My sensory problems: The Big List

I’m going to lay out a whole bunch of characteristics and symptoms. And I know it will be overwhelming; there was a lot happening. This is a general look at areas that gave me trouble. By no means is this meant to indicate that ALL of these things were a factor all at once, all day long. Some situations were more problematic than others. But for me, the truth is, it wasn’t a solitary problem; I had multiple sensitivities and wide-ranging trouble with motor planning and motor skills. There were a lot of things that affected me.

An important note: Please keep in mind that most everyone will have difficulty with these situations to some degree as a natural part of growing up and learning. It’s not an automatic indication that a child needs to be tested. Just because your child doesn’t like the sound of fireworks going off, for example, does not mean there is a sound sensitivity. But if fireworks and less extreme situations produce noticeable irritation in your child, to the point of disturbing your daily interactions, then there might be an underlying problem.

Another note: If you want to learn more about technical terminology (vestibular, proprioceptive systems) you can go here. These words tend to confuse me, so I’m just going to characterize things to the best of my ability, in everyday language.

sensoryprocessingdisorder
Source: www.todaysparent.com.

Sound sensitivity

  • Most people are able to filter out nonessential background noises, once they are evaluated as non-threatening. So, having a rattling fan nearby while you’re trying to focus on something can eventually be tuned out. For me, it was way too distracting, as if the rattling sound is being amplified or something.
  • Learning to read as its own achievement was difficult enough. But it was even more difficult with competing noises in my environment. I especially remember yelling at my brother to be quiet when he and mom were talking on the other side of the room, so that I could read aloud to myself. It seems strange that they could be distracting me while I was talking to myself, but I couldn’t tune them out. I couldn’t focus. I yelled “shut up!” quite a bit. Which went over really well. (Yeah, right.)
  • My mom loves coffee! And before Keurigs were available, she relied heavily on whole coffee beans and using a grinder before brewing. I don’t remember any other gadget in the kitchen being as loud as the coffee grinder. And the sound would drive me up the wall! I could not be anywhere near the kitchen when she was making coffee. I just could not take the sound.
  • That being said, I don’t specifically recall how I handled fire drills and the like at school. But I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty …
  • Yes, I hated fireworks. I would cry during the presentation. I hated the loud cracking sound. It didn’t matter that the actual fireworks were going off in the far distance, without a chance of touching me.

Touch sensitivity

  • We’ve established the problem I had with elbowing. The action is seen as a personal attack instead of a casual way of being included in a conversation.
  • I’ve mentioned not wanting to be cuddled. That’s an important part of human development, allowing that touch as a baby. You learn a lot through that step. Learn more about why touch is important for baby development.
  • I couldn’t tolerate my hair being played with or having too many things in my hair. Maybe a loose ponytail was okay, but it couldn’t be too tight. I got headaches from ponytails or headbands, in addition to them not being comfortable for very long.
  • When shopping, most people just have to worry if clothes fit. I was more concerned with how the fabric felt. Tags on clothing was a problem. They would scratch my neck and be annoying. Shopping for clothes wasn’t any fun. I would much prefer to wear what I had repeatedly than have something new.
  • Buying shoes was its own form of torture. I swear the store must have a calming mechanism in the air or something because shoes would feel fine in stores. But putting them on immediately afterward at home was totally different. They would either just feel weird, or too tight, or the seam in the shoes (or socks) would start to be irritating. And it didn’t help that I physically outgrew shoes quickly.
  • Wool clothing was not an option! Oh man, my poor parents bought me this nice full-length wool coat and I just couldn’t deal with it. I had to make use of it sometimes, and I think I tried to make it work by using my hair as a barrier for the collar. But it was not pleasant at all.
  • We had a few guinea pigs while I was growing up. And it was fun to take them out of the cage and let them run around on the floor. I remember sitting on the floor, my legs creating a barrier to keep them from roaming free. The guinea pig would inevitably brush against my legs, and I always seemed to be wearing shorts in these instances. Anyway, I was excessively ticklish. Their fur would just graze my leg and I would burst into a fit of giggles. As in it was difficult to stop laughing.
  • Picky eater falls into this category, too. I know most children have a problem with being picky. But the texture of food was a factor at times. Or just being asked to try something new. There were oddities about what was acceptable or not acceptable. For instance, there was the case of liking french fries but hating potatoes because they tasted too much like a potato. As an adult, I remember Dad scratching his head when I told him I would eat cooked onions in a dish but I didn’t want to add raw onions to a sandwich. Sorry, Dad, but it’s not the same thing. The texture is very different. NOTE: I don’t know if my food pickiness qualifies as a sensory issue per se. Food sensitivity is an actual problem for some, but I don’t know where the line is between being picky and having a sensory issue. I just know it caused problems in our house, especially for my parents. When your young daughter is crying hysterically at the kitchen table after everyone else has finished, because she won’t eat the vegetables, or she flat out refuses to take even one bite, you have a problem.

Check out 15 ways to help your child cope with tactile defensiveness.

