Recently, Sensory Processing Difficulty has been rearing it’s head again in our house. When Jay was five and six our whole life was run by Sensory Processing Difficulties. Jay cannot process information like Neurotypical people can. He takes time to truly take in each different form of information.
We all take in Sensory information all day long and in many different forms. We hear it, we see it, we feel it , we move in response to it. All our senses are hard at work breaking down this information bit by bit, in order that our brains may make sense of it and know what to do!
Now imagine that all that information is coming at you like a tidal surge! Swimming around up there in your Brain, yet the neurons in your Brain are not making any sense out of the information. Then imagine that all the information is bounding off the walls of the Brain, but without it making any sense as it is all scrambled and messed up. The information has gone in, but it has not been computed in the correct way. Then, the person cannot make sense of it or know what to do.
This is what happens to my Jay. He spends all day just trying to make sense of what information he is taking in. His Brain does not compute and break down the information he takes in, in all forms including what he has been told. This makes things incredibly challenging for him. Some information he learns at school does go in as he is now able to tell me what he has done at School, in a single word. This is a promising step that Jay’s Brain is changing and developing, as a year ago he could not do this.
However, Jay’s ability to deal with the day is again being compromised by Sensory Processing issues. We know this , because of Meltdowns. At the end of every School day, once Jay is home and settled, he will go in to a Sensory Overload or Meltdown. When this happens he is unable to self regulate for a while. A month or so ago, this began happening again after School! It was always at 4pm each night. It had the same trigger, and was frequently challenging, and we began to recognise that Sensory processing Difficulties had returned, after months of Jay managing better after School.
So, recently we had Jay’s Annual Review for his EHCP or Education and Health care Plan.
When we were asked what concerns we had or if any thing had changed, I brought up the return of the nightly Meltdown or Sensory overload. The lady who was chairing the meeting suggested that Jay’s Teacher, allow Jay some “down time” at the end of each School day. I commented that in Jay’s mainstream School they actually did this with him. He would go with his 1 to 1 in to the Sensory garden or Library, for half an hour or so and it gave him the necessary processing time. He needed time to take in what he had learned and all the sensory information he had taken in, and for a long time this worked and prevented such severe meltdowns from coming on after the school day. So, I said immediately lets start doing this again, with Jay being given time at the end of the School day in peace and quiet in the Sensory room at his Special School or the quiet Library.
The result of this is: it has been nearly two weeks since the meeting and Jay has only had two Meltdowns after School -it has changed to one a week from one each night. His lovely Teacher asked me to keep her posted on if this strategy makes a difference to the Meltdowns, and I am happy to keep reporting that it is doing. Actually, yesterday, Jay went swimming at School in the afternoon and I suspect did not get his down time because he came home very anxious and tense, and went straight in to Meltdown, but I suppose there will still be days when it fails or the Sensory overload is too strong for him to handle. It seems to be a very powerful thing. When Parents start on the Autism road, Meltdowns caused by Sensory Processing Difficulties can be very challenging and scary for both Parents and child. Learning about why they happen is the first defence against them. Only when we understand truly what is happening in these kid’s brains, will we be able to help the child to prevent them. De-sensitising the child is first and foremost. We cannot take them to a busy place with noise and people without using ear defenders or earphones, and we must give them time to process what they see and hear. We have used things like dressing Jay in Lycra clothing to help him to feel more calm, we have used a Squeeze Vest which are very good for regulating the nervous system. Unfortunately, Jay is not so keen on his vest. He has asked for it a few times, but mostly he asks for his Ear defenders. He wears a cap and sunglasses to help him deal with light from the sun especially in Summer. We also stick to quiet places but if we do have to go somewhere busy, we use the Ear Defenders.
If your child is in Mainstream or Special school right now, and they are having these Sensory overloads and Meltdowns after School, consider asking the School to allow them “down time” before home time. This is a ‘reasonable adaption’ which they would legally be required to consider. Any adaption made for a child with Autism, has to reflect the well being of the child, and just because these children suffer daily with Sensory Processing Difficulties does not mean we just accept it and that nothing can change it. It can! Giving the child time to be quiet and still at the end of the day before going home, allows them to process at least some of the day. This can make a difference in the way they go home. Without this time they can get home and suddenly all the information from the day bombards them until they cannot cope and they will go in to an Overload.
In Jay, I have seen this approach make a difference. It does not take Meltdowns away fully, but it does cut them down.
I have talked about the ‘Delayed effect’ lots before but this is really what we are looking at when we discuss the subject of Sensory Processing. The ‘Delayed Effect’ happens when the information taken in to the brain in the day is not processed until a much later time and this results in all the information coming at once, becoming scrambled, and then mashed up. It then can only be dealt with by a massive explosion of emotion which is the response to the Sensory Overload. This leads to Meltdowns. Jay will often process something like a Storm a few days after. He will have a Meltdown then talk about the Storm and that he was scared. He tells me what is upsetting him, and often it is something that has happened hours, days or even weeks ago. This is ‘delayed processing’ and ‘the delayed effect’ then kicks in.
Since Jay had his Annual review and this strategy was implemented, we have seen an improvement in Jay after School. All you can do it try. All children with Autism are different and what works for one may not necessarily work for others. Yet we can only find strategies to help by trying them out. Finding the one that works for your child takes time. It also changes throughout their childhood. What worked for Jay at Four does not work now at Eight. Jay used to calm to music, now he uses Technology. Oh yes , and talking about his Chickens!!! I quote: “Chickens can be white like Little Egrets”