I hated the sound of my alarm clock. It was loud and obtrusive. Getting agitated first thing upon waking is not a good way to start the day. But this one had a soft green shade for checking the time in the dark instead of the bolder red. So I liked that feature. And that’s why I kept using it.
I set the alarm and placed it on my desk, several feet away from my bed. This way I had to physically get out of bed to turn it off. I couldn’t be trusted with the alarm next to my bed. I never could figure out how to properly use the snooze button, but instead would just turn off the alarm. So having it right next to my bed was a risky move and would likely result in me not registering that I turned off the alarm. And I’m sure by now I was responsible for waking myself rather than relying on my parents, so I couldn’t wait for a second or third call from Mom or Dad asking if I was up yet.
Getting dressed in the morning was a bit more challenging. It wasn’t the mindless process of just putting on a uniform. It wasn’t the total freedom of public school where just about anything went. This high school offered a controlled freedom through a dress code. The biggest things: No jeans, khakis and black/navy pants couldn’t have patch pockets (that is, a back pocket should only have an opening to store something, not a patched outline like you would see on jeans), no sleeveless shirts, and then the whole shorts/skirts must be no shorter than 1.5 inches above the knee (I forget the actual dimensions, but that sounds about right). Now with long arms and long legs, that meant shorts had to be ridiculously long for me. But I wasn’t much for wearing shorts to school. Anyway, I was never as fashion-conscious as some of my classmates so I doubt anything I wore was really considered stylish. I went for comfort all the way. But there would still be trouble some mornings trying to figure out what I really wanted to wear.
I was good about knowing where items were in the house even if they weren’t already packed in my book bag, so rounding things up in the morning wasn’t a big deal. I placed books or binders in the same general areas, so they didn’t often go wandering to unusual places.
I was responsible for putting my lunch together, too. I either assembled and packed it the night before or I knew it wouldn’t take long in the morning. It wasn’t a super healthy lunch but it also meant carrot sticks and fruit didn’t get thrown away. So that’s still a win, right?
So after taking all of that into consideration, would it come as a big surprise that my biggest block of time for getting ready in the morning was dedicated to laying in bed? Seriously. The alarm went off, and I jumped out of bed, almost literally because the sound scared me every time. I turned on the fan light, turned off the alarm, turned on the radio and got back in bed. Having the light and radio on helped me from falling back asleep. But with my eyes closed and the light on, I could allow myself to more naturally wake up and adjust to being awake. The radio offered fun music for the transition but also the morning wake up show regularly reminded me of the time.
Eventually my routine consisted of the alarm waking me up at 5:45. I then lay in bed until about 6:15, and then had 30 minutes to dress, eat breakfast and pack the rest of my things together before leaving around 6:45 so my brother and I could meet the bus at a nearby shopping center. The bus left at 7.
Some aspects of sensory processing can require a stronger amount of stimuli before the person reacts. So there are some with sensory processing who are nearly impossible to wake up in the morning. They need a loud jolt to rouse. (For a look at those with a low arousal sensory system and tips to help them, check out this site.)
I didn’t have that issue. I didn’t like the sound of my alarm, but I found a way to make waking up a bit smoother. In reading “Sensational Kids,” I read about one girl who had similar symptoms as me. She didn’t like loud noises in the morning and one solution described in the book was a type of alarm that offered beeps that gradually got louder and probably some other element that helped make the transition more peaceful. (Here are 10 possible alarm clocks for children with sensory challenges.) But the radio and the light were my solution. I’d close my eyes when I got back in my bed, but having the light on still allowed my eyes to slowly adjust to the brightness.
I’m sure someone could argue that I would have done myself more of a service by setting the alarm for 6:15 and extending the time for actual sleep. But there’s a difference with jumping out of bed, ready to conquer the day, and needing time to make the transition from sleeping to waking. I needed the time to mentally prepare for what needed to be done, what I might encounter. And there was a need for quiet and calm before the chaos took over of bus rides, crowded hallways, heavy bookbags, confusing assignments, awkward social situations and everything else in between.
Resources for improving the morning routines
- 3 tips to make child’s morning easier | Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services
- A look at how Sensory Processing Disorder might be playing into the morning transition | SensoryProcessingDisorder.com
- Back to school sensory triggers | Brain Balance
- How to create a morning routine your sensory child will love | wendybertagnole.com
- Building a morning routine based on the acronym P.L.A.Y. | greatkidsplace.com
- Specific suggestions to address sensory needs in the morning | sensorytreat.com