Mom, my shoes don’t feel good. I hate them!
They will never feel good to me! Why do I have to wear tennis shoes to school? Please, do I have to?
That’s what I hear every time my daughter’s foot grows enough so that she can’t stuff her foot in her old shoe. She'd rather wear crocs or nothing at all. We have to go through the taxing process of getting new shoes that never feel right at first, even if it’s the same brand/style as before. I listen to her struggle, we go through our options for this sensory difference (we have several), she chooses how to cope. Usually we make it through without a meltdown, but not always. And that’s ok. It takes practice to really understand your sensory needs. We have come a long way already. But it's important you know that my daughter is considered by medical professionals as "neurotypical." She is attentive, physically coordinated, has good social skills and does exceptionally well in a school environment. If you met her, you'd probably never guess she has any sensory sensitivities. And that's my case in point.
I work with sensory differences of all shapes and sizes both in my work life and in my home environment. Every. Single. Day. Admittedly, the journey of watching misunderstood sensory differences in struggling but awesome individuals can be weary, but also incredibly enlightening and fulfilling when I can have a helping hand in it. I’ve only been able to offer that helping hand to those that are either my offspring, or have insurance coverage and insurance approved diagnoses, until Yogapeutics. Now, I have intentionally positioned myself to provide a much more inclusive offering of what I know to be true: human beings are designed to move often and experience life in a sensory rich way. These days, we ‘Mericans we need training to increase intentional sensory enrichment and self-regulation to live happy, peaceful lives. All of us. Seriously.
Regularly, I run into the misunderstanding that if someone has sensory challenges or sensory processing disorder one must also have an Autism spectrum disorder. OR another common misconception is to think that because one does NOT have Autism spectrum concerns that sensory differences are just quirks or personality traits and don't need to be addressed other than to tell them to “stop it!” Other times, we just ignore it, hoping they will eventually grow out of it (and sometimes they do but without guidance they defer to maladaptive behavior in its place). Worst of all is when we chalk it up to purely psychological issues without considering a neurological cause or cohort.
If you take one thing from this post, please allow it to be this: according to current research and my decade of experience: all kids and all adults need a sensory rich life with self-regulation skills training, and that doesn't just come naturally. We need to learn it and practice what works for us in different contexts. To say that a neruotypical child doesn't need sensory enrichment or self-regulation training is like saying, Well, he’s not hungry now, so we won’t have to feed him later. Because eventually, he will get hungry, and he will desperately need some nutrition--of the sensory and self-regulatory kind.
The majority of kids have at least one or two intensities about them that can sometimes affect how they react to or perform daily tasks. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with a child who can’t tolerate wearing shoes because they don’t feel right, or a child who can’t stand to be around loud noises, or a child that can never be still, or a child that procrastinates on homework. Adults have the same issues, by the way. It’s typical to have struggle in some aspect of daily life, which is each child’s individuality displayed as a “difference.” That difference is a part of their natural tendency, their authenticity, and their imprint of magnificence. I don’t want to change that. I don't want to diagnose that. I only want to honor and respect that, but I also want a person to have the tools to refocus it or rechannel that sensory difference if it makes life a little easier for everyone involved.
Sensory differences are in all of us, and without those differences, the world wouldn’t go round quite as beautifully as it does. On the other hand, if we go onward through life without being mindful of our own differences, we are hindered from becoming our best selves. I, for instance, focus best after I've stretched and flipped and spent a little time in down dog. Knowing this about myself, I'll do some yoga early in the day if I know I have an agenda that requires my honed attention. When I honor that aspect of my neurological make-up (sometimes I need a little help with that, myself), I am better in my work and my family life, and I can move toward my life goals--like, say, starting my own therapeutic & aerial yoga gig.
Look at Temple Grandin, whose acknowledgment and embracing of her own sensory differences enabled her to see what the rest of the world couldn’t regarding more humane treatment of animals in agriculture. But you don’t have to be Temple Grandin to experience sensory differences. In fact, no one is exempt from sensory processing differences. Here's what I mean: Who shudders when you hear nails scrape across the board? Or doesn't like the texture of certain foods, or feels a tad overwhelmed when all eyes are on them? Who has a hard time transitioning to sleep or wakefulness? Who sometimes bites nails, twirls hair, loves/hates the sound of the hair dryer? Who has too much energy or not enough focus to attend and concentrate? Who has had a baby that always likes to bounce, be in a swing, be in a vibrating chair or perhaps, the opposite? These preferences or responses can all be stemming from sensory differences. Channeled in a healthy way with mindfulness of their influence on the way we approach and respond to life, sensory differences can ground us, center us, give us insight about ourselves, even perhaps, make such an impact on our work in the world that Claire Danes plays us in a movie. That's the power of our sensory system. It makes quite a statement.
