A couple weeks ago, I was at a training pertaining to children with visual impairments and a concept was brought up by the instructor that stuck in my head. It was the phrase “Sensory Hell.” This concept was used to describe where our children sometimes find themselves. Well, I’m pretty sure I got a first class ticket there myself last Wednesday.
I was at the dentist, and as I sat in the chair, I was totally overwhelmed with sensory information. I was listening to the sound of the tooth polisher, the technician’s attempt at conversation, and also the sound of the drill in the room next door. I had fluorescent lights shining down on me, and thin glasses that barely shielded their glare.
I had somebody else’s hands in my mouth, moving my cheeks from side-to-side, and expecting me to go with the flow without further instructions. On top of that, a lot of what was happening was slightly painful, and for the sake of getting it over with, I didn’t speak up. It was only a cleaning, but I wanted to be anywhere but in that chair.
As I was reluctantly reclined, I immediately thought back to our training, and how easily our children can find themselves overwhelmed with sensory information. Often, they don’t speak up due to inability, or lack of confidence, and therefore can’t stop the onslaught. They sit in classrooms, or in their own homes, and deal with whatever comes their way.
My son, Eddie, can often only handle one piece of information at a time. He may choose to use hearing, or touch, or the little vision he has…and then tune the rest of the world out. When I bombard him with lots of things at once, I imagine he feels as I did in the dentist chair. This leads to total meltdown mode…and that’s exactly what I wanted to do when my teeth were getting cleaned.
As Eddie gets older, and as his communication improves, he is certainly able to handle more. Today, for example, was a great day for Eddie to experience many things at once. In this picture he is feeling a railing made of a rough material, he is facing the sunshine, and the wind was blowing up a storm as he stood on a friend’s deck. In the background, the radio was playing, and his sisters were making noise as usual.
With all of that…he still was happy. He was juggling what was once “Sensory Hell” and turning it into something meaningful and fun for him. The fact that I was aware of all the environmental factors demonstrates how much we have to perceive for Eddie…because he can’t always perceive for himself.
So, the next time I take Eddie somewhere chaotic, and he isn’t happy, I’m going to remember the dentist chair. Just like there are pros and cons with going to the dentist, the same is true for every activity Eddie participates in. Sometimes, we have to push through, but other times he might need to be rescued from his own “Sensory Hell.”