SOS: My Senses are Out of Sync

#2 Letter in the series of Letters of Love.

When MG & I go to the supermarket, this can often be our experience.

Dearest Mummy,

HELP ME!

Chatter. Chatter. Everywhere is chatter. Mouths all talk at once. Babies cry. Ladies heels, click clack on the floor. Someone is coughing. Cell phones ring. The registers beep. Everything demands my attention. Where do I look?

Angry wasps swarm close by. Their hum ferocious and wild. Are they chasing me? Mumma – they will catch me – except wait …it’s not wasps. Electricity. It’s the sound of the overhead fluorescent lights. They scream. Flickering fast, they sting and burn my eyes.

The supermarket pulsates. Reflections change what I see. There is Too Much. Too much colour. Too much white. Too many things. People moving, trolleys rattling, and now a razor slashes inside my brain as someone’s child screams for chocolate.

MUMMA PLEASE!

Where is my body in space? I can’t tell anymore. Where am I? Is my body still here?

Turn it all down. Take it all away.

 

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A waft of floral perfume pierces my nose.  The putrid stench of stale cigarette follows it. The seams of my socks sink their hungry fangs into my toes. My shoes suffocate my feet. The man by the overly sweet, green apples in the produce section…. I smell his clothes, his humanness… My top is a snake, constricting my neck and grazing my skin with its label….The deli reeks of salami, olives and cheese… ….Help me Mumma. It is overpowering. The sensations all violently collide and… I need to vomit. Mumma – I can’t vomit. I’m afraid of vomiting. I can’t work this out. My brain is going into overload. I feel sick. I want to be sick. I can’t process this. I’m frightened. I’m terrified. I am in danger. I can’t feel my body. I’m disappearing. My world is going black…

HELP MEEEEEEEEEE!

MG x

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My Darling MG,

You’re safe. I am here.

Let’s leave the supermarket and find the safe spot. I know the place. It is part of my planning. We saw it on the way in. Let’s go now to where there is less noise, less people, less smells, sounds, textures and light. Just less.

A place where your overloaded senses can decompress.

 

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We will breathe, we will calm and then when your equilibrium is restored, I will explain what is happening to you.

But at this moment – We are going. Now.

Before your mind shuts down. Before you crash, flailing, savage and untameable, on the cold, dirty supermarket floor.

The shopping is not important. I will leave the cart here as I have done before, crammed full with much needed groceries in the middle of the isle. Without a backwards glance, we will exit.

Time is of the essence. Let me get you out of here.

It’s too late. I wasn’t fast enough. It was too much for you. You have gone.

All I can do now is stand over you to keep you safe until the tsunami has past. Straddling your body whilst you violently thrash, head butting the floor; whilst you shriek cries of pain that can shatter glass, whilst you punch at my legs hard enough to bruise.

All I can do is keep you safe and ignore the stares and comments.

People tusk tusk as they walk past. Judgements dripping from their sneers. “Spare the rod to spoil the child”, I hear. “Poor parenting”, I hear. “In my day children …” blah, blah, blah. I am used to this.

 

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There is nothing else I can do for you until the immediate pressure has vented.

The writhing is losing steam. The screams reducing in volume. Here is my moment to enter.

MG, breathe. Big breaths in, blow out slowly like you are blowing a candle to make the flame dance for a time. Not blow it out. Make it flicker. Like we practised. In. Out… That’s it. You are safe. I am here. You are safe. I am here. On repeat.

Are you back? Why Hello again. You are back in your body. I see you. Calmer now.

Everything is ok. You are ok.

I dust you off. You allow me to hug you tight. We leave and go to the quiet space.

Behind us, the abandoned grocery trolley accompanied by the stares and loud criticisms of ignorant, intolerant people.

 

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My Darling, let me tell you what happened.

You have hyper-acute senses and so you feel too much.

All the senses we use to understand our environment, to orient ourselves and enjoy life – Smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing, textures and movement; for you are highly delicate.

Sensory Processing is the term used to describe how we interpret information from our senses. How our brains integrate that data to create a picture so we can tell where our bodies are in space, how things feel and how to understand our environment.

Sensory processing every day life is challenging for you because your sensations are out of sync.

MG, we say you’re Sensory Defensive. Where your physical response is overly disproportionate to the sensory input.

You perceive your feelings to be threatening and dangerous. Ordinary sights, smells, touch and tastes, that are insignificant even unnoticeable, to a neurotypical person like me, can be excruciatingly painful and destabilising for you.

Let me explain what happened in the supermarket. What is it to be sensory defensive. And what we do to ease neurological confusion so that you may process information more accurately.

It’s ok.

The life raft of strategies we practice help your brain create a more accurate picture of your body and your external world. Help you calm when the storm clouds gather.

