Do You have Sensory Problems?

I do... have for as long as I can remember. I didn't always understand why some parts of me were different from other people nor do I always understand some of the ways I respond now. Some ways that my body may respond to a stimulus I still do not understand... but I accept it and sometimes laugh about it... and sometimes cry about it... and sometimes I just shake my head and shrug. In the end, my processing challenges are a part of me and make me the unique and wonderful individual that I am. That said, I was in my thirties before I was even heard the term sensory processing disorder / sensory integration disorder and researchers are still trying to understand how these disorders work. I thought that I would take a few minutes to talk about the basic human sensory system and leave you with a small list of questions that you can read and, if interested, can use to look at your own behavior and responses to different stimuli and determine if you too, might have some sensory processing challenges. :)

When I was growing up, I learned about the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell. The sense of touch as processed through our skin and taste processed inside of our mouths.... the sense of sight which is processed through our eyes and sound through our ears... and the sense of smell through our nose. And each of these organs sends the information to the brain for final processing so that we can use the information. In the processing the information is organized in the brain so that we can use it to make appropriate responses to external stimuli. For those with disorders of the sensory system, the organized information may not create the correct responses.... the child who reaches toward a snarling cat and is genuinely confused when the cat hurts it... the person in whom fear causes hyperactivity or out of control behavior, etc...

So let's start with some basic questions. Here is how the questions work. Each question should be looked at by thinking of how often you perform the behavior in question. The more often you do it, the more likely it is that your brain is having some difficulty processing the information in a 'neuro-typical way'. Is that a problem? Not necessarily... it really depends on how my your behavior in this regard affects your quality of life.

1. Do you prefer the dark, happily avoid bright light and feel happier in dim light? Do you find that you are bothered by light when others feel comfortable?

2. Is it difficult for you to accurately visualize images or objects in messy or cluttered backgrounds? Do you end up staring at objects overly long to process the information?

3. Do you find it more challenging or impossible to complete tasks with noise or music in the background? Do you find yourself easily distracted by noise or even seek out noise or make sounds simply to have noise around you?

4. Do you avoid noise or sounds? Are you slow to respond to sounds around you that are relevant and important... an inability to recognize what sounds are important and to block out sounds that are not?

5. Do you have difficulty processing really strong smells? An inability to smell odors that the people around you can?

6. Do you find yourself feeling large amounts of anxiety or anger when your expectations or your routine has to change? Do you find yourself doing tasks in inefficient ways because it feels more comfortable to you? Do you move from one activity to another not completing any of them very quickly?

7. Do you prefer to be alone? Prefer quiet activities? Quiet areas and places?

8. Do you have problems with textures in food and limit what you eat based on what the food feels like? Do you crave certain foods due to flavor or strong smells or will you only eat certain foods?

9. Do you have problems with touching or being touched? Do you react emotionally when being touched by people or things such as water, unnatural fabrics, etc.. or do you crave touch and will touch too much and too often?

10. If something touches you such as clothing, are you able to 'forget' the touch.... or do you feel the clothing and its touch all day in part of your mind? Do you go barefoot because shoes feel uncomfortable? Do you fill your hands with things so avoid people touching your hands?

11. Do you seem to have an awareness – or lack of awareness- to pain or temperature that is different from most other people? Can you injure yourself and find that the pain is not at the level that it should be for the injury? Do you feel comfortable in a snowy environment in short sleeves?

I could definitely go on and healthcare providers who try to help their patients with sensory issues will ask many more questions than this.

One challenge that comes with sensory problems is that as someone struggles with them and they find the way they respond is so different from other people, it affects the individual's emotional well being. People with sensory problems appears to be more likely to develop low self esteem and self critical behavior. They are more likely to exhibit socially inappropriate behavior as well as difficulty expressing emotions in a healthy way. The odds of having problems with anxiety are a lot higher in this population making a challenging situation sometimes worse. I will admit that I find it challenging sometimes myself.

This post is so basic that I beg of you to not make any diagnosis or take to much out of it. I just wanted to take a little time to introduce the topic to start a little basic awareness. If you want more information, please feel free to leave any questions you want answered in the comments or speak to a medical professional about your thoughts. Both of these diagnoses are still debated by healthcare professionals so if you would like more information, be sure to find a provider who has studied and has knowledge of both sensory processing disorder and sensory integration disorder and the nuances between them. Thanks for sharing. :)


A Visit to Birds Acre.... :)

I took the time the a few Sunday's ago to do something really fun. I agreed to babysit that day and so I knew that the day would be crazy busy. I knew I had church which would include two hours of a full and active nursery and then some cooking and babysitting at a missionary farewell. So after my service at the farewell was done- it was a wonderful party I must say- I took my cute Tessa by the hand and we got in the car to go meet her mother... who also had probably had a very busy day. As we reached Ellsworth, I realized that we were a bit early and I didn't want to sit and sit in the car waiting and I just didn't feel like that would be good for Tessa either, but as it was Sunday I wasn't sure what we could do that would still appropriate for the day. Then I had a brilliant idea and ... Tessa and I spent the next forty five minutes at Bird's Acre in Ellsworth.

For those of you who do not know, Birdsacre is a pretty neat place. It is a wildlife refuge that helps to save hurt animals, has some awesome nature walks and in small ways tries to teach conservation and educate people about birds and other wildlife. I used to go with Brock a bit and I have had pretty good experiences there- see this post for my latest interaction a few weeks ago. So Tessa and I found the slightly hidden driveway and headed in. And it was a load of fun! I love looking at birds and I also enjoy watching the joy and wonder in a child's eyes as they are able to get pretty close to some large birds that they might not see in any other place. Hurt or disabled owls are their specialty and so we got to see a few fun animals. Here is a small picture summary of our visit:

The first birds that we saw was a red tailed hawk:

Then a weeny saw whet owl....

