We’re a sensory family. Everyone has sensory sensitivities in some form or another, but the Engineer and Destroyer both have SPD. What, exactly, does that mean? I’ve written about our sensory issues multiple times, from the birthday party to the sensory friendly Christmas tree, to the 4th of July fireworks and more, but the full explanation is here in my how we cope post.
Basically, SPD is when the sensory wiring misfires and either doesn’t send enough input or sends too much. It’s faulty wiring, and it’s a very real neurological thing. Too much input is actually painful, and not enough input messes with your brain.
The seeker duo
Both the Engineer and Destroyer are primarily sensory seekers, meaning the wiring isn’t sending enough input for their brain to get the message. SPD is a life-altering invisible disability. It’s internal, so no one knows what’s going on. It triggers primal instincts of fight or flight, which are often labeled as behavioral issues. It’s a difficult diagnosis.
I’ve noticed as the kids grow older and mature in different ways that our sensory challenges change. They never go away: they mutate, grow into something else, or spawn new issues. In my admittedly layman’s view of things, it’s how the wiring adapts to their body growing.
Their sensory issues are also linked to how much rest they’re getting, if they’re sick or not, or if they haven’t had a chance to decompress at home for a few days. It’s a whole-body kind of thing, and it’s all connected.
With all of that explanation done, what does that actually mean for our family? A lifestyle of sensory adaptations and challenges:
- The Engineer lost it in Lego club, grabbing handfuls of Legos and dribbling them out of his hands onto the floor and table, laughing hysterically. I had to remove him from the room and calm him down.
- The Destroyer has massive temper tantrums that go far beyond the average tantrum into uncontrollable meltdowns. Just like his brother at this age, I may have to physically restrain him to keep him and all around him safe.
- The kids have a short list of foods they will actually eat. For the Destroyer, that means about 5 foods he will reliably eat. Unless those are exactly right, like the correct noodle and sauce, or the right cut of cheese, he will refuse the food.
- Both kids deal with crippling anxiety issues. It’s something of a side-effect of SPD, born out of the physiological effects of having a body in a constant state of stress.
- The Engineer can’t sit still and listen – his body needs to be moving or his mind can’t focus. That poses a huge problem for any of the classes he’s involved in, especially because he compensates by talking if his body needs to be still.
- The Destroyer screams at the top of his lungs in the car because his sister is too loud. He screams “too loud!” or just a high-pitched “aaaaaahhhhhh!” trying to drown her out because she’s hurting his ears. Then she screams too, because he’s so loud.
- The kids need high levels of activity that are hard to accommodate. Mr. Genius has been taking the Engineer out bike riding on the gravel path of a nearby park to really work his muscles. The Destroyer runs laps around the house, from the kitchen to the front door and back again.
- The kids set up a “diving board” off the benches onto the crash mat so that they can crash from a height and get more input. They’ve done it so much that one of the benches is cracking.
- We avoid busy places and standing in line. Too many people, too much muchness. Too loud, too hot, too busy, too fill-in-the-blank – it’s all a trigger.
Sensory issues rule our house and life far more than I realize because it’s become our “normal.” Most people don’t have to stop and consider if their kids need joint compressions before going into the grocery store. Most people don’t need to take breaks from a science co-op just to make sure their kids aren’t getting overloaded. Other parents don’t usually have to worry about if they forgot the ear plugs or noise canceling headphones. It’s our life. Our normal.
As the Engineer and Destroyer grow older, I’m sure their sensory challenges will change even more. We celebrate the little victories like watching fireworks and eating pizza, and we hope for the day that we can sit through a 15 minute talk without turning into a disruptive wiggle monster.
What about your kid?
You might be wondering if your child has SPD instead of sensory overexcitabilities after reading this. I’m not a doctor so I won’t attempt to diagnose anyone, obviously. In my experience, if the sensitivities are life-altering, you need to go see a professional. It’s temptingly easy to write off every issue as a gifted thing, but sometimes our kids need more. Sometimes they need therapies or accommodations.
Like us, perhaps you need a crash mat or noise canceling headphones for your kid. If our “normal” sounds familiar, then it might be time to have your child evaluated.