Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sensory, um, Issues

We are at the beginning of a new journey. Well, it is not really new. It is old. Okay, four years old, that is. I guess we are on a journey of discovery, or "connecting the dots" as one mom put it to me, about how Charlie deals with sensory information.

The background: I can't remember a time when Charlie could ever be in a room of people and noise and NOT feel totally overwhelmed. When he was a baby, overwhelmed meant having a good cry. Now it means the "flop-n-drop" on the ground, becoming a totally immobile pile of little boy. It means folding in half in his chair at a restaurant and refusing to eat. It means trying to bolt out the door of church is something is different than the usual when we walk in. It means anxiety.

A few weeks ago I was about to write a post about extreme shyness. He is, after all, an introvert like his mom, and I was thinking his behavior was about not wanting to interact with tons of strange adults. That could be part of it. I mean, just being Charlie attracts attention. People stop to say "hi" to him all the time and desperately want him to acknowledge them. He is a special little boy. It must be concerning to an introvert to have people drawn to you. It's good for me. I get to fly under the radar like a true introvert would rather. Charlie gets all the attention. (Well, Calvin draws his fair share of attention as well, because he just has those electric little eyes and sly grin. Oh, and he's 2! Maybe I should have more children, no one will ever notice me again if I am buried beneath loads of beautiful faces, right?)

Well, after pondering this shyness for some time, and after a very pertinent conversation with our Pastors one evening, both of whom happen to be counselors in their day jobs, we started to wonder if there is more to this than one boy feeling very shy.

For one, I notice that when we are out of doors, Charlie will say "hi" to a person passing buy. He will gladly oblige and pet their dog if they offer. He will run and scream and laugh and chat with us, even at the farmers market where there are lots of folks around. But, if you put all those folks inside a building, he can't handle it. He becomes the pile of boy on the floor, full of anxiousness and unable to enjoy himself.

It can be overcome. With repeated exposure (like, lots and lots and lots, and, um, lots!) he will eventually become comfortable in a place. Just this past week his teachers have shared with me that he has been coming out of his shell, talking, and even making a friend at school. It has taken full a year. He is fine in the grocery store and the doctors office, oh, and the dentist office is one of his all time favorite places to go, period! But other places, uh, not-so-much.

Our counselor friend put it to us like this using his own terminology: It seems as if Charlie has a bit of "sensory distraction" going on. He is overwhelmed with all the sensory info he is taking in when he is in new places or meeting new people. The more people, the more noise, the more the commotion, the less functional he becomes.

Essentially, he is experiencing an overload, and not having the least bit of a comfortable time trying to make sense of it all. Another friend in a support group likened it to being in flight or fight mode when all the sensory info is coming at you, and you just can't figure out what to do with it. Or, for Charlie, "flop mode".

Anyway, Sensory Processing issues are complicated, you know, multifaceted, after all, we all have 6 senses (yes, six! sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and proprioceptive). We are looking in to having him assessed for sensory processing issues. I anticipate it will be tricky, given that I DO believe he is a quiet, cautious child to begin with. It may be difficult to figure out what is influenced by what and how in x-situation with x-number of unfamiliar people and whatever else could possibly be factored in.

As for me, I'm not so interested in giving him another label unless it would serve him. I am simply hoping that his difficulties can be addressed in all that good therapy he is receiving at school, and that his therapists can educate Ray and I on how to help him cope better in the world. It would do my mama's heart good to have some tools to help Charlie through situations that I can see cause him so much stress.


SunflowerMom said...

So much of what you wrote sounds very familiar to me. I guess I thought Sean had some sort of stage fright when encountering a new situation or room full of people. You are right, the more exposure to that place, the better it is handled. Good things to think about.

katie said...

You have so much good insight and perception on your little boy. I love that picture of him, too.

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