Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sensory Overload - Living With FASD

I am the type of person who needs to personally understand something before I can fully comprehend how to work with the issue at hand. FASD used to, and still does if I am totally honest, cause me no end of frustration. I understood the diagnosis and understood how it affects people, but I could not personally relate and so had a hard time being empathetic. I used to pray, "God, please help me to understand." Ever hear the quote, "Be careful what you pray for, because it just might come true?" Well it happened for me. No, I didn't get FASD, as that isn't physically possible, instead I experienced antidepressant withdrawal, and suddenly I could intimately understand exactly what Joseph goes through on a daily basis. While the reason behind the distress is different, the symptoms are the same.

Joseph has always shut down when life became too stimulating. Again, I understood why, but at the same time I couldn't grasp what it is like for him. Now I can. 

I quickly begin to experience sensory overload. When you are driving down the road, your brain filters what you see and hear. If there is something new or different you will notice it, but the house's won't jump out at you as new information each time you drive past. Withdrawal has deleted that filter for me so everything hits me at once. The bright sun, the curve of the road, the hum of the tires, the birds singing, the bright flowers... they all pop out at once. Plus I need to maintain a certain speed, be aware of the vehicle's around me and remain alert for things like animal's crossing the road. All this input makes my brain tired and I stop comprehending the information that is entering my brain. I misread signs, misunderstand my children, and while I can follow my GPS, I cannot follow written directions. 

It can be especially bad when I go to the grocery store. There are bright lights, displays intended to catch one's attention, music, people talking and cash registers beeping. It overwhelms my brain. Then I am supposed to follow my list and make wise decisions concerning the things I buy. If I am by myself I can usually keep it together, but if I have a child along, I am usually the one who has a mini meltdown. 

The fatigue that comes from sensory over load is a horrible feeling, one I will avoid at all costs. I starts with my throat feeling sore, then my eyes hurt, my heart begins to race, my head ache's and my ability to process information goes down to about 25%. This sensation comes on without warning. I can be in mid conversation and suddenly the sick feeling hits and my brain shuts down. When that happens it is game over. There is no taking a few moments of down time so my brain can refocus as it takes at least one good nights rest before I feel better.

Now imagine if you were a child and mom was saying, "Get your shoes, make sure to get your tie shoes and grab a coat as well because it is going to be cold outside. When the child freezes or sits on the floor and begins crying inconsolably, it is so tempting to get frustrated. Now I can personally understand all that the poor child is dealing with. He is anxious because he knows mom has given a command and he is afraid he will get it wrong. He doesn't want to miss out on anything and it is just too much. I used to think that my children have to learn to do things for themselves or they will never learn. But for the child with processing disorder, FASD etc. do not use those moments to teach, wait until a time when he is calm and able to process information, those are teaching moments.

Our children do not want to be this way. Their brains are simply flooded by sensory overload and they cannot follow directions. When the brain is overloaded, things that you typically do automatically suddenly require intense concentration. Things like starting a vehicle, closing a coat, placing an online order, or scheduling an appointment take actual thought and brain power.

Sometimes when I ask Joseph a question, he gives me a blank look. I used to wonder how one could forget something in a few seconds. Folks it is entirely possible. Lets say I put my child's book away and a minute later he comes and asks for it. I reply that I haven't seen it and he says, "Mom, I just saw it in your hand!" He is sure to get the blank look from me, because I honestly cannot remember seeing the book.

Joseph struggles with finding the correct word for things, or he would suddenly forget what he was talking about and begin telling a different story mid sentence. Now I am the same way. I will be telling Dean something and suddenly my brain goes blank. I honestly have no clue what I was just talking about and it is so frustrating! 

This morning we stopped at the library and the siren's on a nearby pole were wailing. It took all my concentration to get out of my vehicle, lock the doors and walk into the building. It felt like that siren was inside my brain, using up all my mental energy. When I stepped inside the building and the noise diminished, I felt a physical feeling of relief sweep over me. Joseph was with me and was struggling as well and it hit me, "This is what he has to deal with every day!" For me, the intensity waxes and wanes as I go through each med drop and I have the hope that within a few years, my brain will have recovered, but for those with FASD, there is no such relief in sight. These people need our understanding, especially when they meltdown from sensory overload.

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