Out of Sync

March 4, 2011
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Have you ever met a kid that just seemed out of step? Rather than playing happily with friends they often seem uncomfortable and awkward? I was one of those kids. When I was simply walking across the room it felt like I was riding a roller coaster. I felt as if I was on the edge of the empire state building; ready to jump off, when I was just about to slide down the preschool slide. My clothes were always itchy and it felt like they were strangling me. When I ran, I always had to watch my feet because it was hard to control them if I didn’t. When my mom brushed my golden curly locks, it felt like she was yanking out my hair. Why don’t I fit in? Why are everyday chores so hard? My parents always worried about me. They took me to the doctor, they said I wasn’t physically sick, but my forward thinking pediatrician recommended I see an occupational therapist. They told me I had a sensory integration dysfunction.

Sensory Integration is how your body uses information provided by all the experiences and sensations coming from within the body and from the external environment. Sensory Integration lets us know who we are, what we are doing, and what is happening around us. Our brain then uses the five senses to assign meaning to our experiences and tells us how to respond to it. If you don’t have a sensory integration dysfunction, then usually this process happens without conscious thought or effort. You don’t have to think about putting one foot in front of them other while walking or using one of your hands to pet your dog and the other to scratch your forehead. When you have a dysfunction, then you constantly have to think about everyday experiences and it can be distressing when you are not familiar to a sensation. For kids with the dysfunction, this means they can either feel too much or feel too little. The kid who feels too little will be the dare devil of the class and can be perceived as aggressive or obnoxious, while the kid who feels to much will try to minimize all motion and therefore will try not to use a lot of body effort, for example they will choose to sit instead of stand and walk instead of run. However, the motions that their bodies crave and avoid can be helped so they feel more comfortable.

Currently, the best treatment for a sensory integration dysfunction is to see an occupational therapist. They help cure a sensory integration dysfunction by repeating sensory stimulation. They train your senses how to respond to experiences. For kids, this stimulation is a fun experience. Specific stimulations that they have the children do are play on a giant and bouncy jungle gym where they have them travel through obstacle courses and jump into a large pit of soft balls. They have them swing on a four roped swings where there hands are strapped in and their feet are strapped in so they swing themselves around. They will blow strawberry flavored bubbles and have the kids catch them with their mouths. Even simply jumping on a trampoline helps their senses learn how to respond to experiences. The theory is with enough stimulation the body learns what these experiences are and how to respond.

Therefore, next time you meet a kid who constantly acts out and seems aggressive or a kid that tries to avoid body movement and seems shy, there may be another cause of this behavior. I know sensory integration seems complicated but one important element of sensory integration is how do we know that an experience like a skinned knee or swinging on monkey bars feels the same to everyone? I am no doctor, but after I went to the occupational therapist, everything felt more natural and comfortable. When I was younger I was so scared of everything, but now I am a dancer who loves to slide down the big water slides at amusement parks and run on the sandy beaches for hours at a time.

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countrygirl28 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm
I have Sensory Processing Disorder as well. You provided an excellent description of how our senses work, and I love how relatable this is. Great writing!
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