Do YOU Have Sensory Issues?

I had the most amazing time talking to Lisa Davis at It’s Your Health Radio this last week. It was truly like talking with a good friend – we laughed, and exchanged stories about our kids and our husbands, and of course talked a lot about Sensory Processing Disorder and my book This is Gabriel Making Sense of School. But the best part? Laughing about our own sensory issues.

Yep, that’s right, turns out that we as parents of SPD kiddos seem to have our own sensory issues. Just call me Captain Obvious.

There is always time to chat about our kids, and exchange stories about their therapies or quirky and funny behavior, but how often do you actually talk to another sensory-mom about yourself? Never. I know.

So, when Lisa and I started laughing about our childhoods and how those little sensory quirks of ours are playing out in our kids, it was just a blast. And, I wanted to include all of you in the discussion too!

When I was a child I had definite sensory preferences that lean towards being defensive (Nick is exactly me, but I ate more than peanut butter). I needed to have my socks just right, no itchy tags, definitely no screen-printed shirts (that feeling was AWFUL on my skin!), I wore my jacket inside during the winter, I learned to self-soothe by rubbing my feet on my sheets and shoving them under anything heavy (my hubby’s legs are my fave now), I hated certain food textures (like peas, lima beans, olives, mushrooms) and to this day I can’t stand loud noises.

I am definitely more auditory defensive than anything else these days – it is like I have the capacity to handle a certain amount of noise, and once it is reached, I am done. No additional background noise, no crowded places full of people moving and making noise, and by rule, no electronic or battery operated toys after 4pm.

I also have to out myself here and say that I hate to brush my teeth. I just hate it. I hate the taste of toothpaste, and the feeling of the brush, but the thing I hate THE MOST is the feeling of all of that spit in my mouth that I have to hold there while I brush. Holding the spit in to brush over the sink is IMPOSSIBLE. I will gag, and throw up. Truly. As embarrassing as it is, I just can’t do it. And don’t get me started on mouth wash – same problem (spit in mouth) but worse.

When I was a kid, my dad was super-crazy-obsessed with me brushing my teeth. So, I would go in the bathroom, put toothpaste on the brush, wash it off, and then say I brushed my teeth. I went to great lengths to avoid actually doing it.

So, do I brush my teeth now? Yes. (You thought I’d say no, huh?)

Here’s the deal – I learned to brush my teeth in the shower where the spit can run out, and I can rinse it away quickly. Yes, that may be gross to you, but it took me years to develop a way of doing this without throwing up. I think my gag reflex for throwing up while brushing my teeth peeked in my late teens, so this is a trick I learned while living in the dorms in college. Since I had to carry all of my toiletries to the bathroom each morning, I got in the habit of brushing my teeth in the shower to save time. And, it was more tolerable that way – so it is a habit that stuck.

You can walk in my bathroom right now and find my sonic care toothbrush on the top of the shower’s edge right next to the toothpaste.

If I have to brush my teeth over the sink because I don’t have time to shower, I truthfully do a half-ass job just go get through it and not have stinky breath. But I hate it.

I think understanding that some of my sensory ‘preferences’ border on diagnosis, but knowing that they are not SPD for me, gives me a better sense of empathy for my kiddos. If what they are feeling is even half as intense (and probably is 10 times as intense) as what I feel about my teeth or noise, then I definitely understand why it is so all consuming for them.  And more importantly why their behavior is off the charts from sensory issues. 

What about you? What is your biggest sensory challenge? How does that make you more empathetic towards your SPD kid?


You can hear my entire interview including Lisa’s own personal stories of sensory issues for her daughter and family on It’s Your Health Radio in September. I will be sure to post the link once it is up (the first half of our interview is 25 minutes!).


Joyce said...

Hi Hartley
thanks for the tip about brushing in the shower. My dearly beloved child gags thru his entire teeth brushing when I do it - as I have to else we have a little to bad breath smell and I fear bad teeth - but if he does it, he is fine. Probably becasue he jsut sucks a little on the front of his mouth. Im going to put a toothbrush in the shower and do it for him there, perhaps that can eliminate one daily unhappy experience!!

Queenbuv3 said...

I never thought about it but I must have some issue with holding the toothpaste and spit in my mouth because I have always just let it run down my face while I brush with my mouth open. My daughter thinks it is gross but it works for me! I have MANY sensory issues-bright lights, noise, visual clutter, hate loose clothing, hate bland food with no texture, the list goes on and on....

My hubby also has many sensory issues so it's no big surprise our son with Autism has severe sensory issues and our daughter with mild ADHD has sensory issues, I actually think some of her ADHD symptoms are SPD, she hates tags in her clothing and complains about things being itchy, is very picky in her food choices and is sensitive to loud sounds.

