Day to Day Sensory ‘Fun’

Last weekend, we paused briefly in our home renovating/DIY journey and watched the movie ‘Temple Grandin‘. It is a wonderful film, but that wasn’t the most interesting part of the experience. That is reserved for learning about the different ways people think and process information. Particularly sensory information.

Day to Day Sensory 'Fun', Image: a pram

We started watching it at dinner-time, and C quickly finished his meal and got out of there – not surprising partly because he was puzzle-solving in the next room, and partly because of the weird sound balance. The film-makers obviously wanted to give a normal audience a taste of what heightened sound sensitivity feels like, which is a great idea. But I’m the only non-sound sensitive in the house. We had to watch the film at a really low volume level, and my DH still had problems (he is especially sound sensitive – he can hear TVs buzzing and fluorescent bulbs when they get ‘out-of-tune’ months before they break). C reacted in his usual fashion initially till we let him know he didn’t have to stay and could go back to his puzzles. Little J wanted lots of cuddles and did her own puzzle-solving as near to one of us as possible. This experience was only a slightly more extreme version of what usually happens when we watch movies in our house (except for J, she usually gets much more scared- but the film had very little scary music, so she was OK). And is one of the main reasons we don’t go to cinemas either.

Sensory sensitivity colours everything we do in our family. It influences where we shop to an enormous degree. For instance, we try to stay away from shopping centres. This is mainly because the enclosed environment for noise and smell and sound is often too overwhelming for the kids and sometimes us adults too. Shopping centres often have problems with their lights – this was especially pronounced at a recent renovation at one of our local shopping centres that had previously been OK. They decided to ‘jazz-up’ the centre so redid half an entire floor. But whoever renovated paid so little attention to sound and lighting that the new area has strange sound echoing and poorly tuned lights. My DH can’t even walk into the area, and the kids freak out in their usual fashion if I try to take them through. When the new shops opened, I went there once. I think that says it all. Luckily, they left the rest of the centre OK, so we could still do some food shopping.

Other shopping centres we’ve been to have a problem with smell – the air is air-conditioned, and the centre is closed. Only a sensory sensitive person would notice, but it does mean that when we have to go there, we have to limit our time  – too long and one of us will develop a headache. Naturally, we call it the ‘shopping-centre headache’.

One of the small advantages of shopping centres is that they will often have good baby change rooms, often with attached breast-feeding rooms. Now yes, they usually smell of baby-poo. But the breastfeeding rooms have little rooms with curtains and a chair – a good way to shut out the sensory over-stimulation when necessary. Knowing where these rooms are can mean the difference between a tolerable outing, and a nightmare.

Another factor that we have to control is food. Now C doesn’t mind eating out – provided it’s something like chips, dumplings or bread. But J is extremely sensitive to trying ‘new’ food. She gets quite anxious if it looks different from her usual meals. She simply won’t eat food bought at a restaurant (which became a regular feature of our NZ trip!). Of course, the chances of my finding food that is free from all of the family food-intolerances and allergies is approaching, but not-quite-at-zero (if you’re interested, it’s one rather nice Italian restaurant). All this means is that we have to take all our food with us on any outing – the kids are bottomless pits with a pacman-style grazing pattern, so it’s a large grocery bag of food. This swells to even larger proportions if we’re away over lunch. And the prep for this takes a long time, particularly if I take my lunch. We go through an awful lot of butter knives in the house to minimize cross-contamination – one spread, one knife. Wash hands, get out the spread, close container before putting topping on bread, put the knife in the sink, wash hands and repeat. Painful – but not as bad as an allergic reaction.

Even when the kids want to go out, it can take quite a while. C is getting better with his motor-planning problems, and I can now give him detailed instructions one at a time and he (usually) is able to follow them, unless he gets distracted. Squirrel! Little J gets too much enjoyment from running away from me to make getting ready either fast or easy. Well, she is three. And she is particular about the colour of her clothes.
‘Do you want the purple, or the grey pants?’
“We don’t have any blue pants.’
“No Yellow ones either.’
‘Dat one!’ (points at black pants)
‘OK. I’ll put on the black pants.’
‘No! Not Dat one!’
‘Well, it’s that or the purple or the grey.’
‘No, no, no!!! Pink one!’
…and on it goes.

Most days, from when we start getting ready to walking out the door takes a minimum of one hour. Often longer. I have to build that time into our schedule to make sure we make appointments on time. It also means spontaneous changes in plans are problematic, sigh.

One of the ways to make it more tolerable is to limit an outing to one activity, and then go home. It’s about all campaigner-mummy can handle!

What problems do you have with outings with your kids, and how do you cope? I could really use some pointers here…

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