In my job as an occupational therapist, I work with a lot of children with sensory processing disorder. This diagnosis is given when children have responses to sensory input that disrupt their daily life. They may be over-responsive to sensory input, demonstrating seemingly exaggerated responses to every day stimulation like the individual who can't handle the sound of a flushing toilet or the feel of anything messy on their hands. They may also be under-responsive to sensory input and therefore require more intense and frequent amounts of sensory input like the individual who can't stop moving or picking or touching. When I evaluate a child to determine if they have a sensory processing disorder, I always tell parents that we all have sensory quirks--things we like, things we don't like. It's only when these 'quirks' interfere with daily functioning that it becomes a disorder.
I have my own sensory quirks. I hate the sound of Styrofoam. The feel of cotton balls makes my skin crawl. I don't like wool or turtlenecks. My favorite clothes are yoga pants and super-soft t-shirts and hoodies. I love how the freezer smells. Eating ice makes me feel happy. Weird? Maybe. (Okay, probably.) But can I function in my daily life. Yes.
As Staley is growing up, she is starting to demonstrate her own sensory quirks. Like her mother, Staley has a distinct preference for what she wants to wear. And that preference is all about comfort. Staley will not wear jeans (without some drama.) She will not wear khakis. The first thing she does when trying on a pair of pants is squat down to see if they are in any way restrictive or binding. If so, she takes them off. What does she want to wear? Yoga pants. Sweat pants. Leggings. Soft knit shorts/skirts. Knit sundresses. T-shirts. If it's binding, restrictive, scratchy, or rough, it's not going to happen, no matter how cute her mother thinks it is.
Along with her clothing preferences, Staley is still funny about the feel of grass, finding ways to avoid walking barefoot in grass and even avoiding touching it too often with her hands. And I love to watch her walk out onto the front porch barefoot because she goes to great lengths to not step on our scratchy welcome mat that is right outside the door. Staley is also sensitive to sound. She still often cries when I vacuum. (Lucky for her, I don't do it nearly as often as I should.) She loves to help cook, but generally covers her ears when I use the mixer. She is scared of thunder. And she has demonstrated a recent fear of slides. She loves the idea of slides. She likes to climb to the top of the highest slides at the playground, and always enjoys going down on our laps. But on her own, she will stand at the top of the slide, touch the slide with her hand, and tell me it's too hot. That's generally her reason for not wanting to slide down on her own (even if it's cloudy and she's wearing long pants.) I don't know if she had a traumatic hot slide experience or if that's just an excuse for some other fear. For now, it's just one of her quirks.
Sensory processing disorder can really interfere with a family's daily life. Lucky for Staley, she doesn't have to sit in the grass while wearing her jeans as I vacuum in a thunderstorm. Otherwise we might have some real problems. As it is, these are just the little quirks that make Staley who she is right now. And if I can make it through life with my weird cotton ball, Styrofoam, wool issues, I think Staley's going to be okay too. We'll just happily spend our days together in yoga pants and t-shirts.