cook, may slowly introduce them to different foods that are tolerable.

SIGHT

Our children notice everything, which is why they have a huge sense of injustice when they are punished for something that they feel is unfair. Some may be able to find the smallest earring dropped on the floor or pick out the one pea in a beef casserole.

However they also notice the flickering light and the vivid colours on a balloon which may be distracting and overwhelming. Teach your child, as before, to remove themselves from a situation, let an adult know or to distract if it is too much.

PROPRIOCEPTIVE

This is the sense of how we feel in space and our sense of balance. So a child sitting in a huge space may feel unbalanced or dizzy. They need something to lean on or to feel pressure. This is why weighted blankets and wobble cushions are successful. Some children may need a hug or to hold hands.

Other children may have difficulties with bumping into things or not knowing how much pressure they’re using when writing or hugging. Some have problems with skills that require coordination such asΒ  handwriting and using scissors.

Many find that brain gym exercises or yoga can help. An Occupational Therapist can also suggest some exercises to help with control.

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My experience in the museum gave me a real insight into what a sensory overwhelming challenge feels like. For that moment I felt completely floored. So imagine being a child without the understanding, vocabulary or strategies to deal with it. They may go to their default behaviour of negative screaming, crying, avoidance or anger.

Be that behaviour detective. Look beyond the negative behaviour and work out what is going on.

ANNOUNCEMENT

I WANT TO EMPOWER AS MANY PARENTS AS I CAN AND BUST THIS ADHD STIGMA

MY OFFER TO YOU:

I WILL TRAVEL TO YOUR AREA

DELIVER A TALKΒ  ‘BUSTING THE ADHD STIGMA’

TO A GROUP OF PARENTS FOR FREE

YOUR COMMITMENT:

FIND A VENUE

GET TOGETHER ABOUT 20 PARENTS

COVER MY COST OF TRAVEL

IF THIS INTERESTS YOU, EMAIL ME AND LET’S DISCUSS DETAILS

SOLI@YELLOW-SUN.COM

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