Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What is is like to be a Sensory-Challenged Parent?

It's so much easier to talk about the things our children deal with, right?  I can tell you about my kids' sensory areas; I know what restaurants to avoid because they can't handle the loudness or the smells; I know what gets them dis-regulated and I know what kinds of activities they seek out to regulate themselves because I watch them, observe and study them to help them the best I can.

But me?  What about Mom's sensory processing issues?  What gets me dis-regulated?

A few years ago, instead of just making it from one loud play date to the next messy craft time, I decided to take a look at my sensory profile and see what kinds of things I'm sensitive to.  I knew I didn't like certain things, but I didn't exactly know why.  One day, I took a Sensory Profile test at a training I went to, and it was eye opening!

If you were to do a search for "sensory processing 'anything'" you would find thousands of results for sites about children, but few for what adults go through.  Guess what?  We all have sensitivities, a Sensory Profile, so to speak.  We all have a small level to a large problem of some sensory stuff going on with ourselves.

I'm going to share with you some of things about me and my "Sensory Profile" as a parent...know that you are not alone if things bother you, if you can't deal, or if your environment makes you feel a little twitchy sometimes :)

Must Have Quiet...or Quiet-er

How do you handle crowds, loud restaurants, or concerts?  How about if several noises are going off at once- a car alarm, a dog barking, the timer on the oven, several people talking all while the TV is on.  If this sounds like your worst nightmare, then you are like me, a mom who is a bit auditory defensive.
My three children all love to sing.  They are precious when they sing all sorts of made up songs and have that cute falsetto thing that kids do when they are trying to sing pretty.  My heart loves it; however, my poor ears cannot take it.  At all.  My Mia will say to her brother this exact phrase...often, "Bubs, you know that hurts mom's ears and makes her feel crazy!"  That sweet Bubs cannot handle going more than a few minutes without an outburst of sound, singing, or nonsense noises for his own sensory reasons.  Oh my ears, though, when he does that, it feels like 100 needles stabbing me in my eardrum!  My head gets stuffy, my shoulders tense and I just want to escape.

How does this affect my Mom-Behavior?  I want to Shut. It. Down.  I want to do whatever it takes to make the noises stop.  I will try to parent the loudness out of them.  But, of course, that doesn't work...again, their own sensory issues are at play.  Sometimes my head hurts just trying to police all of them trying to talk to me at once.  I know they all need me; I know they all need attention.  But sometimes it feels like juggling too many spike-covered balls at once and I cannot deal.

Instead of trying to get better at the juggling, which I spent many days striving to do, I simply get what I need by stepping away.  I have also been known to plug my own ears with my fingers and steal my kids noise-reducing ear muffs! (It's not always mature, but it gets the job done.  Sometimes gives us all a good laugh!)

Need to Eliminate All The Clutter!

There is a reason that I spend thirty minutes deciding on the right hotel when going on vacation.  I don't do a lot of patterns, too many bright colors, and I cannot relax in a sea of floral prints.  I used to think I was too picky about aesthetics.  Then I realized, when I took the sensory profile, that I scored high for visual plane and vestibular sensitivities.

Now, for me, the whiter, the more peaceful; the simpler the better!  I finally get to live in a home where it's mostly light neutrals, muted accents, and spacious enough that our small amount of stuff makes it seem like clutter cannot happen.  But with three small people, and if I'm being honest, some messy adults :), papers are here, there, and everywhere, pencil shavings, wrappers, clothes in every room!, everyone's stuff all up on our bed, just so many little tiny things all over the place!!  I handle it well until I don't; then I go a bit cray cray.

When the house feels like it's closing in on me and I get overwhelmed by the clutter, it can hurt right behind my eyes and I have to go to a happy place when my kids bring home and unload their back packs full of papers and miscellaneous sticky things.  I don't do heights and I don't do over-loaded visual planes.  My ideal Instagram feed is a bunch of white squares with neutral things on them...sometimes just scrolling through IG gives me that pressure behind my eyes.  I love seeing peoples' stories and lovely pictures, but after a while it's too much visually.  I still use my finger every now and then when I read too.  Yes, I am 33.  These can be signs of a visual sensitivity- not visual impairment, like needing glasses- but a sensitivity with processing what you see.  The vestibular and propreoceptive senses, the ones that senses where you are in space and in motion, play into this as I sometimes feel like my cluttered home is an obstacle course I am bound to fail.. and many times do.

So when there are tiny things everywhere, like crumbs, or small pieces of paper (don't get me started on messy crafts with pipe cleaner bits and paint cups everywhere!), my brain kind of freaks out.  It's the most satisfying thing to vacuum for me.  I do it almost every day.  I may not do laundry but once a month, but I will vacuum!  Clutter for me, isn't just an annoyance, it hurts!  If I absolutely have to get work done I will throw a white blanket over four loads of un-put-away laundry on the couch so it's less visually stimulating!  If there are a lot of kid things in the floor I will shove them all in one pile so it feels like I can move around.  I have found ways to limit how this distracts me.

If the visual planes in my life are clear, bright, and un-cluttered, then my Mom-Behavior is great!  But my kids know that there are times when we all have to clean All The Things, and they are sort of used to it now.  We have made it a routine for the last few months to do this on Fridays before we have some sort of Shabbat and celebrate a Day of Rest on Saturday.  They still complain a bit, but they also now know that I'm a more pleasant Mom when it all gets clean and clear!

How about you?  Do you think you might have any sensory issues as a parent?  The Sensory Profile is a Clinical Assessment so there is nothing comparable available online.  However, I suggest reading Carol Kranowitz "The Out of Sync Child" link in my Resource Page under Sensory Ideas.  It has helpful questionnaires used for children, but also you can see for yourself some things you may have done as a child or put the questions into more adult terms. 

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