I even have a superstition that has grown on me
as the result of invisible hands
coming all the time..
Namely, that if you follow your bliss
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while,
waiting for you.
And the life that you ought to be living,
is the one you ARE living.
-joseph campbell

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sensory Appreciation

Going through the days and nights with Cami and Delilah is like walking through a sensory mine field. Before adoption I thought we all more or less experienced the world in the same way. Everyone knew what hot and cold felt like. We knew what felt scratchy or smooth. I thought everyone noticed these details vaguely and went on with their life.

I had no idea!

I have learned that some children seek extra sensory input. They actually have a physical need to run, spin, climb, swing, push and take in all the world has to offer. Both of my girls are hungry for sensory input. It works out well for us to spend time outside each day. We also have a trampoline in our den, and many hours each day are spent playing dance and gymnastics. An equal amount of energy is expended reaching for the forbidden sensory fruit like jumping off the stairs, scaling the pantry shelves, and building their own obstacle course.

Trying to stop sensory seekers is difficult because even struggling in my arms or fighting off my interference in their shenanigans gives some degree of satisfying sensory experiences! To them. It gives bruises and sore muscles to me!

Being outside can fill alot of needs at once. There is the bright sun, a breeze warm or cold, the feeling of grass and soil, and space to run and jump or climb. Shoveling or gathering stones or leaves seem to be enjoyable sensory work. We have tried crates full of beans and rice indoors, but time after time, the best exercise turned out to be throwing the beans EVERYWHERE before I could stop it.

Cami is sensory seeking most likely because the first two years of her life were spent in an orphanage where her view was probably the same day after day. From the pictures I've seen, there was not much color there, and I don't know how much she was allowed to explore her enviornment. In the winter, she wore a large puffy jacket day and night so movement was restricted.

When we first met Cami, she was a little girl scared of so many things we hardly notice in our world. The noise of airplanes or the sound of birds singing were startling to her. She could not bring herself to reach out a touch a furry stuffed animal! Yet because her primitive self craved all the sights and sounds she had missed, she quickly put her trust in us and allowed us to introduce her to the world at large! She managed to overcome her fear of many things in order to experience the sensory input they provided. One part of her brain knew what she needed.

Another part of Cami's brain did not like the stimulation of the moving, twirling, talking, and very typical world. So while Cami is busy seeking out new experiences, she is, at the same time, distracted by a part of her brain sounding off alarms that "enough is enough, too much already". So hers is a fragile balance. And at the end of the day, especially a noisy day filled with new sounds, tastes, or activities, Cami often has to let off steam in order to compensate for too much sensory input. The letting off steam is not pleasant (see earlier post about raging) so we try to counterbalance her world from the outside.

And we try to respect her sensory needs and allow her home to be a sensory safe place. I cut the tags out of her clothes because they bother her. I wash and comb her hair very gently because any stimulation of her scalp is interpreted as painful. We avoid situations where I expect good behavior when there is a great deal of activity and noise. Restaurants, for example, are not a good place for us right now. I try to keep our world peaceful, though it is challenging.

The other player in our sensory maze is Delilah, our party girl! She is also a sensory seeker. And her need for sensory input has no end. She loves to experience the physical world with her whole body.

Delilah's babyhood was not bland. The photos from her foster family show a colorful home and she slept with her foster mother and it seems she was carried everywhere for the first two years.

Delilah craves sensory experiences because it is what she has grown to expect. She could almost be sensory typical, if she had a stopping point!!!! We worry about injury, though so far Delilah is both bouncy and followed by a troupe of guardian angels. I have also wondered if she registers pain within normal range because so little seems to bother her!

Delilah loves to have her hair washed and brushed. Tangles do not seem to bother her, nor does the water running into her face when I rinse out the shampoo. She is a daredevil who climbs and jumps with no regard to danger. She has learned to appreciate sensory input without learning internal regulation.

So what do all these sensory differences mean in our real life???? It means when I have two girls in the bath tub, one is crying because hair washing is so brutal and then the other is crying because it is absolutely, positively, two hours later, water gone cold, time to get out.

It means if one girl lines up all the blocks according to color and size, the other will likely jump off the chair and crash them all to the ground. And then there will be crying again. It means one girl likes to be dressed to the shoes most days, and the other doesn't seems to notice hot or cold on her body as discomfort. It means going out into the world and trying to pack up two overstimulated girls to come home is very, very difficult. And that is a sensory experience I try to AVOID!!!!!

Having children with special sensory needs means we do what we can to help our girls make peace with their physical world. We continue to offer safe sensory experiences and we continue to help them transition from one sensory state to another. And we hope, with love and maturity, the day will come when sensory input will come and go mostly unnoticed by the conscious mind of these beautiful and busy girls.


  1. I am glad that you both believe in sensory processing disorder and try hard to meet both girls' needs, versus calling your girls naughty or picky or rigid, etc.

    God knew just whom to place these lovely sissies with...and I pray he gives you the strength you need each day to do all I know you long to do. :D

  2. I can SO RELATE! My 8 year old son (bio) has autism and has lots of sensory issues. My 4 year old son (adopted from foster care as a toddler) is a sensory seeker. They both have seen an OT and we learned lots of good tricks (like brushing) to help them. One thing I have learned is that it really isn't needful to sit in a chair at the table to eat. My four year old stands so nicely to eat. Jumping little bits when he needs some input. Put him in a chair and he becomes so restless. Seeking input to figure out just where his body is in space. Tipping, getting in and out of the chair... He also does what we call the "human pin ball" when in a crowd. He slams his body into people like a pin ball. It's very frustrating. Some people think he is so wonderful, and some are deeply offended by the small boy crashing into them.
    Anyway, I can so relate! It's a daily challenge to keep their sensory diet full!

  3. Ethan has Sensory integration issues. As you know we did almost a year of OT and probably will have to do some more from time to time. Since I am now working for that OT, I guess it may just be a perk of the job.

    You have a true understanding of the issues are the perfect mama to meet those girls needs!