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:


Momma Dulock said...

The zoo was a tough one for us at firt too. Thankfully, kiddo has gotten used to it, but some environments are still "too much". Thank you for sharing.

Coolestmommy said...

Glad to see you trying--I'll tell you that after all the work we did, my 12 year old now ENJOYS places like the zoo and circus and other really overstimulating places. He doesn't love them all, but is better at coping and we love him to bits for trying.

Kmarie said...

Momm Dulock:
Yes some environments are just too much! Thanks for stopping by and glad you found your groove.
Yes we have had a lot of work just to function regularly - lots of emotion and cognitive therapy and coping mechanisms to live in this world...but sometimes trying is not worth the effort...it makes us so miserable or sick. I guess it is the benefit of us all being on the spectrum as I think our family may only ever visit the zoo one more time in the next decade! There are other more beautiful things we can do that everyone can enjoy....Coping is important but we cope daily so I try not to make family times or "fun times" a coping time...
It sounds like your son is lucky to have you to take him into consideration and you are lucky to have a son who tries. I love that you love him to bits for that and see that. Awesome:)

Tyann said...

I love the sensory bag idea! What a super way to be prepared. We have cut out the tags in our clothes as well. We know our limitations and there are places we avoid. Period.

Kmarie said...

That book gave the wonderful idea and it works great ! I am so relieved you avoid some places period! We are forced to do so many things ( which is why I do not like ABA therapy while cognitive therapy is good ) but it's like so many autistics or sensory kids are not just taught how to cope but instead forced to be "normal " to function like a assimilated normal member of society with hours of therapy to pressurize into our society's version of what is " appropriate and better for us" yet why is that? Yes I believe in therapy and my one son goes to a but of OT but I cut it back because while I want him to be able to try things he'd like to try I don't want him to feel more alienated or defected. There is a fine line between teaching skills and altering. It's an ethical choice to make and very different for each family;) I am so glad you respect the boundaries and find alternatives too;)

Kmarie said...

Lol. I meant bit not but ;)

S said...

This post really makes sense to me. I wanted to comment earlier but found this post missing. Today it appeared again, so I am commenting.

I identified with this part so much :"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 onto someone who gave an appropriate response (Penguins.) "
I will tell you a similar incident - One day, I told someone that I liked visiting botanical gardens. The person replied - " But there is nothing but rows and rows of only trees to see there !!"
Another incident- Someone asked" What are your plans after reaching home ( from a bus trip )this afternoon ?" and I replied, "I will read a book perhaps". The person replied- "A book ! Are you crazy ? Of all things in this pleasant weekend afternoon ?"

I also identified with this part: " I honestly believe sensory perception was the cause of most of my childhood illnesses."

In my growing up years, I did not know that there is something called SPD.I thought that I was the weird one or there is some problem with me....I tried so hard to adjust but failed miserably. Now, I know why.

By the way, I also hate zoo and penguins. They look cute in movies and cartoons but the flapping sound that is generated by their wings is a real put off and my hubby was puzzled when I got up from a Nat Geo programme depicting a group of penguins making that weird sound !
take care,

Full Spectrum Mama said...

There's something very precious and progressive in the fact that your home is such a "place of comfort" for your family!!!! Like you, I suffered terrible stomach problems and headaches as a child - I had neither the knowledge or words to describe SPD/ASD nor the "comfort" of home in my particular situation. I wonder if just these simple steps, taken hesitantly and experimentally, to create ease will pan out in the long run in major ways? People with neurological differences can offer real originality and ideas to the world - IF they are functioning well enough to express and execute them...

Kmarie said...

S: I adore you!:) I so get wanting to browse in botanical gardens and read books- it seems so strange to me that others would not! I agree that they are only cute on movies:) LOL

Full Spectrum Mama: Sorry I was on holidays so it took me awhile to respond to this....thank you for that compliment...it is a safe haven:) Yes I LOVE your last two sentences ! Very true...thank you for sharing your delightful articulation of insight and positivity!