Queenbuv3 said...

By the way-When I brush my son's teeth he spits after each section. I brush his teeth in six sections and it definetly helps with the spit issue. I also don't use a lot of toothpaste which I think helps.

Hartley said...

@Joyce -- Let me know if the shower brushing works for your child! I hope so...

@Queenbuv3 -- Good to 'see' you! I am so happy to hear that you have the same issue with holding in spit! LOL I spit a lot when I brush my teeth over the sink too. It is all so gross, but it is nice to know I'm not alone! Thanks for commenting!

~ Kristen said...

My husband and I have recently been talking about this same subject.

Ironically enough he has many of the same issues both our sons have and its helping him get a in depth view into our sons worlds. As a child he would chew on anything, especially penny's. He would seek out extreme flavors, sensations and sometimes not always in a safe way. He has many scars from growing up. He doesn't feel pain the same as most people. He is very anti social. Prefers even to this day to read a book in the corner of the room rather than talk with someone. He is always carrying a book, always. He doesn't like his face touched and anything having to do with his head in general he gets very skittish about.

I'm a whole nother post, but you get the idea. Very interesting!

ShesAlwaysWrite said...

Such a relief to hear another SPD mom admit to having sensory issues! I know there's a strong genetic component and it makes perfect sense, but I don't talk about it much because I'm afraid people will think I'm trying to steal Bear's thunder.

After getting to know me over the last 8 months of weekly visits, Bear's OT recently suggested my OCD tendencies are more likely a coping mechanism for sensory oversensitivity. And after thinking about my quirks, I TOTALLY think she's right. I've got a lot of the same things you mentioned - the auditory defensiveness, the throwing up from tooth brushing, and on and on. I'm a total freak about food - it has to be the perfect temperature and texture or I simply can't eat. I can't handle visual noise either, creating an obsession with organization my friends call OCD. (I even have to have opaque storage bins because there's too much visual noise with the clear ones.)

Even though my sensory seeker son pushes my oversensitive buttons, I think knowing how I feel when I'm approaching a meltdown helps me be more aware and sympathetic about his.

Alysia said...

How much space do I have? :-)

Both my husband and I are clearly sensory avoiders. I hate anything touching my feet or neck (so socks are trouble and turtlenecks/scarves are SO out of the question). I also hate being hugged. My husband has issues with getting his hands messy (first time I ever saw him eat a sandwich I almost died laughing) and a very low tolerance for noise.

All this does wonders in our house for a sensory-seeking, hug-loving, touch-craving, loud-talking SPD 4 year old. No wonder we're so stressed out around here!

Thanks for the reminder once again that we're not alone (and we're not crazy! :-)

Katrina said...

After finding out that my daughter has SPD I did a ton of reading and discovered that I had it bad when I was young. My poor mother when I told her about SPD she immediately knew I had it. I was an extreme sensory avoid-er. My daughter is a sensory seeker so although I do sympathize we are nothing alike in terms of our sensory issues. Thankfully my daughter has it much milder than I did.

KDL said...

I think I probably do, and like my daughter mine is highly variable. Some days even if it is burning hot I have a hard time convincing myself to wear short sleeves. Too much noise gets me crazy - great for a person with three rather loud children and a husband who LOVES background noise. I think I'm allergic to our stove vent fan - it is just the wrong frequency of sound and I almost can't stand to turn it on. I cannot eat oatmeal and choke down pumpkin pie only to please my dear MIL, though I love those flavors in other textures. I don't gag from brushing my teeth, but I have to work very hard in the dentist chair to keep from gagging. The list goes on...probably the hardest one is that I get tactile defensive sometimes and end up pushing my kids off when they want to climb on me and it's just too irritating. It makes me feel guilty that I'm not more snuggly.

Patty O. said...

My husband and I laugh about our sensory issues all the time. My biggest ones are definitely auditory. I cannot handle lots of noise, especially competing noise. For ex, if someone is talking to me while the TV is on, I have great difficulty focusing. Also, i can't leave music on for very long if other people are home. Just too hard for me. And crying and whining drive me nuts. And I am not good in large crowds at all.

I have many others as well. I don't like much light touching, but prefer tight hugs. Chalk dust makes me shudder and I need to wash my hands a lot, which was a pain when I was teaching.

And I am super, super sensitive to vestibular input. I get dizzy easy, so easy that when I do aerobics, I never do the turns. I have always hated rollercoasters (and amazingly, all my siblings are the same) and I am scared of heights.

Oh the list could go on and on.

Hartley said...

It's no wonder our kids have quirky sensory issues -- look at all of ours! :)

Thank you all for sharing!

Kris said...

