As a variation on the theme of the Sensory-Processing-Differences-induced Full Brain, I offer The Burning Brain:
Figure I – The Burning Brain
And just one little Burning Brain story among many: There was a family-welcome, community-building meeting for our local Autism Spectrum Disorders group a few weeks ago. I’d never been before because I always have the kids with me at night, but thought I would go since kids were welcome this time.
En route to the meeting, we stopped by our town’s First Friday celebration where there is art and music and stuff. That was our first mistake. Two events? What was I thinking?
I began to get a headache.
We arrived at the meeting and there was a ceiling fan! And bright lights! You can see where this is heading…And there were a bunch of very, very nice people, mostly educators and paraprofessionals, at whom I could not look. No other kids, but hey, my kids are a lotta kids.
By this point I could barely see or hear. I could feel the inflammation inside my skull (see above), and my head felt like it was about to explode. Just throbbing with pain. The fans, the lights, the conversation, the nice, nice people? Unbearable.
I drove home trying not to vomit, got home, vomited from pain…
One single burning thing I was able to think during this episode: I can only imagine how a child would handle this!
This is Sensory Processing Disorder: a relative overabundance of stimuli (whether of activities or sensory input) causes migraines for some people. This same overabundance can also cause some of us to feel overwhelmed with despair, or anxiety, or anger and - especially before we are aware of Sensory Processing Differences - to not know why we feel this way. Kmarie Audrey has written wonderfully about this subject here.
Again, imagine how this process of Sensory challenges leading to emotional/social/physical pain and/or overload would affect a child! A huge meltdown or tantrum seems almost – dare I say it? -- ”under-reactive” in this context!
My son, who also has Sensory Processing Differences, tends to shut down, or get more flappy and loud than usual when in Overload Mode. I talk to him about it, and hope he will have the words and wherewithal to deal with it as he grows up.
Me? I mostly get Burning Brain these days. Once I am in that state (and by this point medications do not help) my migraine will amplify any sensory input so as to make the smallest thing (lights, sounds, smells, movement) literally agonizing.
On the most basic level, I get why a clothing tag might make someone scream, why swinging on a swing soothes some and dysregulates others, why seeing a bright color could cause nausea or even vomiting…
There is a great deal of skepticism around Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), so I write this for those who cannot put their experiences into words as well as I can (at least in writing), and/or who do not have an audience. As an adult, I have a certain legitimacy, where a young child might not. I am able to be articulate in ways that a non-verbal or less verbal person might not be...As a college professor and an individual with some level of “success” in life I implicitly have the credibility that those who are even more profoundly affected by Sensory Differences might not be freely given by others.
SPD is not an “excuse” for me – I have a good life! – but it is very real and very challenging and as a label it does explain some of my lived experience. For some of us, including many children and people with autism/autistic people, SPD – while it may have its positive aspects (about which I have written before and will write again) – can make life quite difficult.
We may need help. We may need accommodations. We may need creative solutions and adaptations. We will need understanding.
Please believe us.
Full Spectrum Mama