Sensory Processing

I have two conditions that differentiate from me from the neurotypical population: Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Processing Integration Disorder*. AS is what I write about most in the blog, because it is something which my daughter and I have in common and because I have to deal with it – and those around me have to allow for it – every day.

SPID can be just as entertaining, though. You can google it if you want, but it’s easier to just give you an anecdote to help you understand it.

Behind your eyes and ears (and by “your”, I mean a plural possessive referring to the neurotypical population) is a little dude with a lot of shelves and really fast hands. When a piece of sensory input arrives – a piece of music; the sight of a pretty flower; a jumble of wires behind your entertainment center – the Little Dude grabs that piece of input and files it away on one of the shelves.

The instant each item arrives, crosslinks are formed: links to other sensory inputs – touch, taste, smell – are created, along with memory associations that might include other sights, sounds, tastes, smells…in short, for most people, instantly the mind knows where that input belongs and how it should be and is referenced. The mind can also discard what it doesn’t need. You can tune out distracting irrelevancies.

While the ears are busy taking in the sound, the eyes are seeing and the ears are hearing and the fingers are touching, all at once, and the Little Dude with the many shelves and fast hands keeps it all squared away.

Now, with SPID, it works this way: same Little Dude, same shelves. The difference is that the Little Dude doesn’t work quickly, has to take it all without discards, and he never – ever- gets a break. He is a slow worker on a conveyor belt that never stops conveying and eventually the space fills and can hold no more until the input stops and the Little Dude can catch up.

In many cases, mine included, emotional input is on the same conveyor. A serious argument where I am emotionally invested can do the same thing, or at least can contribute to the eventual, inevitable shutdown.

You can see when that happens with me, because the light leaves my eyes, and no matter what you’re trying to tell me, I won’t be able to take it in. I become agitated, restless, and combative. My brain is full. I know it’s full because I can feel it. If it goes on long enough, I’ll have to lock myself in a darkened, quiet room until the backlog can be filed away. If it’s really bad, I’ll sleep. If it’s really, really bad, I’ll punch some holes in the wall on my way down (thankfully, I know where the stud cavities are, and how to repair drywall.)

I’m particularly sensitive to two things. The first is physical sensation, particularly in my legs, neck, and forearms. I cannot sleep at night without first showering unless I go to bed fully dressed. I have to wash the day off, even if I wasn’t particularly active. I cannot have a stiff t-shirt collar around my neck, or a tight cuff around my forearm. I have destroyed shirts in the middle of a workday because I just couldn’t stand the feeling any more: it was either cut the neck/cuffs off the shirt, or go shirtless the rest of the workday. Seriously, I’ve ruined a half-dozen, badly chosen shirts, and now I carry a spare in the car at all times.

The second is sound.

So, you might ask, is there a point to all this? Some story I want to tell? Well, yeah. Isn’t there always? That story is here.


* Never mind that those two have been removed from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the holy Bible of the psychiatric profession. As an Aspie and HSP, I don’t handle transitions well, and far as I’m concerned, removing them from The Little Golden Book of Craziness doesn’t make it less applicable to me or any of my neuro-atypical peers.


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