Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sensory Blog Hop: At the Zoo and other Sensory Experiences

* This is part of the blog hop. Please check out links on bottom. *

“When I try to explain my condition to people I feel like they either think I'm making up excuses for myself or look on me as a freak or as some kind of nut case. Sometimes I feel that by telling them I have (insert condition) I'm alienating myself, but then, if I don't tell them I will probably mess up at some stage and they will think I'm strange anyway so I figure its (sic) better to tell them on the whole, especially if I intend to try and pursue any type of friendship. But then at times I feel quite fine about myself, I feel like it's the rest of humanity that has the problem, not me. Sometimes I too, look on myself as a freak and a nut case. But then, I'm sure I'm not, because they always say that if your (sic) nuts you don't know it, and I'm sure I am, so I guess I'm not..... Make sense?”- Richard Rowe

The above quote awaited me from THIS blog. Our family feels Richard's sentiments. We are unusual because our whole family has some level of sensory overload or different ways of sensory processing. It works in the privacy of our home because we set it up to please all of us, but going out into the world is hard. Especially when I try to explain varied quirks on each of us (as we are not similar in all of our sensory likes and dislikes) or typical moments that other "normal" families enjoy but for us become a train wreak... Moments like the Zoo. 

Our family visited one of the best Zoos in Canada. The weather fluctuated between cold to hot. We had to hold our ears in the cold and for a good fifteen minutes we all had massive headaches from the wind. It was so painful I almost cried, so I knew my children were hurting worse. Suddenly the sun would come out and we would be hot. My son was begging for a cold drink and I felt like passing out. In heat the smells became overpowering. To us, who have sensory overload, we felt like we were literally being smothered by smell.  

The walking back and forth of caged beings had us feeling caged. Unlike other families at the Zoo we lacked the simplistic wonder when overloaded with sensory data.  We were baffled by those who could see a Giraffe and exclaim, "Wow, look at how tall he is! Look at his dots!"  All we could do was smell the feces and want to move on.  The animal's stenches were not our only problem at the Zoo. We were overwhelmed by the constant pushing of people. When walking through the black strips of plastic "doors" of the rooms containing free birds, my children and I would try to closely tag along to the person in front so we did not have to touch the disgusting, germ filled, slimy plastic. I let doors slam behind me because I did not want to touch them (It suddenly hit me why sometimes people think I am rude. I honestly did not think of other's perceptions until after my husband pointed it out. My brain was concentrating on how to avoid Hepatitis!) 

It was loud. People were pushy. Stenches were fresh. Cages were filled with poop and carcasses were freshly bloodied for lunch. Yuck. To those who love the Zoo please spread some love out there on behalf of us. With sensory overload our family just didn't handle it well.** 

 Luckily, we found our perfection. Off to the side was a landscaped heaven. A quiet building rose out of the Aspens and I could almost hear the choir singing. A sign announced 'The Conservatory of Butterflies.' We had to walk through the heavy black plastic again but this time it was worth it. Colour filled the gently perfumed air. The atmosphere was the perfect temperature. Quiet awe inspired the people entering to whisper. (Yay.) Butterflies fluttered around our head and landed on tropical trees. Peacock Butterflies, Purple Emperors, and Essex Skippers floated gracefully. Cocoons hung in clusters. The plants were growing in wild abandon. Gorgeous colours exploded in the background of calming green. It was the only place we took pictures that day. I laughed when someone asked my son what his favourite part of the Zoo was because he said, "The plants." They looked at him with disapproval and curiosity and moved on to someone who gave an appropriate response (Penguins.)

We thought the Penguins were cute but they smell like Tuna TIMES ONE HUNDRED.  We love to eat tuna but it stinks to high heaven. Penguins puff out their bellies like over sized balloons about to burst. It looks painful. Then they squeak out the most annoying high pitched sound. Over and over and over again. They are only cute on movies. And yet there were people oohing and aahing. My whole family stumbled a few steps back and someone laughed when one of us mentioned the Tuna smell.  I almost lost my lunch. As we stepped back others crowded CLOSER. Baffled, I wondered at the state of humanity and then I realized they were probably wondering at my family's state. We look like we can not enjoy the simple innocence of tiny creatures, but we do enjoy the innocence- our wonder takes backseat to our sensory onslaught. I know we are the minority. 

 This is our life. We can be zipping along, confident and melting into the pot of "normal" and then suddenly we are hit with a multitude of sensory perceptions that make life difficult. Another example of this sensory onslaught was when our family attended a birthday party. The cake came out with 6 metal sparkles giving off a noxious smell. The house quickly filled with smoke. I was gagging and stifling a sense of panic as I tasted soap in my mouth. (I knew if I felt like that, the kids were having a tougher time.) We have managed sensory onslaught with cognitive therapy enough to "fake it to make it" in some circumstances. I was so proud of them as they smiled and sang 'Happy Birthday' as they fought back the overwhelming sickness that was taking over their bodies. I felt like I was in a war zone.  My ears started ringing and my hands started shaking. This is our life. A life that so many do not understand or can not see. We left shortly after.The taste and over stimulation in our bodies eased up fifteen minutes after being home. My daughter's stomach ache was suddenly fine. My son's headache went away and my youngest, who was five at the time, settled down and remarked, "Home at last! Where we are comfortable!" 

 I honestly believe sensory perception was the cause of most of my childhood illnesses. I think if I could have had time to calm my nervous system down at my different perceptions I could have had less stomach issues, muscle and head pain. People who have sensory issues are influenced by our nervous system. Our brains process the input of sensory organs differently. We need a safe place that has the exact amount of vulnerability and challenge. It really depends on each person and each contextual situation because some people with different sensory needs or perceptions would be fine at the Zoo or a party but not ok at some other event. A book that really helped aid me in figuring out what to do for our whole family was, "Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too tight." I now pack a "sensory" bag on most occasions filled with headphones, soothing scents, wrist bands, squishy textiles, Reiki gem stones, blankets, snacks (that we actually will eat) and other sensory saving items.  We also buy clothes that feel good and discard any that annoy us. We cut out tags and any food that makes us gag continuously. We only have items in our house that are comfortable or pleasing. It takes a bit more thought but we have found our sensory groove in a world that is often too loud, too bright and too tight...and smelly:)

** There are some Aspies / Autistics who have a special interest in animals which, if a special interest, overrides their sensory data. They love the Zoo and any other place animals are found.

This is by Samantha and SO good for Aspergirls. I would highly recommend for any who wish to understand women and autism to listen while doing chores or watch during downtime: