Huh? Hadn’t even thought about that! For the Full Spectrums who are on the Autism end of our spectrum, both of whom have Sensory Processing Differences, knowing how an emotion feels in our body AND having a feeling at the same time AND functioning will be a lifelong project.
Here’s a recent example: G’s Graduation from 6th Grade, about which I’d been very apprehensive, primarily because I thought I would humiliate him with my sentimental sobbing. What actually happened was VERY Sensory, but also unexpected.
G cried, ceaselessly through his entire graduation ceremony. Big blubbery tears, shaking, trying to stop, humiliated, heaving, producing copious liquid from nose and eyes.…on the stage.
Figure I- G: SPD/ASD Child:
Heat Plus Feelings (Crying) Equals Full Brain
To stop crying would have taken some extra capacity he simply did not have, what with the Heat and the Crying/Feelings.
Z – our resident Neurotypical, who’s also on the no-nonsense end of the spectrum -- asked, repeatedly, “Why is he crying?” Not so much with scorn but sheer bewilderment.
I didn’t cry at all.
To cry would have taken some extra capacity I just didn’t have, what with the Heat and the Sweetie-Can-You-Stop Feelings.
All my energy was channeled into trying to get him to calm down and breathe – complete with “useful” facial cues – and to stop, just - PLEASE, for your own sake son! -- with the snot.
So many adults came up to me afterwards and said how touching his crying was, one spoke of his “pure heart,” but I know he felt terrible. It couldn’t have been a big status-builder with his peers.
G’s an old sap from a long line of softhearted saps, and this event was overwhelming on a myriad of levels. Being hyper-empathetic, I think he was feeling and expressing what so many in that room were feeling and not expressing. And it was a huge year for him, finally feeling like he belonged, in unprecedented ways.
Most of all, the heat in that room was so overwhelming that for both of us it was almost impossible to function. I am sure it was awful for everybody, no question, but with Sensory Processing Differences the brain simply cannot prioritize in the “normal” way.
Heat plus another thing? That is IT.
Then G got REALLY SICK. Fever, nausea…I think the latter might have had to do with his eating four desserts during the “refreshments” part, but I genuinely think the fever was his feelings in his body. This scared me, because I, too, get my feelings in my body – and I ended up with rheumatoid arthritis, one of the few diseases known by western, mainstream medicine to be in many cases the result of trauma.
In these ways SPD is so closely linked to our emotions. If we can better process our feelings, we will be exponentially healthier – body and mind.
But if you take even just this one little scenario, Heat plus Tears or Not-Tears were maximum-capacity situations for us. Noodle Ayi’s sage thoughts around figuring out how emotions feel in our bodies were one order above where we sat, blubbering and not blubbering, in that hot room.
There was no
“how does my body feel right now?”
“what is this emotion my body is feeling?”
never, never mind
“I am feeling this way, which represents…”
For some people with Sensory Processing Differences, even ONE of those factors might be enough, as in: Heat = Full Brain = Go Home, or Big Feeling = Full Brain = Tantrum.
So you can see where it might be nice to have strategies to manage all sorts of scenarios involving, oh, life. It could be extremely helpful to be able to use another tool to discern how we are feeling, from the way our bodies are feeling.
The first step for our Full Spectrum family, though, has been to acknowledge and begin to understand how we process experiences in ways we could not fathom before knowing we had Sensory Processing Differences.
Full Spectrum Mama