Just now you reached Sensory Overload. The point that you tipped over the edge.

Physically, you are incapable of processing any more information. Not in a way that is comprehensible. When you reach full, innate survival behaviours kick in. It is primal and raw. Like that of a cornered, terrified animal you are desperate to escape these sensations.

Instinctive and ancient you fright, flight or fight. Your response neither controllable nor conscious.

 

When this happens, we cannot reason, threaten or discipline you to change your behaviour for it is not a tantrum. It’s a Melt Down.

It is never manipulative behaviour trying to get your own way.

It is you, desperately trying to communicate your overwhelming, critical distress.

My job is to make sure you are safe first; to provide the emotional support you need, until you calm enough to allow me to help you further.

Let’s think about what we do, the strategies we employ to minimise sensory overloading and recalibrate your sensations:

We have safe spaces at home.

We have a tent in a quiet area where you go when your life gets too loud. Inside, your favourite things: soft pillows, teddy bear, toys. This space helps to regulate your thoughts and emotions.

We have lots of time out.

Not like neurotypcial parents can use to discipline a toddler.

Our time out is rewarding quiet time. After the park or shopping, I ensure you have “time out”. Think of a boiling pot of water on the stove with it’s lid on. The steam needs to be released so it won’t bubble over. Your quiet times help you discharge your steam and prevent the panic from burning you dry.

Your blankie? – Yes my darling. It is a sensory, weighted blanket. The pressure of it helps you relax and organise your brain so you know where your body is in space.

The visual day diary on the fridge? Yes MG. It enables you to know what is happening in your day so you can anticipate and prepare for what we are doing.

And your special ear muffs? – That’s right. I normally carry them with me at all times for when you need to shut out the noise.

These are just some of our strategies we use to help you uncoil.

We also celebrate life in a menu of sensory activities designed to compensate and remediate your challenges. I call it MG’s Fiesta.

Your daily fiesta is just that.

A festival of joyful play where you can be untamed, indulgent and free. Where you are encouraged to feast greedily on your games.

Your fiesta is rich, diverse and fat. Your fiesta is neural learning that nourishes your total wellbeing.

We feast on rhythmic movement and rocking. Back and forth, up and down.

We feast on the trampoline until we are dripping in sweat and laughter.

 

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We feast on grounding joint compression and approximation. At night it helps your brainstem understand where your body is in space, soothing the pathway to sleep.

We play with fidget toys, body brushing and firm massage. On classical music, wobble boards and spinning until we are fall down dizzy.

Heavy chewing and sucking treats like munching on fruit leathers, crunchy nuts and ice chips are tasty fun. The oral motor action promotes deep breathing. We have water bottles with very thin curly straws stationed as anxiety-busting sentinels, dotted all over the house.

We squeeze balls; we play in sand and use play-doh.

Knowing about your defensiveness, crowds and parties are a kaleidoscope of noise, colour, smells, and textures.

Here, I reiterate my promise to always do my best to keep you safe.

That means that when you need to leave a social activity, we go.

No questions asked. No explanation necessary.

I will watch for the signs and when it becomes too much, we are gone.

I know this. Daddy knows this. People who love you, know this. Those people who choose not to understand you, who will not accept this are no longer part of our universe. It’s that simple.

So my darling:

Because you feel too much, we appreciate that being sensory defensive is a part of you.

When you’ve had enough, we understand that your pain feels real, threatening and it can catapult you towards a meltdown. In its wake, you are left vulnerable and exhausted.

Try to calm yourself when you can. Use all the strategies and safe places to help you regulate your senses. Please let me help you when you can’t.

Party hard in your fiesta. Continue to stuff your face full with your sensory play and celebrate life in the games.

We are committed to helping you recalibrate your senses so your days are more peaceful, your environment discernable and you feel safe, secure and grounded.

Finally, my darling, know this.

 

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You are so much more than ok.

You are very loved and you are always seen.

Mumma xx

 

Autism & Me - 1 Love Letters Series

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Obsessed with shoes, I am the classic over-thinker trying to get my balance right in a world that is filled with expectations.

I’ve been labeled driven and borderline neurotic, fun, crazy and focused. Having left the management consulting world behind, the newest addition to my collection of labels is: Mum.

Now a full time Mum to a gorgeous boy and a wife to the love of my life, both these intelligent and quirky males are part of Autism Spectrum. In addition to our 2 nutbag, nosey and noisey hairy hounds, they all teach me daily what patience, love and understanding is.

Generous, Mother, Cranky, Wife, Wise, Smart Arse, Listener, Anxious, Strong, Emotional, Clinical Advocate, Funny, Known-to-Love-A-Drink.

These are just some of my labels.

I am all these things and so much more.

Just like you.

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