Then a barred owl...

I'm not sure what this one is.... but he's cute!

Our next handsome one was a broad winged hawk

and last in the large cages was a great horned owl...

or two!

We spent the rest of the time looking at the waterfowl hanging out around a pond next to one of the nature walks. We saw a ….

Chinese Goose!

And a Toulouse hanging out with his Canadian buddy :)

I think that hanging out with Tessa and looking at birds may have been the highlight of my week! It was just a wonderful, peaceful time and I have been finding myself hoping to go back soon. For any local readers, you should take the opportunity to check it out! You won't regret it and maybe you might see me there... I have to go back soon. :)


The Day of the Bird... and the Cheating of Crows

Is it just me or am I suddenly running into all the hurt and still living creatures I can lately? Before anyone thinks that statement is a complaint, I want to stress that it's not... just an observation that disturbs me a little. Mostly because if one person is finding so many injured animals, how many are out there right now? It's like for a brief moment in time a window has opened up in my mind to a different way of seeing and like the boy Cole in “The Sixth Sense” who finds his vision and what he sees is different from the people around him... “I see hurt animals.”

So the first Sunday in July started out like a fairly normal fast Sunday. I had prepared and packed the car the day before for an easy morning. I gauged whether I could fast without throwing up or if I needed to eat to even make getting to church possible. I had even set out my clothing the night before. And so pretty early and quickly I was driving down the road towards the church listening to some inspirational music – well, inspirational to me anyway. ;) I had managed to almost get to church when I saw an obstacle in the road and as I slowed the car down I realized the obstacle in the road was a dog. Shoulders bowed and just sitting in the very middle of the road, he didn't even look up or flinch as I came to a stop. I pulled over for a good look, and the dog let me get pretty close. I gave it some of the dried shrimp in my car and called the police and I slowly doled out the food until a nice officer showed up and I completed my journey to church. I came with quite a few things to take into church and so I started unloading and making my several trips in and out of the building. It was during one of those trips to the car that I was distracted again.

I walked out of the building at one point and the noise from overhead was pretty loud. I could hear the distinct cawing of the crows- loud and raucous and the anxious twittering of a smaller bird. So my footsteps walked past my car to the side of the building and I found myself standing under the canopy of the trees watching the drama above. Three crows were actively irritating a pair of robins who were desperately trying to protect their nest and their young. I watched as one or two of the crows would lure both of the parents away from the nest and then the last crow would nip in and steal one of the robin fledglings and fly away as quickly as possible. The parents would return desperate and full of anxiety and then the crows would begin when another would show up. Slowly but surely, they were emptying the nest. I stood there, wishing I could change something and knowing that I could do nothing, when the last fledgling was captured and the crow turned in midair and flew in my direction. I must have been so quiet that the crow hadn't even noticed my presence because when it caught sight of me, the crow tried to change direction too abruptly and dropped its hard won package at my feet. I didn't even hesitate and leaned down, scooped it up in my hands and looking up at the crow, I quickly walked away. Back into the church with my hands carefully closed and cupped, my mind racing trying to determine a path forward. I remembered some boxes that were waiting to be thrown away in the library and headed there and within a few minutes the bird was sitting in a box in the dark, quiet nursery to calm down and rest.

I had hopes that I could return it to the nest but during the hour before Sacrament meeting started, I realized that was no longer an option. After several trips outside I realized the robins in their sorrow and loss had totally abandoned the nest, but two crows were waiting right next too it. For people who think birds have no brains, they are certainly at least incorrect when thinking of crows and ravens. They can plan and work together quite well (as can be seen by their brilliant and successful attack on the nest.) When I would walk over and look up into the trees, they simply watched me and waited. When Sacrament meeting started, it found the bird still resting quietly in the nursery and my bum settled into a pew. A quick glance outside during the meeting confirmed that the crows were planning on continuing to wait- whether they knew I wanted to return the bird or they just knew the fledgling was still around I do not know. It was clear however that I now had a bird. A very needy, hungry bird.

So nursery began and I introduced my youngsters to the bird and several times we carefully broke off tiny slivers of our grapes and dropped it into its open and begging mouth. The fledgling would cry and we would feed it. The kids were pleased, the fledgling didn't seem too worried and our lesson on appreciating God's creatures seemed to be more easily cemented into the young one's heads. And with the help of my helper, I made a quick call to Birds Acre and found an opening for the wee robin. This is the second time that I have used this resource over my life to help a bird and I am so grateful for its existence. After church, all the youth came and took a quick look and then my good friend Michael hopped into the car to lovingly cradle the box in his lap. We drove to Bird Acre and I was able to stand back while Michael talked with the volunteer and they both wandered towards a cage with some robins and fledglings. When they returned, Michael and the volunteer were all smiles and said that their disabled mother had happily started almost immediately to feed the little fledgling with the other foster birds. So with some handshakes and smiles, we departed and left the unintentional orphan to its new fate.

What an unusual day. I feel so much distress an anxiety over the hurt but I left feeling a bit of peace. I dd the best that I could do and I am aware that many people would have heard the loud caws and cries and not known what they meant- there was a blissful time in my life that I wouldn't have known either and would have just found the sounds annoying and would have moved in the opposite direction. As with the poem of the starfish, I couldn't help them all and at least four fledglings were taken and happily eaten by the crows... but my actions and my service mattered to this one... and that has made all the difference. I hope he makes it! :)