Preschool through 8th grade: Where do things stand?

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Since my preschool diagnosis of sensory processing disorder and the completion of eighth grade means about 10 years have passed, I thought I would do a review of how things have progressed. I’m looking to address these questions:

  • What areas seemed to have improved?
  • Have I grown out of anything?
  • What am I still struggling with?
  • Has anything new developed?

If you missed my big rundown of sensory issues, you can find it here. And don’t worry, throughout this list, there will be links back to appropriate blog posts to offer further explanation. 

Sound

  • Better able to tune out nonessential background noises. Although sometimes, if working on something that requires a lot of focus and is challenging or a new process, those background noises are less easy to ignore. And frustration sets in. But for the most part, this was improving.
  • Not snapping at people to be quiet so I could read to myself and concentrate. Although there may be some internal annoyances wishing people would be quiet.
  • More comfortable around loud noises and crowds. By this I mean I wasn’t covering my ears at the bombardment of so many different sounds, nor was I likely to burst into tears simply because of the noise. Further proof: I willingly went to school dances with loud music. (School dances discussed.)
  • The coffee brewing through the use of the grinder was less problematic to my ears. I might have still avoided the kitchen when it was in use, but I think the resulting feeling of anger and annoyance wasn’t as intense as it had been when I was younger.

Touch

  • Still not liking elbowing. (Explanation here.)
  • I used to hate barrettes and tight pony tails but now that is getting better. I was able to cooperate while a friend styled my hair in tiny braids.
  • Still a bit hesitant toward uninitiated physical contact. Not always wanting the touch or hand on back/shoulder
  • Still enjoy bear hugs but I need to be the one to start it or it needs to be with friends who are known to hug upon each encounter. Not a welcome sign of affection from just anyone.
  • I was wearing jewelry so that means I was okay having some items touch my skin, but there seemed to be a science for an allowable weight and the placement. Rings or bracelets had to be worn on the same fingers or wrists as the first time, otherwise it would seem odd.
  • Tags on clothes were still causing itching. We finally cut out tags some. I inherited some clothes from a cousin, and I remember the tags being cut off on some shirts. Revolutionary concept!
  • Buying shoes was still challenging. It doesn’t matter how long I had them on my feet in the store, they never failed to feel different at home. The seam near the toes was especially tricky.
  • I think we learned fairly quick, at least after that one wool coat, that wool wasn’t a compatible fabric. At least it didn’t take several purchases to figure it out.
  • I still remained very ticklish but a much more normal level, not the extreme side of the spectrum where I burst into a giggle fit because our pet guinea pig barely grazed my skin. Then again, there are fewer opportunities for tickle fights when you’re in middle school than when you’re much younger.
  • I was still considered a picky eater. The texture of some foods weren’t appealing to me. And while my mom loved making casseroles, I wasn’t a huge fan of having so many different kinds of food mixed together. But I was learning to branch out more, at least.

Smell

  • Still sensitive to smells and certain ones were more noticeable to me than most. I might make a face if something bothered me but I didn’t necessarily have to leave the room.
  • Hard boiled eggs and cleaning products were still problematic. Ammonia and vinegar, especially. They were very strong and smells that did force me to stay away.
  • I became more tolerant of the smell of coffee brewing, but I still wasn’t a fan of the aroma.

Coordination/Movement

  • Motor planning was getting better. Bumping into things or dropping items became less frequent.
  • Balance was improving through therapy efforts and sports. (A rundown of the sports and therapy I experienced. )
  • Coordination improving. Hand-eye coordination. I was more adept at dribbling the basketball, shooting and passing. I was running down the courts now with my arms pumping with me rather than letting them hang at my side. (Middle school basketball experience.)

Fine Motor Skills

  • Yes, by eighth grade I had mastered the art of tying my shoes! No more lying on Velcro. (Sorry, couldn’t help pointing that out.)
  • Early on I had trouble distinguishing which hand to rely on, to develop, to use as a dominant hand. I switched back and forth a lot. Well I had firmly settled on using my left hand for writing. When playing sports, people always showed me what to do with my right hand or foot. So, I learned to shoot the basketball right-handed and kick a soccer ball with my right foot, and so on.
  • I had more control with pens and pencils. The act of writing became more natural and automatic, rather than having to struggle with it. However, I still had to be slow, focused and intentional to maintain neat writing. (Learning cursive experience.)
  • Once I got the hang of cursive writing, the actual ability to write became more of an emotional outlet and form of self-expression. (Sharing my writing with the class and getting my start with poetry.) 

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

  • I still cracked my knuckles a lot. I had, thankfully, given up the habit of sucking on my fingers. 🙂
  • I still loved being wrapped in blankets, especially when sleeping. I needed the deep pressure, the added weight to feel comfortable.
  • Still enjoy bear hugs.
  • Still having a problem with grinding and clenching my teeth.
  • Still chewing on pen caps and pencils. I don’t think I was doing my hair-chewing these days, though.
  • In sixth grade there was a time when I picked at scabs on my scalp. That was a kind of sensory-seeking behavior.

Speech problems

  • I still mumbled a lot, having trouble speaking loud enough to be heard.
  • There were still problems with having trouble putting thoughts into words, knowing what to say at a given time, feeling confident in what I could share, etc. (Good illustration of this experience)
  • If I wasn’t understood or was asked to rephrase something, there were still moments when I would get frustrated by that. I usually downplayed the significance of what I was trying to share and just say “Never mind.”

Social skills

  • Generally speaking I was able to maintain a small circle of friends. They may have changed from year to year, but there were people in my life who I spent time with, people who weren’t related to me.
  • By the end of eighth grade, I think I was getting better at initiating time with friends and making suggestions, but these still weren’t considered strengths. But I was talking on the phone with friends more, spending time on weekends having out with friends, going to the movies or the mall. Not isolated and by myself all the time.  
  • Certainly by the time I was in middle school, I didn’t spend as much time tagging along with my brother. We had our own group of friends. So as I got older, I wasn’t as dependent on him to entertain me or keep me company.
  • I still had a deep respect for authority figures and the adults in my life.
  • I avoided some situation that were uncomfortable like taking charge. But I also put myself in awkward positions like attending school dances.

Hygiene

  • Toilet training had been a huge challenge when I was younger. Bathroom issues were mostly resolved by this point. Sixth grade was more of an anomaly situation than the norm. My body was improving with alerting me when it needs to be relieved and allowing time to reach the bathroom. There were still moments when the full bladder indication is very sudden and strong without much time to react. (In case you missed my review of sixth grade.)
  • There was still trouble with taking baths and showers, especially during sixth grade when I was deep in the throes of depression.
  • Brushing teeth was still problematic. Not because I had trouble doing it myself, but because I just didn’t like doing it. Especially when deep in depression, having clean teeth didn’t seem like much of a reward.

Emotional impact

  • I was still very much two-faced. (Yes, there’s a blog post explanation of this, too.) I had the super polite attitude going, forcing myself to be as pleasant as I could in public but then needing time to unwind at home. Which basically means that I didn’t address things in the moment, but allowed them to build up internally until I exploded once I was in a “safe place.” 
  • I was taking more risks outside my comfort zone (writing and sharing; team sports; trying to be more active around friends) but there still wasn’t a sense of being at ease with who I was.
  • Earlier years I was so concerned with being different and trying not to stand out so much, that I became further isolated. I believed more firmly that people just weren’t going to understand. And I also saw that things bothered me, and I didn’t understand why they affected me but not others. So that further emphasized this concept of being different. It was still very challenging to feel like I belonged or fit in.
  • The depression I experienced because so much went unaddressed and unspoken.
  • The body image aspect was a big factor, too, in feeling uncomfortable with myself. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I was self-conscious of everything from how I looked to the way I moved. (I addressed body image here.)
  • I lacked self-confidence. I wasn’t able to see something I possessed as a strength. Rather, it was viewed as a lesser version of what others could do. I continued to make comparisons of skills and ability and felt like I had to compete, wondering how I measured up. (This post describes the importance of setting individualized goals.)

Academically, things were improving. There were still areas where I struggled, but for the most part I didn’t feel completely lost. I was getting better at learning and adapting to the classroom. Better at studying. But there were still moments of complete frustration where I just shut down.

In summary: The physical characteristics were mostly overcome and resolved through therapy, repetition and constantly putting myself in situations where I had to confront it head on. But not knowing why I had so much trouble, why things affected me differently than others, and without knowing there was a reason for it, that’s when new problems cropped up. The invisible, emotional problems. The things I kept hidden. And that’s what lead me to get my wish of actually becoming the chameleon. I missed out on community. (Explanation of why I’m referring to myself as a chameleon.) 

Most middle school and high school kids feel like no one can relate to them. To a degree this experience seems to be natural and universal. But for me it was more pronounced because I had sensitivities and problems without knowing the cause or reason. That  made talking about problems more challenging.

Beginning high school meant I was still about 12-13 years away from learning about my diagnosis. There is still much more discovery ahead.

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