Smell sensitivity

  • Cleaning supplies bothered me, especially the scent of ammonia and vinegar. I had to leave the room. And at various times, different smells would affect me. Later upon learning about my diagnosis and sharing it with a childhood friend, she said, “I thought you just liked being outside.” One of my ways of coping with certain smells was to leave the room or step outside. When spending time with this friend, I would often escape to the backyard instead of hanging out in the kitchen.
  • Deviled eggs. I couldn’t stand the smell. I couldn’t stand to look at them. I think was the hard-boiled egg aspect, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only ventured to try scrambled eggs. All other varieties just aren’t appealing. But the smell of hard-boiled eggs just turns me off.
  • Smell of coffee made me want to leave the room too, smelling the beans being ground.
  • There were times when I would refuse to eat certain foods simply because of how it smelled.
  • If a perfume scent was particularly strong, it could be irritating.

Balance / coordination / movement

  • We’ve established that I had trouble with navigating around things on the floor. This also included poor planning with walking through doorways; I often hit my shoulder against the side of the wall.
  • I fell and bumped into things so frequently that I usually had more bruises than I could account for. The pain didn’t always register with me.
  • In general, my sense of balance was off. I remember playing with a friend down the street. She was very graceful and took dance or ballet or something. And we would set up a pseudo obstacle course in her yard. She had no trouble doing cartwheels or walking along a narrow plank of wood resting on the ground, which served as a makeshift balance beam. I couldn’t stay on the wood. I didn’t know where to begin to actually try a cartwheel. Honestly, how do you even begin to attempt coordinating your body for that when you’re doing really well to walk in a straight line?
  • I don’t know if this fits under this category, but I definitely remember having trouble starting assignments in art class. I couldn’t figure out what would qualify given our instructions, especially if they were open-ended. I often had to wait to see what others at my table started to do and then copy them.
  • My hand-eye coordination was poor. Does this really need explanation?
  • Running pitched forward, almost like I was leaning in to fall. It may have been a way to over-correct for my lack of balance. On the subject of running, I do remember running with my arms down at my side. For some reason, I thought I could go faster this way. I didn’t know it was proper form to actually pump your arms as you ran. In fact, I remember this being caught on video when I was in fourth or fifth grade, running with my arms straight down. I don’t know why P.E. teachers and other adults never addressed this. And I don’t remember when and how it was finally corrected.

Fine motor skills

  • Learning to tie shoes is a challenge for a lot of kids. It requires lots of coordination and then pulling laces tight enough. I definitely opted for Velcro when possible.
  • Choosing a hand to write with. Early on, I probably appeared ambidextrous because I frequently switched hands for coloring, writing, using the chalkboard eraser and using scissors. That seems like a good thing, but without establishing a dominant hand, it meant that neither hand was really developing. That just causes more problems.
  • Writing. Learning to write was a challenge. Forming the letters properly and having them go in the correct direction. I had trouble consistently spacing letters and lining up numbers. This made math problems difficult to solve. I’d have a combination of big and small letters for one word. I also had a tendency to write at a slant. And learning cursive was a nightmare.
  • Coloring. In general, it’s a fun activity to demonstrate your creativity and hand movements. I had trouble staying in the lines. I would also bare down too hard on crayons to the point of breaking the tip. It was a matter of feeling like I was going to lose my grip, so I overcompensated. Another issue with coloring was controlling the shading. I remember seeing classmates color with a dark outline and then lightly shading in the rest. To me, that was the epitome of a beautiful picture. But I couldn’t maintain that kind of control. I would try to imitate that approach, but I couldn’t follow through to the end. The picture would end up dark or it wasn’t lightly shaded in throughout the picture.
  • Using scissors. The actual scissors were difficult to operate, and then I also had trouble following the outline of whatever I was trying to cut out. Often times whatever I was cutting out would end up much smaller than intended.
    I had similar control issues with tracing. I couldn’t maintain straight lines, even tracing my hand would mean having odd bumps. Tracing the edges of a cutout would usually mean the model moved in the process so that my lines didn’t always match up.
  • Dropping objects. I picked things up but then lost my grip on them. As if my tactile receptors forgot to keep updating the brain that an object remained in its grasp.

Sensory-seeking behaviors (not all bad behavior, but ways that I purposefully sought out sensory input)

  • Sucking fingers, frequently cracking knuckles
  • I loved to be wrapped in many blankets, especially at bedtime. I craved the deep pressure that I received from the weight of multiple blankets.
  • I enjoys bear hugs. I’m not sure how this worked, exactly. I didn’t like to be touched, but I enjoyed big, deep hugs. Maybe I had to initiate the hug?
  • Grinding and clenching teeth. Oh my poor teeth.
  • I chewed on pen caps and pencils and my hair.

