By Karen Rathgeber, MS, OTR, Brevard Center
Imagine reading a book in your classroom and someone comes up behind you and scratches their fingernails on the blackboard. Oh! That sound bothers most people so much that they would have hard time focusing on what they are reading. It takes a minute, but then eventually the sound leaves my mind and I can read again.
Our brain is wired so that we can react appropriately and calm down quickly after a disruptive noise. It works on blocking out extraneous noise so that you can pay attention to what is important.
We need sensory information to enjoy and appreciate what is going on around us. Listening to music, looking at art with lots of colors, feeling a soft robe, riding a bike, eating Italian food, and smelling the roses. But, for some people the sensory information is too much to handle.
Some individuals are so sensitive to noise that they have a hard time paying attention when the clock is ticking, the fluorescent lights are humming, and the faucet is dripping. It takes so much effort to try to block out the noise that it is physically and emotionally exhausting!
Some do not like to be touched and become anxious even thinking about going to a holiday gathering because everyone wants to give them hugs and kisses. It feels to them like razor blades cutting their skin and lips. It’s hard to have an intimate relationship if you can’t stand someone touching you.
Or, how about the person who can’t even stand even the blandest food in their mouth because it feels like it’s on fire.
These are examples of sensory overload. The senses of these individuals are overworking and the brain is picking up more information than the average person’s. The brain has a hard time filtering what is important and what is not, like turning on a faucet. Normally, we would turn it on to have a steady stream of water without it splashing on those around us. But, with those who are hypersensitive it is like turning on the faucet full blast with water flying everywhere and everybody around is getting wet. The reaction of someone who is hypersensitive affects everyone close to him or her. Anxiety, acting out, isolation, and screaming are just some of the behaviors exhibited. They may be seen as rude, controlling, inflexible, and resistant. Interactions and social skills become limited. There is hope for those affected by sensory overloads. A sensory diet is a program developed to dampen the information coming into the brain.