Now, given we all have sensory differences, it is important to point out that they affect each of us individually depending on our developmental age, ability to implement coping strategies and self-awareness. A healthy adult can usually find a way to cope or compensate for sensory difference no problemo, (don't like loud places? Stand at the back of the concert, cover your ears, hang out at the the edges of the event) but kiddos (both with and without an Autism spectrum concern) that are just barely learning themselves and the world can't always articulate why they react the way they do, they need guidance on this. When adults around them suggest their reactions are just temperamental or weird without honoring a sensory difference, a child can feel shamed, lose confidence and go on to find unhealthy coping behavior through the lifespan (addictions, isolation, poor self confidence, poor anger-management). The same goes for individuals with brain injury, stroke, post-concussion, dementia or a host of other neurological diagnoses. If individual sensory differences are not taken into consideration and nourished with sensory nutrition, an individual can demonstrate anxiety, maladaptive behavior, difficulty functioning in daily routines and tasks and sometimes even regression or lack of physical skills such as balance, motor coordination and strength/endurance, just to name a few.
It’s important to notice how our modern, more sedentary culture is moving (or should I say not moving) from a sensory enriched development. Our sensory experience these days is heavy on the computer, sit-in-a-desk-for-many-hours-a-day end, do less art and recess in exchange for more sedentary cognitive work, and without the balancing pull of movement and sensory enrichment, our brain and emotional balance become dysregulated.
But no worries, I actually do have good news in this post. You can rejoice in the fact that the brain can always change and adapt and that sensory enrichment is easy, has an almost immediate affect, and has fun-factor, too! Even better, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to see an immediate and noticeable difference in behavior. 15-20 minutes of balance, & movement (vestibular), and stretching or compression/traction (proprioceptive) exercises and deep pressure to the skin (tactile input) can have a dramatic or a subtle effect. But no matter the amount of effect, there's always some kind of a regulating and organizing result on the brain and behavior when these exercises are applied appropriately. 20 minutes of these puppies (as long as the child or individual does not have an aversion to it) will do quite the magic trick:
Jumping on a trampoline, hanging upside down on a trapeze or bar,
running, pushing something heavy (wheelbarrow, loaded laundry basket, a grocery
cart, a stroller), monkey bars (excellent for building grasp for handwriting, too), jumping jacks, doing an obstacle course on a play scape (let the kiddo make up the sequence!), YOGA, YOGA, YOGA (did I mention that I highly recommend yoga?), digging in a garden, cuddling in a peace place (such as a suspended swing/yoga hammock, a cardboard box a bean bag chair, quiet corner), swinging in a swing, getting a massage, stretching, dancing, laughing, humming, whistling, blowing a pinwheel, smelling essential oils, walking outside and noticing 5 green things, tossing a medicine ball, hula hooping, jump roping, pogo stick jumping, a game of tug-a-war, and playing with or caring for animals.
My daughter does not tolerate shoes well. She came into the world that way. I can't change that about her with the snap of my fingers, nor would
I want to, but with compassion, acknowledgement, and education & coping
strategies (yoga & breathing are included) for her sensory differences,
together, we are able to help her help herself. She wears shoes to school
all day every day. Without exception. I can't tell you how big of a
miracle this is for us. Yes, I spend extra time on the front end finding
shoes that work for her and planning out different options. Yes, it's
often frustrating for me. Yes, sometimes I need a time-out myself.
But the bright, shiny lining is we hardly ever spend that extra time in a heated
battle over shoes. Instead, our time together is spent as a team.
It's us together discovering how her sensory difference can allow both of us to
rise up to challenges of life and walk through it together with acceptance and
confidence. I can only guess it's excellent preparation for tween and teen
years. And I know in my heart these sensory differences and support of
yoga make us both better at being a mother/daughter team and walking this always
surprising and sometimes difficult path of life with a little more ease and a
sense of peace amidst the chaos.
For a great resource on sensory processing differences, see this amazing website of my friend, Angie Voss, OTR.
Additionally, I will be offering two upcoming workshops: A sense of Peace: sensory strategies for home and school life as well as Peaceful Bedtime, Happy Family.
See more on my workshops page. Both of these workshops will benefit
any child, neuro typical, neuro diverse, or even the grown up kind. :)
Lindsey Lieneck, MS, OTR, RYT, is owner of Yogapeutics in Austin, TX where she has developed the Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga & Mindfulness curriculum for kids. She teaches classes, consults with parents & schools and educates other professionals on the Yogapeutics curriculum. Read more about Lindsey HERE.
See the Yogapeutics class schedule and offerings: