I have been fortunate to work with a few little guys this summer who I am sure have some pretty severe sensory integration issues and this morning a wonderful comparison popped into my mind (does anyone out there have a white board that could work to catch the amazing thoughts that come to me in the shower?). Anyway, I was musing on how frustrating it is to know that they have not been diagnosed and know that some of their behaviors could be addressed with therapies at the same time I was reminding myself that many people, including school personnel, do not understand sensory integration very well. It is still a newer concept outside of the autistic world, but one that can have significant advantages for many of our ADHD, ODD or OCD children without the full autism spectrum challenges. I find myself often explaining children to teachers and parents right now using sensory references, so here's my new one:
A child with sensory issues can be like a tube of toothpaste. After a few squeezes (stimulus), the tube is no longer even. Sometimes, it fills up at the top, sometimes it fills at the bottom and sometimes there's just a gap in the middle. To get some toothpaste out, you often have to smooth it back out in some fashion, and you certainly have to take the cap off when there's too much pressure. However, squeeze too hard and everything explodes! Even the folks who roll up their tube at the bottom have to adjust it every day to maintain their acceptable amount of pressure in the toothpaste tube.
That tube of toothpaste now reminds me of many of my students. They need to be stimulated appropriately, or squeezed sometimes, but not too hard or too soft. And when the pressure is on from any stimulus, things might blow and they will not stop blowing on their own in these kids. The tube needs to be rebalanced.
I expect that I will now be taking extra tubes of toothpaste with me to presentations from now on :).