Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

Though he hasn't been evaluated or diagnosed yet, my son's teacher at preschool recently suggested that he exhibits behaviors that may be consistent with a sensory processing disorder.  I wasn't alarmed by this, since he is a bit quirky, and since I know several children who have received this diagnosis and received treatment for it.  When I plunged into the waters of the primary source of all knowledge -- Google -- and found this checklist, however, I wondered if I didn't have it, too, especially in the area of hypersensitivity to sound.

As a child, I couldn't stand to watch t.v., a habit that's stuck with me, because I found the low-pitched buzz that the television made acutely disturbing.  As a parent, I physically cringe and do cartoon-like double-takes at every normal-household-decibel-level whine and shout, and even at the ringing of the telephone, until, by the end of some days, I am in the blackest of noise-induced moods.  When I met my husband, I was intensely drawn to him, among other reasons, for the beauty of his speaking voice, and rejected another suitor around the same time because (among other reasons) there was something about his voice that bothered me (based on his later denunciation of me, this seems not to have been a bad decision).  In spite of the fact that I'm a professional musician, I often find it difficult and unpleasant to listen to music, because it absorbs my attention so completely that I feel as if I become the slave of what I'm hearing, right down to my very cells.  And music of all kinds makes me weep (interestingly, my sister, the only one of us four siblings who did not become a professional musician, exhibited this same propensity as a baby).  And don't get me started on the sense of smell. 

My son has been telling me lately, "Mommy, we are twins," which I chalked up to your common house-and-garden Oedipal complex, but perhaps he's more right than he realizes.  My friend H., disability activist and author of the now-defunct blog Retired Waif (as well as one of the most brilliant and fascinating people I know), once guffawed loudly when I referred to myself as "neurotypical," and replied, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "Oh right, Pentimento, you are the poster girl for neurotypicality."  I wonder now if I would have made entirely different choices in my life if I had been the kind of person who was not wholly unsettled by the hum of a television.

And, come to think of it, when M. gave me a copy of Remembrance of Things Past years ago, and told me that Proust had lived in a cork-lined room on coffee brewed with milk, I found myself nodding my head in total sympathy with the neurasthenic author; it sounded like a good kind of life to me. 


BettyDuffy said...

Same reaction to the TV here. Have to turn off all electronic devices at night in order to sleep. Husband and I were talking the other night, about how he thinks Sarah Palin might be next pres, and I said, "I hope not." He wanted to know why, asked a series of questions about her qualifications and intelligence, which honestly, weren't really on my radar. All I could come up with against her, was her voice.

Pentimento said...

Oh, yes, Betty, *that voice* . . . I'm so with you. As my son says, "We are twins."

honeybee said...


With the exception of music making me weep, I relate completely to this post.

TV, loud music, loud sounds of any sort, strong odors, bright lights -- all are like nails on a blackboard to my nervous system. I feel physical pain inside my body or like I've been struck.

It's an uncomfortable way to be in the world, especially since those close to me sometimes lose patience with me. I don't blame them, but all the same, they have no idea of the degree of real suffering I experience.

I agree with you 100% about Proust as well! I'd live like that if I could, and I often envy him that he was able to.

Pentimento said...

I wonder if there's any coincidence to people with such similar sensitivities meeting through this medium.

Peter and Nancy said...

One of my sons has extreme physical touch sensitivity -- shampooing his head is very painful for him, for example, as are clothing tags, among other things. Odors also bother him intensely. He hasn't received treatment because of where he falls on the spectrum (it doesn't interfere with his ability to attend school, etc.).

I have a friend whose two sons have received treatment which was wonderfully helpful -- and they discovered that her husband has been dealing with this his entire life. He has visual aspects, and his paintings from high school and college reveal how he sees the world with Sensory Integration Disorder. It's pretty fascinating -- everything appears to be on one plane (which got him into trouble with art teachers when he didn't understand why he didn't meet the requirements of some assignment!). It's okay if Matisse paints that way, but not a high school student . . . :o)

Pentimento said...

Thanks for your insights, Nancy. I'm going to have my son evaluated; I'd like to have as much information as possible so I can know better how to help him.

Sally Thomas said...

We have a streak of this kind of thing in our household, too (why does this not surprise you?).

I dislike the television, which is why we don't have one; I hadn't thought about the sound quality itself, though in fact I find it very jarring to be in a room where a television is on. I usually read to try to block it out, or leave.

I'm very easily overloaded -- get dizzy in crowded rooms, even get overwhelmed by books I'm reading, in much the same way that you get overcome by music.

My oldest daughter had a lot of hypersensitivities as a younger child -- you wouldn't know it to meet her today, though in some ways she still overloads really easily. Don't ask how SAT prep is going right now, for example. That is a too-emotional topic. As a toddler, though, she was one of those sock-seam/clothing-tag nightmare children, which we all joke about now, but it really was not funny at all at the time.

As far as I know, nobody was talking about sensory-integration disorders that long ago -- she's 16 now -- and I read everything I could get my hands on about "spiritedness" and The Difficult Child, which was helpful, but beyond that, we just muddled through. And she's fine, though she has flourished much more as a homeschooled child than she did when she went to school. In hindsight, I can see so clearly how difficult that was for her -- she'd cope all day, holding herself together, then just fall apart completely on the walk home every afternoon. I really regret the years it took for the penny to drop in our brains.

Funny incident just now -- she and her best friend have been at a swing dance over at the college where my husband teaches. He drove them there and went to work in his office while they went to the dance. They just now called me, because they were locked out of his building, and while they had taken the cell phone so that they could call when they were ready to come home, they had neglected to program his number in or write it down. So they had to call me to call him to tell him that two cold girls in swirly skirts were waiting for him downstairs, and would he please let them in out of the snow?

Sally Thomas said...

Oh, and I hate overhead lights. I can't stand the quality of the light from an overhead fixture, so I'm always going around turning off ceiling lights and turning on lamps.

Pentimento said...

Et tu, Sally?

My son doesn't seem to have the auditory issues I do; for him it appears to be about touch, and about general processing of stimuli. He's happy and gregarious and loves other people, and frequently overwhelms his friends with the quality of his attention; he doesn't know when it's time for him to get out of their faces, so to speak. He eats things off the floor if no one is looking and bites his nails, though he's about as far from being an anxious child as can be -- in fact, I wish he had more of a sense of fear around strangers and dogs -- and he flaps his hands and does a little dance step when he's happy or excited. He gets easily frustrated and will tear apart what he's working on and throw it around the room if it's not conforming to his expectations, but part of that volatility is his age and temperament.

I feel you on the overhead lights, but for me it's because I can *hear* them . . .

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

I admit that this is an idle curiousity, but is the issue with ANY overhead light, or is it with specific technologies: e.g, flourescent, halogen, incandescent?

Pentimento said...

Just the ones I can hear. :)

For me, fluorescent are the noisiest.