Sensory Issues

Based on huge popular demand, here’s the post on sensory issues.

I’m a lifelong sufferer from sensory issues that are clearly inherited and inheritable in my family.

The most important thing for people with sensory issues is to be believed that we are really experiencing what we say we do. Others tend to think we are being cute when we describe the effect that harsh overhead lighting or sudden loud noises have on us. It’s very frustrating even for an adult. A child can’t handle this frustration on top of an already existing sensory disturbance and reacts violently. So rule #1, take it seriously and don’t react like it’s bad behavior. When the child begins to freak out, think, “what’s causing this? Noises, lights, temperature, something the kid is wearing?” Little children don’t cry without a reason or to be obnoxious. There’s always a reason.

When I noticed that Klara had sensory issues, this is what I did. She would freak out, for instance, when she heard a lawnmower outside. Obviously, lawnmowers are on constantly in our long summer that starts in March and lasts until freaking November. It was no life to live because she’d have a massive meltdown whenever the noise would start.

So on a weekend I took her to campus and showed her a bunch of these gigantic lawnmowers that weren’t being used. We walked around them, touched them. I told her they were asleep and won’t make any noises. I let her climb into one of them and pretend to drive them. I told her a story about a family of lawnmowers, gave each lawnmower a name. The lawnmowers in the story had all sorts of funny adventures. She laughed. The adventures always culminated with lawnmowers making noise because they needed to mow the grass and help people. She started trying to imitate the noise.

The next time we heard a lawnmower, I took up the story from the place I ended it during the visit to “sleeping lawnmowers.” She still doesn’t enjoy the noise, of course, but she now has positive associations with it and there are no more meltdowns.

13 thoughts on “Sensory Issues

    1. Everybody is different, so it can be all senses or some. For instance, if there’s harsh overhead lighting, I feel great physical discomfort. My eyes hurt, my brain hurts. My thinking becomes muddled, I can get disoriented.

      Some people have an issue with clothing that is a little scratchy or is tight around the neck. They feel like they are choking.

      It can be all sorts of things.


      1. When I was a little kid my mama had to cut all the tags out of my shirts. I deal fine with tags now, but I still can’t wear blue jeans (they hurt my skin; I have no idea why they’re considered “comfy.”)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s a huge variety of things.

      For me, it was not being able to separate background and foreground noise (effectively deaf in any noisy environment), being able to see the electrical frequency in certain kinds of light bulbs and CRT screens, to the point where being subjected to the light of a TV or the wrong bulb for more than about ten minutes is excruciating and causes migraines. Can’t have tags in clothing, or wear nylon stockings. Polyester is right out. Chemical perfumes and fragrances are the devil (on a bad day, I’d be 100% willing to sign into law a total ban on these things in air fresheners, candles, laundry detergents, soaps, and cleaning products– what’s “laundry-fresh” or “car-fresh” to you is debilitating to a small part of the population) When young, I could hear television screens– they make a high-pitched hum like a turbocharged mosquito. Drove me nuts. Don’t know if that’s gone away with age, or if all the CRTs finally got replaced with flat screens. In some kinds of light, it is impossible to read, because the text is full of nervous energy, jumping and flashing about on the page, divided up by little glowing rivers (if you’ve never experienced this, think of op-art illustrations, where illusory dots and motion appear in a pattern of crossing or concentric lines, or the moire effect). This effect also extends to fabric, carpet, and wallpaper patterns.

      Together, I think it falls mostly under a broader heading of not being able to ignore, or filter out, sensory information in a normal way. It’s drinking from the firehose all the time. With a side of chemical sensitivity.

      On the plus side, the women in my family are extraordinarily good at detecting and tracking down evasive smells: tiny gas and exhaust leaks, the hot-plastic smell of bad wiring, the bleach bottle with the pinhole leak…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like the lawnmower-story strategy!

    Weirdly, all of my kids love loud machinery: electric drills, vacuum cleaners, mixers… I think it was because they were allowed to observe them up close and use them with supervision from an early age. So those things are exciting rather than scary. But also, they don’t seem to have any auditory issues (yay!).

    My eldest has tactile issues: can’t wear certain fabrics, or turtlenecks, or things on his face: I simply get rid of the itchy clothes, remove offending tags, and don’t make him wear a mask. I tell him if someone wants to make a fuss about it, they can come talk to me (I’ve never had to explain beyond “he really can’t”), and we avoid shops that require it. There are certain things he won’t eat because the texture squicks him out– mostly eggs and fresh fruit– so I just make sure he eats a good and varied diet either without those things, or with them in some form where texture isn’t a problem (applesauce is OK, apples are not. Fried eggs are verboten, but egg-heavy pancakes are fine).

    Given my own difficulties, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how few we’ve encountered with the kids, and the work-arounds so far have all been things I already do for myself


    1. When I was little, I hated raspberries. The little hairs on the outside felt so scratchy in my mouth that I could not swallow them. I also had issues with potato dumplings. I still remember the sensation of them scratching my palate. I outgrew all these issues by the time I was 10. It was about the same age for my younger son. He could only wear clothes that were 100% cotton and all tags had to be cut out.


      1. That’s interesting about the food texture. My child has a problem with raw carrots and apples. They will very happily bite into both, but once they chew on them and the bites become small they don’t like the texture and spit them out. They also hate grated apples and carrots, which was one of my favorite snacks as a toddler.


          1. Yes, cooked apples and carrots are fine. The funny thing is, they actually do like to chew on the raw apples and carrots (they will take a raw apple or a carrot out of my hand), there is just a lot of spitting going on once that happens. I think that perhaps they like the sensation of taking the bites, but not once the bites are smaller. I figure that as long as they are not upset (and I have the patience to clean it up), there is no harm in letting them have at it.


            1. Ah, yeah, that is pretty much how we do it. The toddler likes chewing on raw carrots and celery, but spits them after a while, I figure it’s good jaw exercise. 🙂


  2. The machinery story is very helpful. I wish I would have had a better strategy for a child who could not stand water on his head as a baby/small child. Even now we struggle to get him to wash his hair/face. It’s only his head–not his whole body. He goes into sensory overload very easily and has meltdowns all the time. Noise canceling headphones have been helpful. There are other issues too, but any kind of advice helps. I tell him lots of stories. I can definitely weave in stories to give him courage in this area. But coping with the overload has been a real struggle. Unfortunately, his school (public) treats him punitively–even with a very detailed IEP. Recently, I was able to get the district behavior specialists involved and they are re-writing his BIP (behavior improvement plan). Occupational therapy was a wash but I may try it again. It has been about 5 years.


  3. After thinking a bit the closest things I have to sensory issues might be the following:

    I mostly don’t like silence (more appropriately I don’t like the… buzzing in my ear when there’s no other sounds around) and I can’t concentrate in silence, I need sound to concentrate past in order to get into the zone of working on most things. Way back doing my BA my favorite study place was the campus bowling alley…

    Extreme heat (over 32 C or so if I’m inside with no AC) or cold (-10 or colder C) makes me stupid – I can almost fell my brain slowing and I get sluggish and end up staring out the window wondering what I should be doing…

    I don’t know if those would count or if they’re something else…


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