My mom still makes fun of how much I hated tights, turtle necks and ANYTHING with wool. I was always "itchy". I also had a very hard time sitting cross legged and had to sit in the "W" position to stay upright. I was a picky eater and to this day have a difficult time with some textures. I am horribly ticklish and feel physical pain when tickled.

All interesting since my son is a total seeker and my issues are NOT his issues!!

Anonymous said...

It is funny when I turn the finger on myself! I don't eat anything slimy (cooked cabbage, grape leaves, spinach - you get the idea!). I have to sleep with covers on me no matter the temperature outside. If I don't have a blanket on me I can't fall asleep - but my feet have to be out from under the covers! I prefer tags on the back of my shirt to tags on the side because the shirt is "tagless". The ones on the side drive me INSANE! I don't like tight fitting clothing - no round collars here, only v-neck. And, sadly, I can feel my bra all day long. I HATE socks and shoes. It's got nothing to do with seams. I just hate the feeling of something on my feet. I'd much rather be barefoot and if I can't do that then I wear flip flops.
Yep, I'm a mess too! But it helps me understand my kiddo so much better. And he gets to see how I cope with the things I don't like and he begins to realize that he can make it through too:)
Thanks for make it introspective today!

StatMama said...

Oh yeah, I have sensory issues. As a child, I would say they were severe. Tactile used to be my worst, but auditory is now. While I still struggle deeply with paper, metal, short fingernails and many food textures, the chaos of a busy store or repetitive noise of any kind is an overload of epic and torturous proportions. Water and heavy blankets calm me, and I love massage, so I think I am a tactile seeker and an auditory avoider.

Erin said...

HAHA yes!!! My favorite thing to do is run into doorways. I know where it is, but it moves when I try to go through of many of my own quirks.

Kata said...

Who me ? NO ! What is that fingerprint on my screen? Hey don't make that noise ! Eeeew what's that smell? Turn the TV down! The new shoes are tight fitting, I should have gotten them a size bigger.....

Hartley said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Kris: I still have a problem with 'itchy' clothing (bought a new shirt this week and the seams on the shoulders drove me NUTS).

BrotherlyLove: I hear you on the slimey! Makes me gag just thiking of it...

StatMama: Good to hear from you! I think I have similar sensory issues -- and repetive noises drive me crazy (my van makes some strange whomping noise that I can only hear if the windows in the back are down, and it phyiscally hurts).

Erin: My son Nick has that same issue with his feet -- he is constantly bumping them (my mom has the same issue). Thanks for sharing!

Kata: Thanks for commenting! It is funny that we all so obviously have sensory issues, huh?! LOL

Anonymous said...

My son has issues with water + washing, wearing underwear with pajamas, condiments (HATES THEM!) loud noises, combing his hair and washing his face.

I, too, have some sensory issues. I won't eat tomatoes (texture alert!), sensitive to light, heat and loud noises.

The apple doesn't fall far from the sensory tree. ;)

Mystic_Mom said...

Oh I have sensory issues, and the really strange thing is that when I'm helping my son with his own which are so similar to mine it really not just opens my eyes to his needs but also to my own. No wonder everyone said I was weird about things, I AM! LOL

We are working on the sensory things together and I'm very glad I followed the link to your blog!

John and Allie Fields said...

It's nice to know I'm not the only mom out there that passed down sensory issues ;)
Since my son has been diagnosed with SPD, I have had so many aha moments in regards to my own problems. I just thought I was weird and so did everyone else! My little girl has so many of my sensory issues so I really try to help her because I understand all too well.

Liss@Random said...

This is really interesting for me, because I thought I was the only person who gags from brushing their teeth. I HATE brushing because of it, so I use a power toothbrush so I can brush much more lightly, as it's the pressure that gets to me. I have to brush with my mouth open also. Recently, I was housesitting and forgot my toothbrush at home, so in a bind I picked up a manual at the store. Brushing my teeth, I thought I was going to hurl.

I have to sleep with weight on me, no matter how hot it is, so if I get too hot at night, I'll stick my feet out to cool down, but I can't fall back asleep without weight. If I doze off in a chair it's okay, but if I'm in bed, I need to have the weight.

Stephanie L. Parker said...

This is SO me! Until a few years ago when my son was being diagnosed, it became obvious to me "what my problem was". I honestly believed that "somehow" my nerve endings MUST be closer to the skin surface than that of other people. My main issues involve the sensory of touch. What I see as very important now, is it definitely helps to know that there is a reason why this is happening and I am not just "weird" or "being a baby". I openly talk to friends of children that I see this issue in, so their parents can know why they are doing this or that and that there is a reason and a better way to deal with it. Now you got me going.....I'm going to need to blog on this now. :)