Speech problems

  • Mumbling. I had a hard time articulating words and speaking loud enough to be heard.
  • Difficulty putting ideas into words (written or verbal). I didn’t always know how to express myself. Words weren’t readily available.
  • Not really knowing what to say. Engaging in conversation was difficult. Maintaining a two-way conversation was hard. I could give one-word answers, but that only takes you so far.
  • Not being able to speak up for myself. I didn’t share/suggest many things. I wasn’t big on initiating ideas or games.
  • If not understood the first time, I had difficulty trying again using different words, rephrasing. I often got frustrated, angry and gave up trying. “Nevermind. It’s not important.”

Social Skills

  • I didn’t often initiate/ask that friends come over to play. I enjoyed spending time by myself, usually engaging in repetitive play. I constantly put together the same puzzles. I had one puzzle of The Little Mermaid that I turned to a lot. It got to the point where I got very good with pre-sorting the pieces for each character in the picture. Or I played board games by myself, acting out more than one player. I kept score for “the window” versus “the door.”
  • When I did spend time with friends, I preferred going to their house because their rooms seemed cooler, their toys seems more exciting. But mostly because it meant they were in charge of choosing the activity. I didn’t want to be in charge or have to make decisions. I wasn’t good at making friends anyway, so I often maintained a passive role to seem more likable.
  • More often, I requested to tag along with brother and his friends. That was probably seen as a safe option.
  • I had a stronger/higher than average sense of respect for authority figures and adults. I was a definite rule follower, which doesn’t usually make you popular either. You get labeled “teacher’s pet.”
  • I often looked to my mom or another adult for reassurance before answering a question. Or relying on an adult to speak for me.
  • Oddly enough, I was more comfortable approaching and talking to adults than kids my age. The adults seemed less threatening.

Hygiene

  • Toilet training. This was a big issue for me. My body really didn’t know how to properly indicate that my bladder was full. I wasn’t getting the right signals and indications that I needed to use the bathroom. So I had a lot of bathroom accidents. To the point where even through first and second grade I kept a change of clothes with the teacher. (More on this later).
  • An aversion to bathing. Taking a bath when younger or even a shower when older, it was almost a force of wills to make this happen. I’m not sure if it was a matter of not liking the water or what. But I do know as I got older, part of the issue was seeing my reflection in the mirror and not liking that. At that age (whenever it was), it wasn’t a matter of hating the way I looked, or despising my body, I don’t think, but more about the actual aspect of having to see myself in the mirror. The bathroom my brother and I shared had a big, wide mirror. Impossible to avoid seeing yourself in it. I remember using my parents’ bathroom more often in order to actually fulfill the required bathing. Their bathroom had a smaller mirror and it was easier to avoid the reflection.
  • An aversion to brushing teeth. I didn’t like brushing my teeth. Avoided it a lot. Which is why I had so many issues with cavities. Honestly, there were times in middle school when I’d go weeks and months without brushing my teeth. (This wasn’t just a sensory problem for me, though. Depression was also a factor in this case.) I’d force myself to really pick up the toothbrush when Mom reminded me my next dental appointment was approaching.

Emotional impacts of these issues

  • I had difficulty accepting change in routine which resulted in fluctuating moods and outburts.
  • I got easily frustrated.
  • Preferred to play on the outside, being an observer rather than in the middle of the action.
  • I had trouble appropriately making my needs known. I could yell, scream, cry quite naturally, but vocalizing things calmly was not easy.
  • Going along with what others wanted to do. Thankfully nothing dangerous like doing drugs or other risky behavior, but in general, I felt like my opinions didn’t matter as much because I had a hard time expressing it and others had trouble understanding. I gave up a lot in trying to make myself understood.
  • I was afraid to take risks, scared of getting hurt or losing control. The roller rink was a popular hang out for parties and social gatherings. I would not go into the rink. I stuck to the carpeted area around the rink. I wouldn’t join in like the others did and bond that way with friends.

Whew! We made it through the list! From here on out, I’ll dive into more specific situations and how my my family began to address some of these problems.

What kind of symptoms and characteristics have you noticed in your children or grandchildren? For anyone reading who knew me as a child, what do you remember about my behavior?

7 thoughts on “My sensory problems: The Big List”

  1. My son constantly has his hands in his mouth, too. If we get him away from that, then it’s cracking his knuckles, or picking at skin on his lips, etc. The hygiene stuff has also been an ongoing thing with him.

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    1. There must be other, less germ-infested ways to satisfy the need for oral sensory input. I’m not really sure what to suggest at this point.

      That sensory seeking aspect can be dangerous though, because it can require a higher level of sensation to register. I’ve read examples where a kid will keep a hand on a burning stove long enough to cause severe burns. But the pain didn’t register so he didn’t have the natural instinct of pulling away. There are those kinds of extreme cases, and then others like cracking knuckles.

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      1. We’ve bought every type of fidget under the sun to try to get him to do things that are either less germy or harmful. The skin picking thing worries me, too, because the skin around his nails and lips often looks close to being infected when he’s going through a picking phase.

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  2. This is beautifully written, and powerful. Thank you for sharing your story and opening my eyes to struggles I had never considered before. I am very glad you are writing this blog and I hope it is helping you process things and grow as well as helping your readers.

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