Come join me as I piece together the remains of my sanity following another Teeth-brushing massacre…
The key with Sensory Processing is that it takes the normal, throws it in the air, lets it crash on the floor and then stamps on it a few times for good measure. Autism and Sensory Processing issues have a knack for going hand in hand. They’re bosom buddies. Except they don’t want to be touched.
Basically Sensory Processing is when the input from the senses: smell, sight, sound, touch, taste, all gets a bit scrambled and jumbled as it goes in and out of the brain. The result is the world around the Autistic person thinking they are either exaggerating or under-reacting. For Boo there’s very little middle ground when it comes to Sensory Processing. Crash knee first in to a concrete bus shelter on a sledge (hey, it seemed a cool idea), screw your cartilage, yet barely bat an eyelid, yet scream if anyone comes near you with a toothbrush.
This page gives a much more in depth run down on the variety of Sensory Processing issues faced by many with Autism, but as with all things ASD, everyone has their own unique blend. However, there are some that tend to come a cropper more frequently than others.
Noise is a big whammy. Anyone following BBC’s Drama The A Word would be forgiven for thinking Little Joe dons his headphones and sings “Shut Your Mouth” to block out his dysfunctional and highly exasperating family. But I reckon there’s a bit more to it. Noise is bewildering for many on the spectrum. And when something bewilders an Autistic kiddo, they seek to control. Boo frequently uses his music to cope with the world around him. He can cope with the chaos of twins in the car if he has his music on. He can soothe himself in a socially appropriate way.
But sometimes it still comes a cropper and we’re on fast track to Meltdown Central. Repetitive, loud noises are the worst culprit and will often be met with a heartfelt declaration from Boo that he wants to rip his ears off. Calm, rational approach, young Boo. He’s described sounds such as chanting as ‘painful’ and judging by the reaction, I believe him.
Then there’s that old biggie, touch. Boo has, on more than one occasion begged me to chop his hand off. Seriously. Ain’t doing that. The reasons? Blister, mud, splinter, goo, itch, or heat. Yup, these are evil you see. Then there’s the fact that washing his hair results in screams that must convince the neighbours we’re in to torturing our small children. We’re not. And bloody teethbrushing, that’s a twice daily exercise in how to raise my blood pressure. The Dental Gods hate me.
So I’m quite a nice Mum really. The tooth-brushing exercise started with nicely nicely softly softly, he’ll get there in his own time. Then, through a combo of plaque build-up and sheer mental exhaustion, I found myself travelling down Just-Bloody-Brush-Them Avenue. We took a few detours down Every-Gadget-Known-to-Teeth Alley (check out Playbrush, that was as close to a winner as we got) with a detour down Reduced-Froth-Inducing-Low-Sodium-Lauryl-Sulphite Lane and Shares-In-Mouthwash Crescent. If you want teeth-brushing paraphernalia, just come round my house. The odd grey hair, and I’m ashamed to admit, oft not my finest parenting hours, were clocked up along the way.
The fact is: nothing worked. The fact was, and is, Boo can’t bear the sensation of having his teeth brushed. To him it feels agonising. He simply can’t abide it. But, it has to be done. Yes, you too Master Boo if you ever want to see an ounce of sugar pass your wee lips again. So now we’re in Sensory Processing Ground Down Stalemate. I sound like I’m spaced on drugs as I mentally detach during the whole fiasco repeating “just open your mouth” like I’ve over-dosed on Zen. Boo carries us through it with a mixture of high pitch noises and nail digging. It’s fun. Not.
What Can We Do About It?
Well that’s the thing. Obviously with something like toothbrushing you can’t say I haven’t tried. But all round general Sensory Processing Issues there are some options. When Boo was younger he did Sensory Circuits at school – a mixture of fun exercises that gave his vestibular system the input he needed to set him up for the day. He doesn’t want to do this anymore, so we have our own version at home: the treadmill and the trampoline. Both great tools for getting the Sensory Processing back in order. You can create your own Sensory Diet either with the help of Dr Google, or if you’re lucky, an Occupational Therapist.
And then there’s us, and changing our attitudes. Boo has Autism. Nothing is going to change that, as we all know, Change Isn’t The Done Thing when you’re Autistic. But we can change our attitudes with a bit of patience, practice, and love. And that’s what we’re trying to do. If I need reminding why, then this is a good explanation of what it feels like from the other side of the toothbrush.
Along the road we’re trying to gently educate those who spend time with Boo about what it all means for him, and ways they can help. If this means wearing his Ear Defenders because he can’t cope with the noise of a band that the rest of his Cub Pack find fun, then so be it. At least that way he can join in. And if you didn’t check out the link at the beginning of this post, to Autism UK’s Sensory Page then do so.
I live to fight another Teethbrushing battle. Do you have any top tips on Sensory Processing Regulation?