Since I work (and live with) children who have sensory integration difficulties, I try to have empathy and put myself in their shoes. I can envision a cockroach in my bedroom or the sound of nails on a chalkboard. Both examples evoke a physical reaction in me. In the same way, any information taken in by your senses can cause chills, fear, joy, nausea, and more.
The point of having a sensory system is to take in information so it can be processed and quickly responded to. Our body is designed for survival and self-protection. We are wired with reflexive responses to keep us safe! The outcome can be protective, such as quickly removing your hand from a hot item you’ve touched (reflex). It can be pleasant, such as the fond memories that can result from smelling your mother’s perfume. From the various experiences that we’ve had, we form a memory that can help our body to respond more appropriately or learn from that experience.
Yesterday, I proudly put on my new cottony long-sleeved shirt. As I cut the tags off, I happily thought, “It’s about time you bought something for yourself!” After feeling quite confident that I would be stylish as I did my errands, off I went! It was about thirty minutes into my trip that I realized I was getting warm. After cranking up the A/C, I still felt uncomfortable and a little itchy. Soon, I tried to push up my sleeves with no success. You see, they were tapered down my arm with NO sleeve buttons and were going to stay that way-like it or not. The situation became dire as I felt sweaty, irritated, and a bit nauseous from the lack of control I had over my own body temperature and sleeves! After hours of this torture, I cut my day short and returned home to throw off this terrible shirt and put it into the Goodwill pile.
I am honestly amazed at my body’s response to the shirt as I am not commonly bothered by the clothing I wear. There are times in all of our lives when we are near our threshold of response, but there’s one tiny incident that propels us to react more intensely than we expected. It’s just like the saying, “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” The camel’s back for our children can be a small incident on the bus, a touch or bump from another student at school, a slight change in temperature, or in lighting, etc. The fact is that we often do not know WHEN it’s coming, especially in young kids or those children who are not able to express their feelings. This is why we need to have patience and provide a “cool down” area for those times when our kids need to let it all out.
I never encourage forcing children to wear anything they don’t want to wear.
In my own home, I’ve learned that it’s not because my son’s being a “brat” or “difficult” and instead, that the clothing that he refuses to wear may actually be making him feel sick or uncomfortable. Think of this situation or your own similar one when you work with or live with someone who has sensory integration difficulty. Every seam, bump, or roll on clothing may cause an unexpected reaction. You just never know what someone else is experiencing!
What types of clothing bother you?