I look at that list of sensory issues and think “How did my family manage not to kill each other?”
But I also look at my childhood and think that it was relatively normal. We had fun. There were games, movie nights, camping trips and other typical activities. It wasn’t an awful childhood. I am very much blessed. But I did have extra challenges and obstacles to overcome that most of my classmates didn’t have to deal with.
I believe my parents recognized the coordination, balance and fine motor skill issues. They could see I had trouble with speech and socializing. But I don’t think they fully comprehended the true impact of my sensitivities to sound, touch, etc. They couldn’t see the problems, only my reactions. And I wasn’t able to vocalize the specific problems as I encountered them. I knew things bothered me but not why. It just registered as “I’m annoyed,” but it was difficult to pinpoint at that time the actual problem. A lot of times I was told to “stop being so sensitive” or “stop taking things so personally.” That basically translates to: you need to focus more, try harder, stop being silly and just deal with things.
But that’s not exactly the issue. It’s not a matter of effort, so much as your body instinctively reacting. Until you train your body to react differently, it’s going to be a problem. And that’s what my parents sought out to do. They were advised to start me on various types of therapy.
I remember taking horseback riding lessons. Well, that’s more or less what it seemed like at the time. Equine therapy can be useful for lots of different sensory issues. The focus for me was on balance, coordination and movement. These lessons easily required a 20 minute drive just to get to the facilities. What a sacrifice for my parents, on top of everything else going on!
I had a black riding helmet, which I don’t recall bothering me when I wore it. Score! I was assigned to Cloud Face, a beautiful white horse. Cloud Face got a saddle and so did I, in a way. I wore a belted harness with loops on the sides. Four female assistants walked with me: one leading the horse, one following behind, and two on either side of me holding on to the harness as Cloud Face walked.
I remember sitting in different positions as the horse moved. Facing forward, sitting side-saddle and then sitting backward. Sitting backward was paired with laying down on the horse, stretching my hands to the horse’s rump, feeling the movements, the scent of the horse. But there were also times when the horse would stop, I would switch to a kneeling position and then the horse would start walking again. I also stood up on the horse! (Cloud Face was very much stationary for that trick.) And then there were short periods where Cloud Face would break out into a gentle trot. That’s as fast as we went. But I’m sure it helped my brain organize the movement.
Another aspect of the therapy was doing isolated exercises for balance. There was a platform away from the horse track. I would kneel on the platform and do various exercises, such as extending one leg backward while the opposite arm went forward. Stuff like that.
I loved that horse so much I took the name Cloud Face when I joined my dad and brother for Indian Guides. That was a program through YMCA. There were headbands and feathers involved, and also camping trips.
I also went to sensory-oriented therapy at the occupational therapy office. I don’t recall many specifics about these sessions. But the goal was to introduce me to different experiences to help me process situations and improve reactions. A way of remapping and reorganizing the brain and nervous system.
To an outsider, sensory therapy can seem like normal play or even like an indoor playground. All equipment is purposefully selected, though, to engage different aspects of the nervous system and muscle groups. Kids learn through play. That’s why kindergarten is very hands-on and not lecture-based.
I also remember going to speech therapy in preschool. I was taken to a separate room, which didn’t seem like such a big deal. But honestly, I just remember playing games, specifically Hi Ho Cherry-O and Pick Up Sticks. I’m sure the therapist and I talked about things under the disguise of playing. But our sessions also incorporated some fine motor skills and counting practice, which I needed. (This website could be helpful for anyone interested in speech therapy or working with your children to improve speech.)
I got involved in the Girl Scouts as well. The troop introduced me to lots of new experiences and people. I had the opportunity to work toward badges and hopefully grow in a sense of accomplishment and achievement.
Yesterday I had a Facebook message chat (ah, technology!) with one of my former Girl Scout troop leaders. And it was a wonderful reminder of the positives from my childhood that I am all too-quick to overlook and undervalue. She shared: “The strongest memory that I have of you is that of a very sweet girl who was always eager to participate in any activity we might have.” While I naturally chose to stick to myself, if encouraged to join a group or work in pairs, she remembers me being willing to cooperate. See, adult Lindsay, you made many efforts to be part of the group and to get along with others. It was just a gut instinct to stick to yourself.
The part she shared that made me tear up:
I do remember you taking it upon yourself to comfort anyone who seemed to be having a hard time.
Why, oh why, do I constantly view being a good listener, being present and compassionate toward others as having a lesser value than, say, other marks of success?
But she’s right. In the midst of my own chaos, I would seek out ways to try to comfort others. “Yes. You were good at that,” she confirmed.
I’m going to try to stop underestimating the importance and value of listening. For most of my life, the focus has been on how little I vocalize and share. It’s time to start realizing the contributions I do make, especially the nonverbal ones.