What does it feel like to have Sensory Deprivation Disorder?
My last post was about taking my granddaughter to see the Disney Princesses, something Jessica insisted on staying away from. This made me start wondering what it must feel like to be Jessica. The reason she acts this way is she has sensory processing problems. Children with autism often exhibit these symptoms but in my daughter’s case, she has cerebral palsy and as well as an intellectual disability. It makes her highly defensive against anything having to do with her five senses.
So Jessica isn’t only scared of people in costumes, she hates going on the rides at the Youth Fair (it’s the effects of gravity on her body), she hates loud, sudden sounds, she hates flying on an airplane (both take off and landing is a terrifying experience,) she used to hate (but now tolerates) the swings at the park, she hates getting her nails cut (she used to suddenly yank her hand away right in the middle of doing it), she hates opening her mouth to brush her teeth, and she hates when I floss her teeth. She hates going to the dentist, hates going over a bridge while riding in the car, I can’t think of anything else but I think I have painted a clear picture.
These days she isn’t as bad as she used to be. Maybe she’s outgrown some of it. 25 years ago I started taking her to Sensory Integration Therapy. Back then it was considered a form of occupational therapy. It was a fairly new technique. These days, most parents of disabled kids probably know what it is.
So maybe it helped her. I don’t know what she would have been like without it, but she went to therapy for years and SHE HATED EVERY SECOND OF IT. When I took her for her sessions, I’d sit outside the door, listening to the therapist tell her she was going to put her in the tire swing. Jessica would howl like a trapped animal, just from being pushed in a swing!
The therapist explained it this way: “Pushing her back and forth will actually help her, and this action provides a small amount of controlled vestibular input.” In other words, her central nervous system was resistant to any shift in space, so this was one way to get her to tolerate it.
I never fully understood what the therapist was trying to explain, but it was hard to listen to Jessica scream and fight as she protested about the exercise. I remember I had to use a plastic surgical brush and every day I was supposed to brush Jessica’s arms, legs and back. It was supposed to decrease her sensory defensiveness. The brush stimulating the nerve endings of the skin. Half the time, I’d forget or Jessica fought with me so much, I’d give up.
So I can only explain what Sensory Deprivation looks like from the outside. The bottom line is, I don’t know what it feels like on the inside!
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